Friday, 8 April 2016

Algeria - Your Guide to its #CrimeFiction Literature

From afar, the Algerian  literary panorama may seem to have little to offer to crime fiction readers. The "classic novel" is still publishing houses' favourite and genre literature is not promoted in Algeria. But since the birth of the genre in Algeria in 70s, crime fiction does manage to punctually pierce through the net. Algerian crime writing doesn't suffer from a lack of imagination or style, the genre only suffers from not getting much visibility. It is this lack of visibility that at home and abroad has fed the the street myth that there are virtually no detective or crime fiction novels produced by Algerian writers. But a little hunt in Algeria's bookshops and discussions with readers are enough to show that Algerian writers have been having a lot of fun with the genre and have regularly produced detective and crime stories in French and Arabic over the last 40 years and continue to do so.

I have been hunting for detective and crime writing by Algerian novelists for the last 6 years and the below is the result of my findings. Here is my top 20. My full list of Algerian detective and crime fiction is here.

Sakarat Nedjma - by Amel Bouchareb  (Chihab eds, 2015)
[Flickers of a star]

Sakarat Nedjma (Flickers of a Star) is the thriller of the year. Bouchareb has woven a very entertaining and daring story around the “Khamsa” (aka the Hand of Fatma), its meaning and the enigma of why it features right in the middle of our Algerian passports, in gold among the green, below the moon crescent and star, above sun rays, aside wheat and olive more here.

Qu'attendent les singes ? - by Yasmina Khadra (2014, Juliard) 
[What are monkeys waiting for?]

Nora, chief inspector in Algiers' police force, is called one early morning to Bainem forest where a young girl has been found murdered, mutilated. Nora begins her investigation in a seemingly present-day Algiers, where the city's background are cursing taxi drivers and former hustlers turned power-holders. Its foreground, a corrupted Algerian press and a gangrened intellectual scene. With a will of steal, incorruptible and supported by a team of male colleagues only misogynist and homophobic on the surface, Nora begins investigating and won't give up nor give in until she unspins the net an aged serial killer has woven.... read more here.

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

"Alger la noire" by Algerian author Maurice Attia, published in 2006, by [éditions barzakh] et Actes Sud is undeniably one of the best Algerian crime novels since the birth of the genre in Algeria in 1970. To mark high up on the list of detective fiction fans. read more here

Available with Barzakh here and with Actes Sud here.

Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet - by Amara Lakhous (2014, Europa eds)

Joseph, a Nigerian refugee now in Italy and awaiting to be reunited with his family has got himself a piglet to keep him company. Gino the piglet lets himself out and goes walkabout. He is found in the local mosque. Upon finding him, the little muslim community accuses the litte local nationalist group, the local nationalist group accuses the muslim community, the protection against animal cruelty group accuses everyone. Meanwhile, Gino is given to local resident Enzo Laganà, a journalist who no longer believes in his profession. He himself is pretending to be on the hunt of the murderer of four Albanian immigrants. To see his papers make headlines, he does what everybody does, he makes up lies, and gets more and more entangled. Will the assassin find Enzo? Will Gino be forgiven?  A pertinent story to read and reread given out times of highly debatable press ethics in matters of immigration, and others.... read more here.

La prière du Maure - by Adlene Meddi (2008, Barzakh eds)
[The Moor's prayer]

Retired Chief Superintendent Djoudet (Djo) receives a phonecall from Zedma, a Kalashnikov-ed leader protected by the authorities who had once saved him during an ambush. Zedma asks Djo to repay his debt. He wants Djo to find Amine, a young bus driver's assistant who spent the night at the station because of the curfew, but was never seen again.
Djo knows Zedma is not giving him the full story so he calls on his brother Aybak, a high ranking Colonel, and asks him to discretely hunt for information on other events that may have occurred that night. He quickly discovers that Security Services are keeping an explosive secret: the only daughter of the all-powerful Intelligence Services' chief was murdered on the same night that Amine disappeared, and in the same area.
This novel in which Meddi reminds us that even the lives of gods have an end is a detective novel to re-explore.given Algeria's current affairs... read more here

Ombre 67 (2007, Casbah eds) - by Ahmed Gasmia 
[Shadow 67]

Shadow 67 (Ombre 67) briefly begins in Algiers with two cousins who go to pick up their tourist visas to go to Paris and Madrid. Rashid is a scientist working for an international company and is taking his closest friend, his cousin Karim, with him on a week holiday. The next morning of their arrival in Paris, on their way to visit the Eiffel Tower, Rashid pales before a man he sees far away in the crowd and who advances towards him calling him Hassan. Panicked, Rashid hurries his cousin back to the hotel, and with no explanation forces him into a cab and orders him to return to Algiers, then disappears. Karim of course does not return home, makes his way back to their original hotel and begins to search for his disappeared cousin. After having alerted the French police, the Algerian Embassy in Paris and enrolling the help of a woman journalist looking for a scoop, he becomes embroiled in a case a lot more threatening than had at first appeared : the 11th century sect the Assassins has been resurrected... read more here

Dead Man's Share - by Yasmina Khadra (transl. by Aubrey Botsford, 2004)

Superintendent Brahim Llob is bored out of his mind in a seemingly crimeless Algiers. Boredom makes him irritable and the latest antics of his partner Lino, a handsome and promising young guy from the popular area Bab El Oued, are also beginning to unnerve him, both because Lino is getting out of control, no longer showing up for work, and because he suspects Lino is getting entrapped by his latest catch, a woman whose identity no one even dares to guess.

To try and lift his spirits, Llob pays a visit to Allouche, an old friend and former psychiatrist, once a great intellectual the regime crushed (he was kidnapped and horrendously tortured), and who now resides in a mental hospital. When Llob gets there, Allouche has a favour to ask: a presidential grace is about to let loose a serial killer. He begs Llob to tail the man that state institutions have named SNP because his real identity was never established... read more here

Complot à Alger - by Ahmed Gasmia (2006, Casbah eds)

Yacine and Adel are two old friends on their way to work. Yacine, the dreamer of the two, works for a museum in Algiers about to get closed because of lack of funds. He is on his way to a difficult meeting with the museum director, Mr Yousfi, an old and gentle man desperately trying to save the museum. Adel, always cautious and down to earth, works in a bank and promises to try and think of something that might raise some funds.
The two friends meet after work to go and grab a bite to eat but Yacine receives a phonecall from Yousfi who asks him to come urgently. The Minister of Culture's decision regarding the museum's affairs is about to fall: it will be closed and not even a private venture can save it. Yacine and Adel make their way to the museum, where Yacine goes off to meet with Yousfi, while Adel waits for them and wanders off in the various private rooms usually closed to public view.... read more here

Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio - by Amara Lakhous (transl. by Ann Goldstein, 2008, Europa eds)

Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio tells of how the other is viewed, and how the other views himself or herself.
The characters are tenants in a building on Piazza Vittorio.  Each in turn recount how he or she has met the neighbours and the residents living around the Piazza.  Each character's chapter is titled "The truth according to... ", a polyphonic narration that engages the reader with the truth of a story. " 'Are we doomed to be alone at the origins of truth?' I said to myself that the word 'truth' must always be accompanied by a question mark or an exclamation point or a parenthesis, or quotation marks, never a period." All narrations are linked to one event, and each narrator comments on it: a murder has been committed in their elevator, and the person they thought to be their kindest neighbour Amadeo is accused of it.... read more here


Nabadhate akher al-leil - by Nassima Bouloufa (2015, Vescera eds.)
[Heartbeats in the dead of the night]

Leila is a police officer in Algiers, a new recruit in a workforce that is strictly male and doesn't look upon women as having suitable shoulders to carry the job. Still, she is paired with officer Kamel, and is happy to work. When Leila's good friend Safinez is found dead in her villa, her husband and relatives call it is a suicide. Safinez was a novelist of fantasy fiction, and her attraction to all things paranormal are blamed for her weak mental state. Leila doesn't believe in this theory and takes it upon herself to solve what she believes is a cold blooded murder.

A la mémoire du commandant Larbi - by Nabil Benali (2002, Barzakh eds)
(In memory of Major Larbi)

Moncef Chergui, el âgrab (the scorpion) comes back to Oran to deal with a strange case. The elderly man guarding the entrance of the Depêche d'Oran newspaper is found dead. Salim Larbi, a young journalist working for the newspaper, is accused of his murder, he was seen on that very morning running away from the scene. Moncef has come to prove Salim's innocence, Salim is the only son of his best friend, Major Larbi... read more here.

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

Loner Inspector Sami Sherif has just finished a case and thinks he can get some leave but Commissioner Karim Barki has an urgent case for him to close fast and is assigned a new partner to help, Kacem Fakhri. A young girl is found dead in her apartment by her elderly neighbour. A discreet girl, Sonia Zaid had few friends, was hardworking, and shared the key to her apartment with no one. Who could possibly have wanted this woman dead? Sherif and Fakhri will have to prove that one of the members of the wealthy and powerful Khan family had more than a motive to kill Zaid.   

Le serment des barbares - by Boualem Sansal (2001, Gallimard)
[The Barbarians' oath]

Two men are murdered. Moh is the crime lord of the area, super rich, untouchable, he had a hand in all the contraband and corruption business of the region. Abdallah Bakour is a poor man, an anonymous person in comparison. It is the murder case of the latter which is given to Larbi, an old, tired but cunning detective, who is going to piece together all the elements of the two puzzles.

Adel s'emmele - by Salim Aissa (1988, ENAL eds)
[Adel gets entangled]

Adel is a bullheaded police inspector who works in Algiers, a chaotic capital in which crime abounds. There, further injustice is created daily by a lethargic public system in which all involved are corrupted. In an environment that is becoming increasingly aggressive and violent, Adel and his colleagues, Chelli a woman inspector, and Dahmane the trainee, are doing their best to remain sane and focused, so as to solve crimes. Not for their personal glory or for promotion but out of a genuine concern for the victims... read more here.

Les Pirates du Desert - by Zehira Houfani (1986)
[Pirates of the Desert]

Les pirates du désert (Pirates of the desert) is a light, and entertaining detective story set in Tamanrasset where Omrane, the political representative of the Algerian government there, is trying his utmost to stop crime in Tam, but to no avail. A gang has rapidly grown from small time rackets to large-scaled and well-planned illegal operations. It has now created a parallel market in the area, over which it rules. All the agents Omrane has sent after the gang have died in suspicious circumstances, and he begins to suspect that someone is sabotaging every one of his counter-operations. He writes to the authorities in Algiers, who know the illegal trade is not only affecting Tamanrasset but is a widespread phenomenon quickly swallowing up all of Algeria... read more here

Shifra min sarab - by Ismael Ben Saada (Chihab eds, 2014)
[Code from a mirage] 
Description here. Available here.

Abduction - by Anouar Benmalek (2011, Arabia books)
 (Le Rapt in the original French, published by Fayard eds, 2011)

"Drawn together by the tortured memory of a massacre years ago, a shared experience binds Mathieu, Tahar and Aziz, and has repercussions for Meriem and Chehra, Aziz's wife and daughter. Chehra is abducted, and the kidnapper's brutal demands and threats of violent torture turn this into a tense thriller. But how far will Aziz go to save his family?"

Double blank - by Yasmina Khadra - an Inspector Llob Mystery 
(transl. 2005, Toby Crime) (with Folio eds for the original French)
French orginal, Double Blanc, by Baleine eds, 1998, available here.

"Ben Ouda, a senior ranking diplomat is found savagely murdered. Is this yet another victim of the never ending Islamic fundamentalist violence plaguing Algiers? Inspector Llob has doubts: Ben Ouda had too many fiends, too many far fetched theories...Against the background of a city in turmoil, Inspector Llob navigates the Algiers underworld and its rich elite. He resists the pressure of politicians, fundamentalists and crooks, in his pursuit of the truth"... find out more here


The Strangler of Algiers by Azdine (Apic éditions (Apic Noir) in 2010)
[L’étrangleur d’Alger]
The niece of the minister has been found strangled in the lavatories of her university. Just as Inspector Ben is called to investigate, another victim is found strangled. A serial murderer is on the loose in Algiers and he seems only interested in the daughters of privileged families... find out more here

La Vengeance passe par Ghaza - by Youcef Khader (1970, SNED)
[Vengeance will pass through Gaza]

Khader published six spy novels where the many perilous missions of  Mourad Saber aka agent SM 15 unfold.  Saber is 30, Algerian through and through meaning of course honourable, noble, fearless, stubborn and quite nuts.  His past is explosive: he was an ANL fighter in the Aures region, then he was promoted to work for the Military Security (the SM) in counter-intelligence... read more here

For regular news and reviews of Algerian fiction, follow Algerian Literature on FB.

No comments: