International Association of Crime Writers, North American Branch

IN OTHER WORDS....
TRANSLATED FROM OTHER LANGUAGES

by J. Madison Davis

Maria Angélica Bosco.  Death Going Down. Translated from the Spanish by Lucy Greaves. Pushkin Vertigo.

Originally published in 1955, Death Going Down was translated for us through an Argentine government program and brings us Bosco’s first novel. The delight of this novel is in revisiting the Golden Age. It has all the traditional elements of a Christie or Van Dyne mystery and yet does not come across as a 1930s pastiche. Well under 200 pages, the novel begins with the discovery of a body in an apartment elevator and the police detective follows the clues through the apartment house and the secrets behind the potential motives in the variety of curious apartment dwellers. This is like a spoon of sorbet that restores your taste after the heavy entrées that so many books offer us today.

Pieter Aspe.  The Fourth Figure. Translated from the Flemish by Brian Doyle. Open Road.

Flemish author Aspe lives in Bruges, Belgium and his Pieter Van In novels have sold, according to the book jacket, over a million copies in Europe and inspired a long-running television series. In this novel, Satanism becomes an element in a drug-dealing crew with the title suggesting all those occult “number title” books like The Ninth Configuration. The occult is not a big deal in this story, however, and it becomes your basic police procedural. A young reporter is embedded with Van In’s investigation and she also slightly suggests Lisbeth Salander without becoming a major part of the story, either. All in all, it is well put together, translated into comfortable English, a good quick read.

Tetsuya Honda. The Silent Dead. Translated from the Japanese by Giles Murray. Minotaur.

Japanese authors got into the mystery story fairly early and achieved a distinct mastery that evolved beyond imitating their English and French exemplars. Honda is one of the most popular Japanese authors, and his Reiko Himekawa series has sold millions of copies and inspired many television and film adaptations. Reiko is a young detective, the only woman in the homicide squad, which has a variety of characters for digressive interactions. Irritating her supervisors, she connects a couple of seemingly unconnected murders, predicting where other bodies may be found and it all leads up to a thrilling confrontation with the serial killer. The novel is deftly written and well translated. Everything is where it belongs. Like an episode of Law and Order: SVU, it is entertaining and works like a fine clock, chiming at exactly the correct moments without really startling you.

Junichiro Tanizaki.  Devils in Daylight. Translated from the Japanese by J. Keith Vincent. New Directions.

Tanizaki is considered maybe the greatest Japanese author and wouldn’t usually be called a crime writer, even though he was heavily influenced by Poe and many of his stories revolve around crime. This one (originally published in 1918) is perversely erotic, like many of his best stories, and in an unusual way follows the pattern and atmosphere of an old-fashioned amateur detective story, without becoming predictable. The main character is a writer whose friend interrupts his work to present him with a curious mystery that leads to a murder. As with some of Poe’s stories, this novelette balances on a knife-edge between horror and mystery. There is direct reference to “The Gold Bug” (and in the translators borrowing of some Poe phrasing) as the characters try to interpret coded messages, but the atmosphere of the journey through the foggy alleys of Tokyo screams “The Cask of Amontillado.” The translator’s note also points out the influence of Lady Murasaki, but make no mistake, Tanizaki takes all of his influences and makes them entirely his own.

Andrée A. Michaud. Boundary: The Last Summer. Translated from the French by Donald Winkler. Biblioasis.

We commonly praise a crime novel by calling it a “pageturner,” but there is a different kind of excellence in which each page is filled with subtle pleasures. To hurry through them misses the point. This is one of those rare novels, rich in character and detail, evoking a place made iconic by the author’s sensitive depiction of it. The story takes place in an area just inside Québec near the U.S. border where outsiders keep summer cabins and locals struggle through the year. Three prepubescent girls are enjoying what is likely their last innocent summer when one of them is murdered gruesomely in the woods. The novel is mostly about the effect this horror has on a number of characters, including the local constable. The area called “The Boundary” takes on the symbolism of the border between innocence and sexuality, between knowing the world as a place of wondrous days and learning how dark is the night. Boundary is a haunting, beautiful, and utterly unforgettable novel.   


© 2017, used by permission
J. Madison Davis is the president of IACW’s North American branch, an author, and a Contributing Editor at World Literature Today.