Friday, 12 April 2013

Algerian Detective Story Writers - Top 10

{(under expansion)}

Although titled "Top 10", this is now a Top 11 and expanding. These detective novels are by far the better crafted crime novels I've come across. Check out the whole list here however, they're all worth a read!

1- Maurice Attia - Alger la noire (2012, Barzakh) 
[Alger, the black city]

Available with Barzakh here and with Actes Sud here.


2- Amel Bouchareb
Sakarat Nedjma (the flutters of the star)
(Chihab eds, 2015)

See here for a review.

3- Amara Lakhous 
Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, (transl. 2008)
Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet,  Europa Eds, 2014

4- Rahima Karim - Le meurtre de Soma Zaïd (2002, MARSA eds)
(The murder of Soma Zaïd)

5- Salim Aïssa 

Adel s'emmele... Alger, ENAL, 1988.

Mimouna, Alger, Laphomic, 1987. 

6- Abahri Larbi 
Banderilles et muleta. Alger, SNED, 1981.


7- Adlene Meddi
La prière du Maure (2008) [The Moor's prayer]
Le casse-tête turc (Berzakh ed.) (2002) [The Turkish Chinese-Puzzle]

8- Mohammad Benayat
Fredy la rafale, Alger, ENAL, 1991.

9- Boualem Sansal
Le serment des barbares, Folio, 2001. 

10- Youcef Khader
Délivrez la Fidayia! Alger, SNED, 1970.
Halte au plan «terreur». Alger, SNED, 1970.
Pas de «Phantoms» pour Tel-Aviv. Alger, SNED, 1970.
La Vengeance passe par Ghaza. Alger, SNED, 1970.
Les Bourreaux meurent aussi... Alger, SNED, 1972.
Quand les "Panthères " attaquent... Alger, SNED, 1972.

11- Khadra Yasmina
L’automne des chimères. Paris, Editions Baleine, 1998 [Commissaire Llob mystery]
Morituri. Paris, Editions Baleine, 1997 [Commissaire Llob mystery]
Double blanc. Paris, Editions Baleine, 1997 [Commissaire Llob mystery] 
La Foire des enfoirés. Alger, Laphomic, 1993 [Commissaire Llob mystery]
Le Dingue au bistouri. Alger, Laphomic, 1990 [Commissaire Llob mystery]
La part du mort, Julliard, 2004 [Commissaire Llob mystery] 
Qu'attendent les singes ? Julliard, 2014 [Inspector Nora mystery]


My readings were initially guided by this excellent paper. If you have any other pointers, and suggestions, do get in touch.

La Saga des Djinns by Djamel Dib

Djamel Dib is another novelist whose name is said to make the top 10 in the Algerian detective-story writers category. Another francophone writer, sorry about that.  Dib is said to be part of the second wave of Algerian detective novel's development (started from the mid-80s). 

The Djinns' Saga (La Saga des Djinns) was published in 1986 by the Entreprise Nationale du Livre.

La Saga des Djinns starts off well enough. It is set just outside Tamanrasset on an oil dig in the mid 80s. The inislimen Moussa Abegui is on his way to his zaouia to enter a long meditation. He knows trouble is coming (1) and blood is about to pour as an ancestral secret has been violated.  He is very good friends with Obed, the director of the oil dig managed by an all Algerian crew of specialists.  As Sheikh Abegui makes his way followed by a strong sense of unease, three murders occur on the rig. 

That is when inspector Antar arrives, assisted by his two detectives, l'Apprenti and le Moco. The character of Antar and l'Apprenti are said to be a continuation of l'inspecteur Tahar.  Antar is not funny though, it is the couple l'Apprenti and le Moco who are relied on to bring banter and comedy. Well, supposed comedy.  It is l'Apprenti and le Moco's series of reparties and nonsensical discussions that keep interupting the story flow, so much so that by the time they are done chewing the fat, we're nearing page 180, Sheikh Abegui whom we had left off in great despair re-emerges at around page 200 beaten up to a pulpe! And the murders continue while no one understands a thing, least of all the reader.

The story centres around the many illicit trades that enter and exit through the Algerian desert, by air and by jeep.  I found the disguised facts that Dib brought in regarding that aspect very informative, but I doubt I'll read Dib's other two novels, La Résurrection d'Antar (1986) and L'Archipel du Stalag (1989).

Dib's vocabulary range is large and very enjoyable, he is also a master of registers, going from the highly literary to colloquial French in a roller-coaster manner. It is the excess which is a spoiler.  My main axe to grind with his style is the adjective overdose and drowning the story in ramblings that are passed off as comedy. I've met that kind of comedy in a popular French polar serial before, the name of which I cannot remember. It also features an overweight assistant detective bent on repartie overdrive.

Dib apparently is "one of the most important and interesting author of the genre since Youcef Khader" but having just finished his novel  I would beg to differ though.  This novel is 237 pages of schizophrenic writing.

That is to say, it contains about 130 pages of a potentially very good detective novel, with the remainder to be placed in a recycle word-bin.  I wonder if those who read Algerian literary production and make such statement as the above cited article actually read the novels, or simply view any Algerian lit with the orientalist's paternalising eyes that make them see any such lit as cute and because the bare-footed native has learnt to write.

(1) I know... it's not a very appropriate video but while reading the Sheikh Moussa section, this track kept playing on and on in my mind's ears. Not very Tamanrasset-i, granted...

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Le Mur, le Kabyle et le Marin by Antonin Varenne - Book Review

This detective novel with no detective was inspired by a confidence Varenne's dad told him as he passed away. It is the story of proletaires French youths sent to do their military service in Algeria and finding themselves face to face with their comrades who unflinchingly practiced torture as ordered by their hierarchy.

In this novel, as with Fredy La Rafale by Mohamed Benayat, it is a French guy, The Wall (Le Mur), a boxer, who is sort of hired to help carry out retribution.

The Wall, the Kabyle and the Sailor tells the story of French soldiers who refused to obey orders to torture Algerians during Algeria's war of independence against France, how they developed complex war-friendships with Algerian inmates, and how they left Algeria completely traumatised by what they had witnessed, spending the rest of their lives trying to forget.

But Algerians never forget, and in this novel, Le Kabyle returns to seek vengeance. And he smashes it. Pow!

Fredy La Rafale by Mohamed Benayat

In the Algerian detective story genre, Mohamed Benayat and his Fredy La Rafale are references. It's part of my Algerian detective story reading trek. So far, I've only encountered DZ detective stories written in French.

The version of the book I found is 200 pages long with several pages printed twice, one after the other (which made for some surreal late night reading). It was published by l'Entreprise Nationale du Livre, Algiers in 1991.

It's a short novel, fast-paced and quite well written when the author gets going.  There are several parts, the beginning in particular and middle sections, which are disturbingly. stop. telegraphic. stop. written. in.stop. hic-up style (fortunately nothing like the he said-she said-he said-she said-he replied  torture of that awful book Djibouti by Elmore Leonard... never buying a New York bestseller ever again...)

Fredy La Rafale is set in France, just before and just after the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris.  Our dear Fredy is a French rogue, 50% justicier, 50% bandit, 100% drunk and 200% philosopher of life, who is hired by a young woman, an Algerian FLN activist who was kidnapped with her brother by four harki guys.  These militias operated in Paris, hired by some members of the French police or tolerated, to keep the Algerians in check.  They kill her brother in front of her, rape her and leave her for dead on a train track. She (Soraya) manages to escape a running train, makes it back to Paris and goes to her friend, a German woman married to a French policeman. This couple still remembers the second world war and its horrors (ie they hate torture and support Algerians).  The German woman has been helping Soraya for a while to transport suitcases of money the FLN used to have transferred to various elements within and without France. She is clearly a sympathiser of the Algerian cause. Her husband is equally valiant and kind. Although a policeman, he represents the many French who were against the segregation and mistreatments Algerians endured, and speaks of giving agency to Algerians so that they can choose the destiny of their country.

Fredy and his two side kicks accept the challenge of (and the fee for) tracking down the head of the militias, a sadist harki called Bouledogue who loves stuffing his face with couscous, beats his prostitute girlfriend senseless as a hobby and is, among other unspeakable traits in Benayat's eyes, a sodomite.

While Fredy is training for his mission (he's sobering up) in a remote countryside house outside Paris,  running up and down the canal like Rambo while philosophising on life and the murder of his girlfriend and unborn child, Soraya's policeman friend makes a big mistake during one of his run-ins with his hierarchy: he openly complains about the torture taking place in the basement of their police station.  To show who's boss, a harki militia headed by Bouledogue is dispatched to his home where they burst in on the couple at night, and kill both. But these two have a 12 year old son, Alain. He manages to escape the harkis and knowing Soraya's and Fredy's haunt, walks there in pyjamas for over 24 hours. He manages to reach the pair and tells them his parents have both been murdered before him (and his mum was pregnant).

Now Fredy is super pissed off and a fast-paced 24 hour all guns out ensues, 24 style, with the aim to go and wipe out Bouledogue and his crew. I won't tell you how it ends. Well, only this bit. Soraya and Fredy don't hook up, because Soraya has sworn never to date a French guy. She also stays behind to keep fighting with the FLN and is sent to the djebel.

Fredy La Rafale is a light and very enjoyable story if you like the polar genre.  It is really nutty in places though (I haven't told you about the acolytes).  A big thumb up for me, are the music references such as HonkyTonk Man (I'm cool, I'm cocky, I'm bad!), Fredy's favourite Golden Earrings, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. Great tastes Benayat.

Fredy La Rafale did remind me strongly of the recently published Le Mur, le Kabyle et le Marin (The Wall, the Kabyle and the Sailor) by Antonin Varenne, also set in Paris for the most part.

PS: Incidentally, I haven't found any bio for Mohamed Benayat, my Google search only match a film maker and may be it is the same person. Anyone of you knows of him? Ta.