New Bitter Lemon signings, The Edgars and CrimeFest

Here’s a round up of some interesting crime fiction news and events.

Joshua Farrington of The Bookseller reports that >>Bitter Lemon Press has signed a series of deals for female crime writers from around the world, with the books set to lead the publisher’s schedule in the second half of the year.

Publisher and co-founder Laurence Colchester has acquired titles from Brazil’s Patrica Melo, Turkey’s Esmahan Aykol and Argentina’s Claudia Piñeiro.

Melo’s The Body Snatcher is the story of a drug deal gone wrong, with police corruption and blackmail. Melo’s previous novels Lost World, The Killer, In Praise of Lies and Inferno were published in English by Bloomsbury. The Body Snatchers, which will be published in July, is translated by Clifford E. Landers.

Divorce Turkish Style by Esmahan Aykol will be published in September. It is the third in a murder mystery series featuring crime bookshop owner and accidental investigator Kati Hirschel. The previous two books, Hotel Bosphorous and Baksheesh were also published by Bitter Lemon Press, translated by Ruth Whitehouse.

Piñeiro’s Betty Boo is set in Buenos Aires, and sees a sensitive woman trying to save her career and personal life while caught up in a criminal conspiracy. Piñeiro’s previous titles, translated by Miranda France, were also published by Bitter Lemon Press. Betty Boo will be published in January 2016.

Colchester said: “We are very proud to bring these three women crime writers from Brazil, Turkey and Argentina to English speaking readers. It is part of our mission as an independent press to introduce new voices from abroad and here, in the autumn season of 2015, are three of the most successful women writing in the crime genre today.”<<

Over in the States, the annual Edgar Awards have taken place. A full list of the nominees and winners is available here. The focus is on English-language crime, and a number of titles have already migrated to my groaning TBR pile, such as Ben Winter’s World of Trouble, which is the final installment in The Last Policeman series (see my discussion of his earlier work here).

The winner in the best novel category was Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, which I’m currently half way through and enjoying very much (although I will never look at a hamburger in the same way again).

Last but not least, the international crime fiction convention CrimeFest takes place in Bristol next week, with a sterling programme you can see in full here. I’m very much looking forward to attending, not least because this year’s special guest is Swedish crime writer Maj Sjöwall, co-author of the seminal Martin Beck series, and she will be helping us to present the 2015 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

I have been enjoying all the online speculation about the Petrona shortlist. The judges have now made their choice…! But will you agree?!

Jakob Arjouni 1964-2013

Some very sad news. German crime writer, playwright and author Jakob Arjouni has died of cancer at the age of 48.

Jakob Arjouni: Mit "Happy Birthday, Türke!" zum ganz großen Erfolg

Photo courtesy of Diogenes

Arjouni’s groundbreaking crime series featured the irrepressible Turkish-German P.I. Kemal Kayankaya. The first novel in the series, Happy Birthday, Türke (1986), was written when he was just nineteen. The third, Ein Mann, ein Mord / One Man, One Murder (1991), won the Deutscher Krimi Preis (German Crime Fiction Prize) in 1992. The fifth and final installment, Bruder Kemal / Brother Kemal, was published just last year.

Kayankaya was recently selected as one of Mark Lawson’s fifteen ‘literary detectives’ for the Radio 4 ‘Foreign Bodies’ series. Arjouni was interviewed in Berlin for the programme and spoke at length about his creation and the issues tackled in the books.

With thanks to Lauren for passing on this news.

Links:

‘Jakob Arjouni Dies’, Booktrade Info

Legendärer Krimi-Autor: Jakob Arjouni ist tot – Spiegel online (German)

‘Jakob Arjouni’s Turkish-German Kayankaya series’ – Mrs. Peabody post, Nov. 2012

The Kayankaya series in translation – No Exit Press

List of all Arjouni’s works – Diogenes Press (German)

Mrs. Peabody’s 2012 review

It’s been a busy year for Mrs. Peabody Investigates, with reviews of international crime fiction from Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA. There were also a number of lively discussions on subjects including autopsy scenes; violence and women; Jewish detective figures; national image; strong female protagonists, and the crime writer as social commentator. Many thanks to everyone who joined in with their expertise and views! Last but not least, interviewing crime writers at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and contributing to Mark Lawson’s ‘Foreign Bodies’ series on Radio 4 were definite highlights.

So to finish off the year, here’s a random round-up of the best – and worst – of Mrs Peabody’s 2012 (with thanks to apuffofjack for the idea).

Most Satisfying Read: Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (2010), a gripping examination of the repercussions of a murder, set in the American Deep South of the 1970s, 1980s, and the present day.

Most Disappointing Read: Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Disgrace.Wooden characterisation was the real villain of this crime novel, but I’m still hoping for better from the next in the Department Q series.

Best Historical Crime Novel: Tie between Malla Nunn’s A Beautiful Place to Die (2010), which provides a fascinating insight into apartheid South Africa in the 1950s, and Stuart Neville’s The Twelve (2010) – hard-hitting Belfast noir exploring the legacy of The Troubles.

Crime Novel that Lingered Longest in the Mind: Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me (1952), which presents a chilling, but surprisingly nuanced portrait of murderer Lou Ford.

Best Female Detective: Tie between Edie Kiglatuk from M.J. McGrath’s White Heat (2011) and Emily Tempest from Adrian Hyland’s Diamond Dove (2006) (reviews pending). In many ways, these characters are twins: feisty, tough women who have complex insider / outsider roles in marginalised indiginous communities (the Inuit of the Arctic Circle and the Aboriginal people of the Australian outback).

Best Male Detective: Finnish-Jewish police inspector Ariel Kafka in Harri Nykänen’s Nights of Awe (2010): a highly original and witty investigator, whom I look forward to meeting again (albeit with a slightly less convoluted plot).  

Best Discovery: Leif G.W. Persson is well-known in his native country as a top criminologist and crime writer, but his razor-sharp dissections of Swedish society have only started to be translated relatively recently. I’ve just finished Another Time, Another Life (2012), which was a gem, and am keen to read more.

Last Policeman

Most Original Premise: Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman (2012) is a ‘pre-apocalypse police procedural’, in which Detective Hank Palace investigates a suspicious suicide six months before asteroid 2011GV1 is due to hit the earth. The first in a trilogy (review pending).

Best Re-read: Jakob Arjouni’s Turkish-German Kemal Kayankaya series (1985-2012). A ground-breaking detective who uses intelligence and wit to make his way in a largely racist society. The first in the series, Happy Birthday, Turk (1985), remains a cracker.

Best Use of Humour: Leif G.W. Persson uses satirical humour to great effect as he lifts the lid on the workings of Swedish society. Look out for the pathologist nicknamed ‘Esprit de Corpse’ in Another Time, Another Life.

Best crime TV series: The Killing III, in which Sarah Lund strode forth for the last time (still in denial that it’s over *sob*).

Best crime film: Tie between Romanzo Criminale (dir. Michele Placido, 2006), which traces the rise and fall of an Italian street gang, and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011), which plays out over a dream-like night of a police investigation (reviews to follow).

Most Anticipated Reads for 2013: Stuart Neville’s Ratlines (2013), set in a 1960s Ireland whose government is keen to play down its links with former Nazis, and Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood (2011), a much-praised depiction of police corruption and betrayal set in Tasmania.

All best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year, filled with lots of  wonderful crime fiction.

Jakob Arjouni’s Turkish-German Kayankaya series

I was delighted to hear that Jakob Arjouni’s Turkish-German investigator Kemal Kayankaya was going to feature on the Radio 4 ‘Foreign Bodies’ series, and to contribute a bit to the episode in question, as it gave me an excellent chance to re-read the Kayankaya novels and to get my hands on the latest instalment, Brother Kemal, published in Germany just this year.

In order of appearance, they are:

  1. Happy Birthday, Türke / Happy Birthday Turk (1985)
  2. Mehr Bier / More Beer (1987)
  3. Ein Mann, ein Mord / One Man, One Murder (1991)
  4. Kismet / Kismet (2001)
  5. Bruder Kemal / Brother Kemal (2012; translation due in 2013)

The first time I came across Kayankaya was in 1988, in the ‘foreign literature’ section of Borders on Oxford Street in London. The novel was Happy Birthday, Turk, which had been published in Germany in 1985, and had become a surprise critical and commercial hit. It was written by debut author Jakob Arjouni at the tender age of just nineteen.

It’s hard to overestimate how ground-breaking the figure of the Turkish-German P.I. Kemal Kayankaya was in the West Germany of the 1980s, when public attitudes towards the migrant workers who had helped to rebuild post-war Germany were deteriorating (‘job done, now please go home’). Asking German readers to identify with the likeable, wise-cracking, football-and-pickled-herring-loving Kayankaya directly challenged the dominant stereotype of ‘the Turk’ as a kebab-shop owner, rubbish collector or criminal who was poorly integrated into society and spoke only broken German. Kayankaya, the child of a Turkish migrant worker, is depicted as highly articulate, confident in his professional abilities, and – exceptionally for the time – as the holder of a West German passport, courtesy of his adoption by a German couple after his parents’ death. His characterisation thus deliberately up-ends the average German reader’s perception of what a Turkish person living in Germany ‘is like’, and confronts essentialist notions of German national identity. A Turkish-born person with a German passport? A Turkish-German citizen? Really?

Kayankaya’s early investigations, which fuse parts of the American hard-boiled tradition with the German Sozio-Krimi (sociological crime novel) of the 1970s, are used to expose the corruption of the state and to reveal the racism at the heart of West German society – the lingering legacy of National Socialism. The tables are thus deftly turned by Arjouni: the focus is on German criminal activity, and the crimes of Turks and other minorities are shown in the larger context of the unequal power-relations that exist within the state (for example, a ‘bad’ Turk is shown having been blackmailed into dealing drugs by corrupt police officers who threaten him with deportation should he not comply).

DVD cover of the film adaptation of Happy Birthday Turk (1991)

There’s also plenty of wise-cracking, acerbic humour. In fact, wit and sarcasm are shown to be key weapons when dealing with the tedious, casual racism the P.I. encounters as he goes about his daily business in Frankfurt.

Thus we are treated to the following classic exchanges:

  • German woman to Kayankaya: ‘You speak really good German!’
  • Kayankaya to German woman: ‘Thanks (long pause). You too’.

And…

  • German bureaucrat to Kayankaya: ‘Name?’
  • Kayankaya: ‘Kayankaya’.
  • German bureaucrat: ‘Spelling?’
  • Kayankaya: ‘Pretty good. Though I do have a little trouble with those foreign words’.

The Kayankaya novels are not necessarily perfect, but Kemal Kayankaya remains a ground-breaking investigative figure in the history of European crime fiction. A thoroughly original creation, he is used to raise some genuinely troubling questions about dominant social attitudes towards minorities. Many of the points the novels raise about social exclusion and about the uneven distribution of justice within society remain as pertinent today as in the 1980s.

Later novels in the series, as the ‘Foreign Bodies’ episode shows, engage with the seismic changes in Europe following the collapse of communism in 1989/90, and, most recently, with the tensions caused by Islamic fundamentalism (Brother Kemal).

You can listen to the ‘Foreign Bodies’ episode about Kemal Kayankaya, which features an interview with the author Jakob Arjouni, on BBC Radio iPlayer.

Image for PI Kemal Kayankaya