Monday, May 26, 2014

Sniffing Out Post-Soviet Detective Novels with Inspector NOSE

I’ve been having such terrible hay fever problems this spring that it seemed especially fitting to find news late last week about a special NOSE Award competition from the Prokhorov Foundation: Inspector NOSE. Inspector NOSE aims to inventory and assess Russian-language detective novels written since 1991, looking at how authors use the genre within and outside its usual norms, and examining the detectives themselves, with an eye on whether they can stand alongside classics like Holmes, Maigret, Brown, or Marple.

The Inspector NOSE longlist contains 32 books, of which I’ve read a grand total of four, though those four certainly attest to variety in NOSE’s list: Leonid Yuzefovich’s Казароза (Kazaroza) (previous post), Boris Akunin’s Азазель (The Winter Queen), Margarita Khemlin’s Дознаватель (The Investigator) (previous post), and Polina Dashkova’s Легкие шаги безумия (Madness Treads Lightly). Of those four, the only book that’s been translated into English is the Akunin: Andrew Bromfield has, in fact, translated a whole slew of books from Akunin’s series featuring Erast Fandorin. I think Akunin’s first nine books starring Fandorin are particularly fun. Though it’s not on this list, I want to mention that Marian Schwartz translated Yuzefovich’s Костюм Арлекина (Harlequin’s Costume) (previous post), the first of a historical detective novel trilogy featuring Ivan Dmitrievich Putilin, a character based on an actual Saint Petersburg police inspector. I enjoyed the first two books in the Putilin trilogy though felt even more affinity for Kazaroza because Yuzefovich brings elements including Civil War, Esperanto, and Lermontov.

But I do digress: the Inspector NOSE long list includes 28 other books, many by writers I’ve never heard of, though I’ve read books, albeit not the books on the NOSE list, by two others: Sergei Kuznetsov was listed for Шкурка бабочки (Butterfly Skin) and Alexandra Marinina, a blockbuster name in the Russian detective genre, is on the list for Стечение обстоятельств (Confluence of Circumstances), which, according to Wikipedia, was translated into English and published in Soviet & Post-Soviet Review, vol. 29, 2002. I’ve read short stories in the Moscow Noir (previous post) and Petersburg Noir (previous post) anthologies by several other writers on the list: Anton Chizh, listed for Божественный яд (Divine Poison/Venom); Andrei Kivinov, listed for Кошмар на улице стачек (Nightmare on Strike Street), and Master Chen, listed for Любимая мартышка дома Тан (Pet Monkey of the House of Tang). Master Chen’s book is one-third of a trilogy that includes Любимый ястреб дома Аббаса, available from Russian Life as The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas, translated by Liv Bliss.

Beyond that there are a few other familiar names, some more familiar than others: Lev Gurskii and his Перемена мест (maybe Changed Places?); Arsen Revazov with Одиночество -12 (Solitude 12), which I have but have not read; Alexander Bushkov, a huge bestseller, for Танец Бешеной (Mad/Crazy Woman’s Dance); and Sergei Kostin, author of the espionage thriller Пако Аррайя. В Париж на выходные (Paris Weekend, translated by Todd Bludeau). The rest of the books on the longlist are, as they say, terra incognita for me. Meaning I haven’t a clue. As a reader who enjoys the detective genre in lots of different forms, I’m looking forward to reading more about the debate, shortlist, and winner on June 3… and maybe even watching the proceedings over the Internet.

Disclaimers: The usual. I’m very happy to be working on two translations funded by Transcript program grants from the Prokhorov Foundation and am look forward to visiting the Prokhorov booth during BookExpo America this week.

Up Next: I’m hoping that my head will be together enough one of these days to finish my post about Yuri Mamleyev’s The Sublimes, though sometimes I think this dazed and altered state induced by pollen and Allegra might be the best way to write about such a crazy book! There will also be award news galore: NatsBest, the Big Book shortlist (very soon!), Read Russia Award, and Inspector NOSE results. Not to mention a BookExpo America trip report. And other books...


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