Extensive re-run of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Foreign Bodies’ crime fiction series on now!

Thanks to Andy Lawrence for spotting that BBC Radio 4 is re-running episodes from Mark Lawson’s excellent ‘Foreign Bodies’ crime fiction series on BBC Radio Four extra and BBC iPlayer Radio. Most episodes will be available online for a month following broadcast, and offer 15-minute opportunities to delve into the work of key crime writers and traditions from around the world.

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The ‘Foreign Bodies’ series are close to my heart for their celebration of international crime fiction, their focus on some of our most interesting detective figures, and their analysis of how crime fiction is used to explore important political and social issues. I was also lucky enough to contribute to two episodes in Series 1 – on the works of Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Jakob Arjouni respectively.

Here’s a list of the ‘Foreign Bodies’ programmes you can listen to via BBC Radio iPlayer, either now or in the coming days. If you’re looking for some gems to add to your reading list, then these programmes are definitely for you.

Series 1, Episode 1  Belgium: Hercule Poirot and Jules Maigret (Agatha Christie and Georges Simenon)

Series 1, Episode 2  Switzerland/Germany: Inspector Bärlach (Friedrich Dürrenmatt… with a contribution from Mrs Peabody)

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Series 1, Episode 3  Czechoslovakia: Lieutenant Boruvka (Josef Skvorecky)

Series 1, Episode 4  The Netherlands: Commissaris Van Der Valk (Nicolas Freeling)

Series 1, Episode 5  Sweden: Inspector Martin Beck (Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö)

Series 1, Episode 6  UK: Commander Dalgliesh/Chief Inspector Wexford (P.D. James and Ruth Rendell)

Series 1, Episode 7  Sicily: Inspector Rogas (Leonardo Sciascia)

Series 1, Episode 8  Spain: PI Pepe Carvalho (Manuel Vázquez Montalbán)

Series 1, Episode 9  UK: DCI Jane Tennison (Linda La Plante)

Episodes 10 to 15 are not yet listed as available, but they may well be soon – I’ll update if so (these include Montalbano/Italy, Kayankaya/Germany, Rebus/Scotland, Wallander and Salander/Sweden, Harry Hole/Norway and Fandorin/Russia).

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Series 3, Episode 1  Cuba: an exploration of fictional investigations of Cuba after the Castro revolution with Leonardo Padura, author of The Havana Quartet, and Caroline Garcia-Aquilera, a Cuban-American writing from exile in Miami.

Series 3, Episode 2  USA: Laura Lippman and Walter Mosley, the creators of private eyes Tess Monaghan and Easy Rawlins, discuss how they introduced the experience of women and black Americans into crime fiction dominated by men and a McCarthyite fear of outsiders.

Series 3, Episode 3  Poland: Zygmunt Miloszewski and Joanna Jodelka reflect on how Polish crime fiction depicts the country’s occupation by Nazis and Communists, the transition to democracy through the Solidarity movement and lingering accusations of racism and anti-Semitism.

Series 3 Episode 4  Australia: Australia’s leading crime novelist, South African-born Peter Temple, discusses depicting a society shaped by both British colonialism and American power, and why Australian crime fiction should contain as few words as possible.

Series 3 Episode 5  Nigeria: Writers Helon Habila and C.M. Okonkwo discuss how a flourishing new tradition of Nigerian crime fiction explores British legacy, tribal tradition and the new “corporate colonialism” as global companies exploit the country’s mineral reserves.

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Mark Lawson’s article on the first ‘Foreign Bodies’ series is also available via The Guardian: ‘Crime’s Grand Tour: European Detective Fiction’.

The very first Inspector Maigret novel: Pietr the Latvian

A little while ago, I reported that Penguin were publishing all 75 of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret novels – in their original order and with new translations – at the rate of one a month, starting in November with Pietr the Latvian. Their press release states that this is ‘part of Penguin Classics long-term project to bring Simenon’s writing to a British audience’ – a laudable aim given his output of over 400 novels and short stories, and his status as a literary giant in Europe.

Penguin kindly sent me a copy of Pietr the Latvian, beautifully translated by David Bellos, which I very much enjoyed reading over a rainy weekend. Originally published in 1930, the novel felt a little old-fashioned in some respects, but remarkably modern in another:

  • There were moments when I had to take a deep breath due to the novel’s negative depiction of Jewish characters and its essentialist approach to issues such as race. Anti-Semitism and biological determinism were common in the 1930s, and might not have stood out for readers of the time, but of course they do now. And the fact that the book was published in the same decade that National Socialism took hold in Germany is a sobering one. I did find that there was somewhat more nuance towards the end of the novel, so I’ll be interested to see how these elements are handled later in the series…
  • But one very pleasant surprise was the highly European feel of the novel. Right at the beginning, Pietr the Latvian is identified as a major criminal being tracked by the ICPC or International Criminal Police Commission, based in Vienna, which ‘oversees the struggle against organised crime in Europe, with a particular responsibility for liaison between the various national police forces on the Continent’ (p.1). Sounds a lot like more modern organisations such as Interpol or Europol, doesn’t it? And in the course of the first four pages, Maigret is shown reading telegrams from Krakow, Bremen, the Netherlands, Brussels and Copenhagen, moving effortlessly between languages as he checks the progress of Pietr across Europe to his own juristiction of Paris.

Up until now, I’ve associated this kind of ‘Eurocrime’ feel with novels written after the collapse of communism in 1989, such as Henning Mankell’s The Dogs of Riga and Arne Dahl’s more recent Opcop/Europol series, which thematise the rise of organised crime across European borders, and the need for coordinated pan-European policing. But now I can see that these constitute just one phase of the ‘European crime novel’, and a late-ish one at that. Simenon’s Maigret debut was already on the case in 1930, and that means others from that time and beyond are likely to address similar themes. I’m already looking forward to finding them for the Euro strand of my research: as always, suggestions gratefully received!

The second Maigret novel, The Late Monsieur Gallet, will be out in December. I can already feel a little prickle of addiction, which is no doubt exactly what the good people at Penguin intend… The book covers, by the way, are by Harry Gruyeart, a Magnum photographer. This is undoubtedly going to be a gorgeous-looking series.