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International Crime Fiction

To kick off Season 4, Brook and Sarah discuss mysteries with international sleuths and settings. The discussion includes mysteries from South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. We’d love to hear your recommendations. Send us an email at hello@cluedinmystery.com or drop us a message on social media @cluedinmystery. Correction: In this episode, Sarah referred to The Missing but meant to refer to The Killing.

Discussed in order

Agatha Christie
Arthur Conan Doyle
Arsène Lupin (created by French author Maurice Leblanc)
Edgar Allan Poe
The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1909) Gaston LeRoux – France
Kurt Wallander (created by Swedish author Henning Mankell)
Jo Nesbø – Norway
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005) Steig Larsson – Sweden
Death Going Down (2017) María Angélica Bosco – Argentina
The Devotion of Suspect X (2011) Keigo Higashino – Japan
Malice (2015) Keigo Higashino – Japan
Accra Noir (2020) Akashic Books – Ghana
Vancouver Noir (2018) Akashic Books – Canada
Deon Meyer – South Africa
Ovidia Yu – Singapore

The Bridge (2011-2018) Sweden/Denmark
Spiral (2005-2020) France
Midsomer Murders (1997-2022) UK
Lidia Poët (2023) Netflix – Italy
Trapped (2015-2019) Iceland
The Killing (2007) Denmark [Note: Sarah referred to this as Missing in the episode]
Hinterland (2013-2016) Wales

For more information

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Music: Signs To Nowhere by Shane Ivers – www.silvermansound.com


This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery. Hi Sarah. How are you?
SarahHi Brook. I’m great. Thanks how about you?
BrookYeah I’m great too and looking so forward to talking to you today.
SarahYeah, today we’re going to talk about international mysteries and I’ll start us off with a little bit of an introduction. So, I think there’s a couple of ways that we can think about international crime. Thrillers, where the action takes place in multiple countries. Spy and political thrillers are really good examples of this. But there are also books that are written by authors from outside North America and the UK and often you know these are written in in languages other than English and so we get to read the translations popular fiction is translated as a way to reach broader audiences.
SarahAgatha Christie’s works have been translated into a hundred languages and Arthur Conan Doyle’s into 70. And just as they inspired generations of authors writing in English, I think we can safely say that they have inspired many international authors. We learned in our villains episode about Arsene Lupin who was created by Maurice Leblanc in 1905 and several of his stories feature a character that was directly inspired by Doyle’s detective Sherlock Holmes. But earlier detective stories were also translated. In France, Baudelaire translated Edgar Allan Poe’s stories in the 1850s and perhaps some of Poe’s stories inspired Gaston Leroux whom we mentioned in our locked room episode. His book, The Mystery of the Yellow Room, appears on many lists of great locked room mysteries. It was originally published serially in France in 1907 and the first English translation was made available in 1909 and an English theatrical adaptation was performed in 1920.
SarahJumping ahead, the 1990s and the early 2000s saw the rising popularity of crime fiction from Scandinavia with readers outside the Nordic countries. Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series was one of the first of these darker grittier books. And there are television adaptations both in English and in Swedish. Other authors include Jo Nesbø from Norway, Anne Holt also from Norway, but I thought we could start talking about the wildly popular Millennium series by Steig Larsson. That series has sold over 80 million copies. It’s been translated and published in 50 countries. What I think is really interesting is that all of the books, both the Swedish and the translated versions, were published after his death. So, the first Swedish edition was published in 2005 and that’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Um, and then movies followed that in Swedish and English with three Swedish films released in 2009 and two English in 2011 and 2018 and I think there might be another one that’s in the works. The rights to the original books were recently sold and another author has been commissioned to write three more books in the series. Brook, are you one of the 80 million people who has read books from this series?
BrookI am I am. I believe I’ve only read the first book in the series. But I loved it. I thought it was a really great. A really great story and I remember feeling immediately sad to think like Larsson had no idea what a huge sensation his book was. I also remember thinking how well the translation was done. Because um, you know sometimes that’s a challenge reading something that’s been translated but the book read really well.
SarahYeah I um I agree I read I think I read all three of those books in the trilogy and I think there might be there might have been a few more that were released because I think when he died there were notes for future stories. And you know, I think perhaps that’s what and I I don’t have it in front of me the name of the author who’s been commissioned to continue the series.
SarahI have read some of what is considered you know, “scandi-noir” in addition to these books and I’m not sure that I would necessarily lump them all together. And perhaps it’s unfair for us to categorize all of the books from a particular region as belonging to a single category. Because most of the other ones that I’ve read you know and I haven’t read any Wallander, but I’ve I’ve watched the um Swedish and the English versions. Um, you know they’re police procedurals. They are slower paced. But they’re certainly darker than a lot of what we might consider fiction coming out of North America or fiction coming out of the UK. I think in the early 2010s there were several series from Denmark, from Iceland, maybe from Sweden that um we watched that yeah they were very dark. So I don’t know if you saw The Bridge. So that is set I think it’s a co-production danish and and swedish and it’s um, the premise is that there’s a crime that’s committed right on the border. Ah so there’s a bridge that links the two countries and like in the middle of the bridge. There’s a crime and so they need investigators from both countries to be involved. I remember watching it and thinking “I have never seen anything that is that is like this before” um and then we watched a show that was a French crime procedural um called Spiral ah and it was even darker like both literally and figuratively, right? Like that all the scenes were dark but the um content was also very dark. This is not Midsomer Murders or ah Murder She Wrote in terms of the kind of content that we’re that we’re talking about.
SarahYou know I don’t have any numbers but I would guess that um they are not as popular right now where everything in the world seems pretty dark and I think we’ve talked about that in the past right? I think it was Francis from Chronicles of Crime who said that during the pandemic it was Agatha Christie and cozy mysteries that people were really looking to um to read. So um, it would be interesting to kind of map the popularity of some of these genres against things that are happening in the world and kind of the the mood generally of of populations.
BrookAbsolutely and I think you’re right; we shouldn’t lump an area together in you know a subgenre so to speak of like the scandi noir. But then again, you can’t deny the fact that that is when you pick up a book from a Scandinavian mystery author you know what you’re going to get and um, you know I’ve read some articles about why that is and. Um, maybe they’re theories but you know the long cold winters. There’s a lot of darkness and ah that grim feeling when you’re in those places of the world. Um, and you know that’s something that international um mystery fiction in general can do for us. You can actually sort of travel when you’re not able to travel and go to those different places in in the world and you know that’s what you’re going to get if you go to Scandinavia.
SarahThat’s a great point, Brook. And that is one of the appeals certainly for me as a reader, if I’m picking up something you know, originally written in another language I’m hoping to learn a little bit more about the characters and the and the place and and how they live and how that might be different from um from what I’m familiar with.
BrookFor sure. I feel like that this is probably a hole in my reading. Um as a native English speaker we um, it’s the pro and the con. We have so much to read right? So much that’s accessible to us in English. But the bad thing about that is we don’t really ever have to think about the the work that’s being published in other languages. So it’s it’s a hole I will admit in my reading and um. But this week I picked up the author is María Angélica Bosco and she is actually known as the Argentinian Agatha Christie and so I thought “okay I’ve got it I’ve got to try reading this” and she um she was ah with us from 1909 to 2006. So I read Death Takes the Elevator which is also entitled Death Going Down and I could see why she was referred to ah you know compared with Agatha Christie. She writes very economically, very concise language. And there was that feel to it that you know, in the way she told the story. But it was really fun to, as you say, you know go to Argentina. This was right after the second world war when we had lots of Europeans that were coming to live in Argentina.
BrookSo it was a apartment building filled with um Germans and other people from European countries that had convened in this Argentinian apartment building where a murder takes place. So, I would recommend it. I really enjoyed it and we definitely got the types of activities they take during the day as far as the way their meal structure went, what they were eating. You know you got you got a little international flair there.
SarahOh that’s that sounds really good. I’ve never read anything by her. I’ve read a couple of books by Keigo Higashino ah who is Japanese. One of my favorite reads last year was The Devotion of Suspect X. I think Higashino is one of Japan’s leading authors. He’s sold over 800,000 copies of his books in Japan, has more film and TV adaptations than many authors that we’re familiar with, Tom Clancy for example. And definitely gave a glimpse into daily life for his characters. I really enjoyed that book. And then a long time ago I read his book Malice, which I if I remember correctly is a locked room mystery and it was also very very good. Um, so I would yeah I would definitely recommend either of those books.
BrookI think that one thing that if you’re going to dive into picking up a translation, you have to almost liken it to reading something in English that’s from an older era. You’re going to have maybe some of the same struggles with um, some of the language and um just sayings things like that because when you’re dealing with translation. You’re going to have some of those. Because it’s translated. It may not um, come across exactly to what we expect to hear. But if you give ah it some time and you settle in then you’ll get acquainted with the rhythm and the language and it’s just so worthwhile to get these other perspectives um, different flavors of crime fiction because there’s going to be different um cultural flavorings that are really fun and to recognize that mystery is not just a western world phenomenon this is a worldwide ah thing that. Psychologically we love a good mystery no matter where we are in the globe. And I was um, really happy referring to the Bosco ah title that I read, Pushkin Vertigo, this is a portion of Pushkin Press, are working to translate a lot of these older mysteries that were written by authors around the world. So their website has a great selection of all international titles and they say best of crime fiction from all four corners of the globe.
SarahBefore we were going to do this episode, I came across what I now realize is quite a lengthy series of short stories. So Akashic Books, which I believe is based in Brooklyn, has published over 120 titles of short stories featuring crime fiction set in different countries. So, for this episode I started reading a few of the stories from Accra Noir and they give a taste of crime and life in Ghana but I had previously read Vancouver Noir, which is part of the same series. And yeah, it does give you, as someone based in Vancouver I can say it does give a sense of of being in the city and I’m so excited that there are so many more books and places in this in this series to explore and several are in North America you know um in the US and there’s a couple of others that are set in Canadian cities. But I’m most excited about the ones that are set in other cities. And you know that they’re written by people who either live in or have very strong connections with those with those places.
BrookOh those sound fantastic. I love that.
BrookYou know so far. We’ve just been talking about reading but we can also get international mystery from the screen and ah, a new series that I’m just loving on Netflix is the Lidia Poët. Ah she is an Italian attorney sleuth. Um, this is a historical series and um I watched one episode and I’m hooked. It’s really good. Um, the premise is that this young Italian woman has gone to school and is an attorney but in the era that it set in she is unable to practice law. And um so she is ah a amateur sleuth who is ah solving crimes and her brother is also an attorney so she can use his connections a little bit to solve her cases and um, it’s great. It ah is obviously in Italian. But um as I’ve mentioned before, I love the fact that you can now choose your language in Netflix. So if you’d rather not read the subtitles. You can listen to it um in English or in your home language and um, it’s a great great series.
SarahI I have that on my list, Brook of Netflix titles that I want to watch but I haven’t had a chance yet to to start it. But after hearing that I think I’ll have to bump it up and and watch it soon.
SarahBut you’re right, there are lots of um examples of mysteries that we can watch on the screen from from other countries. So you know I mentioned The Bridge and around the same time was Missing [ed: actually, it is The Killing] and then there is also a series um from Iceland that is I think it’s called trapped. Um and both The Bridge and Missing [ed. The Killing] were so popular that ah there were English adaptations of those stories so set um set in the US I don’t know that they I think there’s a challenge when you change the setting it changes the. Um, the feel of the stories and so I’m not sure that they were as popular um or achieved the same um success that the originals did but you know, um, certainly I think those are available for people to find if they wanted if they wanted to watch.
SarahAnd another series that I’m going to mention um that kind of fits in this category is Hinterland. It first aired in 2014 and it’s actually Welsh and so you know Wales is is part of the UK. But the reason I wanted to mention it um is because the same actors filmed the English and the Welsh versions so they recorded each scene in both languages, which I’m not familiar with any other production that has done that because you know in the example of The Bridge or or Missing [ed. The Killing]. It’s a totally different cast and a totally different setting. But with this it was the same um the same actors just performing each scene once in Welsh and once in English which I think is fascinating.
BrookWow I did I had never heard that and what an undertaking that would be ah a huge project but super super interesting. Yeah I’m going to have to go back and watch some episodes of that and take that into account.
SarahYeah, no, it’s it it. It is pretty dark. Um I you know I I think like you mentioned with um Scandinavia I think the you know the surroundings are are pretty rugged and and can be pretty harsh and so I think that lends itself to some of that darker those darker themes. Um, but yeah, it’s definitely definitely worth a watch and I think it might be on Netflix um, but I’m sure you can track it down.
BrookI’m wondering if our DNA plays a part at all into the stories that we’re drawn to because you know according to the online service. I’m you know majority northern European and I love all those dark brooding ah slow storytelling. And my husband is of Germanic dissent and he cannot take it. He wants some action. He wants some gritty, ah, you know fast paced storytelling. So I don’t know I just have to wonder if there’s something in our DNA.
SarahI don’t know. I wonder. I think you said this earlier like you can kind of say if if a book or or a show is from a a particular place and and you’ll have an expectation of what that pacing is going to be like, right? Um, so yeah, maybe maybe there’s something to that.
SarahAh, another author that I wanted to mention is Deon Meyer um and so he has written several books. And he’s got a police procedural series. All of his books are set in post-apartheid South Africa and they were originally written in Afrikaans, which is one of the official languages in in South Africa. I really have enjoyed the um police procedural series. So his character Benny Griessel is a character who is a detective with a prestigious murder investigation unit and it definitely gives some insight into daily life and frustrations and some of the issues that people in the country are are wrestling with um and one of the things that I like about his books in particular. Is the characters. um this is true of the way ah, a lot of people in South Africa speak and a lot of the television programming that that comes out of there. Um. The characters speak in multiple languages so you know everybody when they’re going to school there learns English learns Afrikaans, and may learn some other languages just because of their home communities. Ah, and so a lot of people will move very fluently very easily between these languages when they’re speaking and that happens a little bit in the books. Um, which I think is really really neat to see.
BrookOh I love that I love that I live in a community where ah we have a lot of people who move between so ah Spanish and English interchangeably and you have to keep up with with the conversation. So I just love knowing that about about that part of the world as well. And I think that that brings up a really good point, Sarah. We’ve we’ve mentioned before that yes, we’re talking about genre fiction. We’re talking about entertaining um books and shows. But that doesn’t mean that these stories aren’t also teaching us about the world or making really important points about the struggles of different people. Or um, you know making political statements for instance. You know there’s messages in these stories whether or not it’s primarily for entertainment or not and that’s definitely something that we get from these stories from around the world which is where you know I started out saying. Um, it’s worth it to read some of these books that maybe they’ve been translated from another language or um, they’re just set in a different area. It’s worth it to go out there and find these stories because you’re going to learn about the world. You’re going to learn about different people and um and it and it’s it’s valuable.
SarahUm I agree and if nothing else It’s entertaining.
SarahSo, Brook most of the examples that we’ve talked about so far have been pretty dark and a lot of them are police procedurals. But if someone is looking for a lighter cozy mystery. They might enjoy the Auntie Lee series by Ovidia Yu so these are said in Singapore and I don’t actually think that these are translated I think they’re originally written in English. But they certainly are set in Singapore and give a really good sense of um, you know the the food and the and the lives that some people um, living in in Singapore um are experiencing.
BrookOh, those sound like a lot of fun.
SarahBrook, as ever we have just touched on a few examples of international crime fiction and there are so many others. Um, we’d love to hear from our listeners if they’ve got any recommendations of some international crime fiction that we should be checking out.
BrookYes, absolutely I definitely have added some categories to my TBR list through this research. So it’s going to be fun and I’m sure this is a topic we’ll revisit in the future. But for today everyone thank you so much for joining us on Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.