Being Flemish, I’m a bit shy. It stems from the past, when almost every European nation invaded Flanders and told us that we were pig-headed peasants, stupid clodhoppers, various kinds of insects and vermin, and the like.
Being Flemish, I’m very stubborn. It stems from the past, when… Okay.
Therefore, I have tweaked “The Best Mysteries Set in Europe,” my assignment for this blog post, a bit.
As an author, I think that genres are not important in the end. The story, style, atmosphere, and characterization are. But we live in a world where everything has to be catalogued. So, for me, a good mystery features not only a suspenseful and original story, but also delves into the psyche, digs for the alliances between Eros and Thanatos, and explores the depths of our hidden cravings. This hefty task must be executed with style, unusual situations, weird settings, different cultures, and subterranean secrets of the soul.
I could make it easy for myself and start a list with Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon, all the household names of mysteries set in European countries. You can pluck such lists from the Internet, so why bother?
I’m more interested in telling you about a few striking European-set mysteries I have read lately. My “list” is not in the order of the best first and the least good last. Clodhoppers don’t think that way.
Arab Jazz – Karim Miské
A hot potpourri of multicultural Paris, disbanded hip-hop groups, extremist Jihad preachers, and a violently murdered woman, found with a pork joint next to her body. Unusual, very atmospheric, in sync with the topics that live today in society. A true new voice, influenced by the Arabic culture.
Critique of Criminal Reason – Michael Gregorio
An author who is able to introduce the philosopher Immanuel Kant in a believable way in a novel can count on my admiration. Königsberg, Prussia, 1804, gruesome winter, gruesome serial killer. The young magistrate Hanno Stiffeniis calls in the elderly Kant to help him solve the murders with pure logic. But Kant has his own demons to tame. Intellectual, suspenseful, and original historical fiction.
Christine Falls – Benjamin Black
I was impressed by Benjamin Black’s elegant prose and classic approach of the genre. No wonder: Black is the pen name of Booker Prize Winner John Banville. He shows the reader how insidious religion—in this case, the Irish Catholic Church—can be. Dublin in the fifties—and to a lesser extent Boston—form the somber background for the musings of Quirk, a peculiar sleuth to say the least. Vivid and psychologically fascinating, surrounded by a haze of existential angst.
Medusa – Michael Dibdin
Aurelio Zen, the resigned and improvising Italian commissioner, is a creation of British author Michael Dibdin. Dibdin, who has lived in Italy, dissects the corrupt and very complicated Italian society with piercing vivacity. Corpses in the Italian Alps, car bombings in an Italian tax haven, nasty political mush, and Zen more than ever trying to be Zen, makes this novel one of my favorites in Dibdin’s series.
The Death of Achilles – Boris Akunin
My novel Baudelaire’s Revenge got me the title “The Belgian Boris Akunin” in one of the reviews. Naturally, I became curious to read this Russian mystery writer. Now I’m proud of the comparison. Set in Moscow in 1882, this captivating novel with a high-strung, undulating plot showcases master detective Erast Fandorin, a true Russian Sherlock Holmes, and reveals the depth and melancholy of the Slavic soul. A sniff of Chekhov’s poetic style, a pinch of Gogol’s madness, a dash of Tolstoy’s grandeur. Not bad, eh?
Dear reader—and how romantic is that 19th century salutation!—I would like to end with a question. Would you send me your comments about “unusual” mystery writers whom you have read lately? That would sure tickle my fancy. Thanks in advance; happy reading.
The Belgian author Bob Van Laerhoven debuted in 1985 with Night Game. More than 30 novels followed.
He explored trouble-spots across the globe from 1990 to 2003: Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar, Mozambique, Lebanon, Burundi… During the Bosnian war, he was in besieged Sarajevo, and in 1995 he sneaked into Tuzla when the refugees arrived from the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. His conversations with them resulted in the book Testimony to a Mass Murder.
De wraak van Baudelaire won him the Hercule Poirot Prize for best suspense novel. La Vengeance de Baudelaire was published in France and in Canada, followed by Baudelaire’s Revenge in the US, and Le Mensonge d’Alejandro in France. Baudelaire’s Revenge won the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category “mystery/suspense.” Recently, Dangerous Obsessions, stories with war as a background, came out. Contributed to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Conclave, and Wasafiri.