World Voices: The Literary Side of Crime

By Carmen Comment

(photo credits: Mary Reagan)

S.J. Rozan
introduced Saturday’s “Literary Thrillers” panel, held at the Bowery Ballroom, by saying the subject was “one close to my heart.” And even though the topic didn’t get addressed directly by panelists Kenji Jasper, Henry Chang and Alicia Giminez-Bartlett until the question period (when I played ringer and asked what, exactly, made thrillers literary) the topic permeated the hour-plus discussion, which quickly established that Chang and Jasper care a great deal about having their characters drive the story and basing said stories on their own respective realities (Jasper grew up in inner-city DC, Chang in New York’s Chinatown, where he still resides.) Bartlett delineated the difference between genre constraints and literary expansiveness and how she felt it was, in some way, easier to write crime fiction as a result.

During the signing portion afterwards I finally had the chance to meet Giminez-Bartlett’s panelmates from the previous night’s “Mediterranean Noir” event, Carlo Lucarelli and Massimo Carlotto. Neither Italian writer is comfortable enough speaking English (something I didn’t figure out until my attempt at conversation with Lucarelli) so translator Michael Reynolds intermediated between me and Carlotto, who was also in town for the Edgar Awards (where he was nominated for Best Paperback Original.) When I asked Carlotto if it was odd to have read from “his newest novel” IL FUGGIASCO – really his first, written twelve years ago – he said no because he’s frequently asked to speak about his voluminous legal woes in and around Italy. He did add that the “Carlotto Case,” as it’s known there, is not exactly fresh material for him anymore.

Carlotto, Lucarelli, Giminez-Bartlett and Yasmina Khadra convened Friday evening at the Morgan Library, where Alice Sebold was supposed to have moderated. Instead, she bowed out after breaking her leg and Scribner editor/crime novelist Colin Harrison stepped in. The lack of preparation was sadly evident as Harrison relied all too much on a pile of notes – probably not his own – and as the introductions labored on both for the gist of the panel (“what makes noir noir” were some of the oh-so-original insights) the audience grew visibly and vocally restless. The tension broke when Giminez-Bartlett, the first reader, couldn’t find her prepared reading and asked to give up her spot. After that, Harrison played editor and cut down on the intros giving the other readers their 10 minutes of reading fame.

Without any real chance for audience q&a – or author q&a, for that matter – it was up to the authors to provide small glimpses of personality, even when their translators weren’t helping them to do so. Carlotto lounged almost insouciantly, his hand gestures giving clear evidence of his desire to smoke. Lucarelli was poised and had the subtle grace likely on display in his duties as host of a television show about missing and murdered Italians. Giminez-Bartlett, the only panelist who spoke in English, displayed fire when talking about why she chose a female protagonist, making digs at Margaret Thatcher and Condoleeza Rice as what she termed bad examples of women in power. And the best moment occurred after Khadra (real name Mohammed Moulessoul) finished reading:

“Thank you, Mohammed,” said Harrison.


“I don’t understand -”

“You said Thank you, Mohammed. You meant Thank you, Yasmina.”

It was, shall we say, effective.