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Crime Fiction in Translation

By Jane Bentham, Lucy Clark, Rob Tomlinson


The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia, translated from Italian by Arthur Oliver


In a Sicilian town in the 1960s, a man is murdered in broad daylight, and no one will admit to witnessing anything. As the assigned police officer sinks deeper into his investigation, he uncovers the unrivalled power of the Mafia, who have entangled an entire community into their web of intimidation and silence. In one of the first books to publicly denounce the Mafia’s control over Sicily, Sciascia skilfully turns the typical detective novel on its head, as criminals emerge from the heart of society and the investigator faces persistent obstacles to bring the guilty to justice.

 

Tokyo Express by Seichō Matsumoto, translated from Japanese by Jesse Kirkwood


A bestseller in Japan since its first publication in 1958, this fast-paced novel begins with a man and a woman found dead on a beach. While their deaths are initially dismissed as a joint suicide, two police officers realise that the case is much more complicated than it seems. We join the detectives as they attempt to piece together a complex puzzle, involving railway lines and timetables, in their search for the truth. Featuring a clever mystery with an engaging portrait of life in post-war Japan, Tokyo Express will keep you hooked until the very end.


The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri, translated from Italian by Stephen Sartarelli​


The first in Andrea Camilleri’s Sicilian crime series, The Shape of Water stars detective and gastronomy enthusiast, Inspector Salvo Montalbano. Set in the fictional town of Vigàta, a town where drug dealing and prostitution have flourished, Montalbano is faced with a death where the coroner’s verdict is natural causes, but the streetwise Inspector has other ideas. Despite facing pressure from Vigàta's police chief, judge and bishop to leave the case closed, Montalbano pursues his inquiries, delving into a world of corruption, and eating some delicious meals on the way, as he stops at nothing to get to the truth.


Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indriðason, translated from Icelandic by Bernard Scudder


Another crime series to get stuck into, Silence of the Grave is the first in the Icelandic series that follows Inspector Erlendur. In this first instalment in the series, a body is found in a shallow grave on a building site in Reykjavík, an area that was previously all open hills and fields. At first, Erlendur hopes this is just a typical case of someone having gotten lost in the snow, but it soon becomes apparent that things are not so simple. Through his investigation and search for missing persons, he uncovers a history of pain and suffering, including some family secrets of his own, as it becomes clear that secrets cannot stay buried forever.

 

Ballad of Dogs’ Beach by José Cardoso Pires, translated from Portuguese by Mary Fitton


A blend of fiction and reality, Ballad of Dogs’ Beach examines the profound and destabilising influence of censorship and dictatorship on our collective understanding of history. The dual narrative relates the investigation of a real murder blamed on a dissident political group, simultaneously following the group as they go into hiding and the actions of Detective Elias Santana as he investigates the case. The dull repetition of Santana’s daily life is retold in detail, emphasising the stifling political climate of the era.


The novel’s innovative aspect stems from its use of a real crime investigation to catalyse an examination of the ongoing damage done to society by the repressive Salazar dictatorship that ruled Portugal from the 1920s to the 1970s. In the absence of accurate historical records and with the corruption of justice by the politicised nature of policing, it falls to authors like José Cardoso Pires to reimagine the reality of Portugal’s past. The tale offered here may not be an exact retelling of events, but in its evocation of an era and its search for a past effaced from the official record of history, it is in many ways true. 


Murder at the Residence by Stella Blómkvist, translated from Icelandic by Quentin Bates 


The first of an eight-part Icelandic mystery series, Murder at the Residence blends suspense, social commentary and intricate plotlines, while exploring murder, misogyny and corruption. Steeped in mystery and intrigue in more ways than one, the author, who goes by Stella Blómkvist, has kept their identity anonymous for twenty-five years, despite much speculation.

Set in post-financial crisis Iceland, the story unfolds through multiple intertwining cases, each adding layers of complexity and intrigue. From the high-profile murder of a financier to a missing persons case no one seems to care about, the threads of the story weave together to centre around the protagonist, a lawyer who is also named Stella Blómkvist. ​​As Stella delves deeper into the mysteries surrounding her, she confronts not only the intricacies of the cases but also the underlying societal injustices that perpetuate them.

 

 

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