Thursday, November 13, 2014

The French Thrill

Today, please welcome Emma, who blogs at Words and Peace and also runs France Book Tours. She's here to tell us about the next big thing—French thrillers!

Scandinavian countries used to be at the top for crime fiction, detective fiction or mysteries, but now the big thrill is coming from France!

alex pierre lemaitre
Even the British think so: the French Fred Vargas and Pierre Lemaitre recently won the International Dagger Award. British readers love Fred so much they have actually given her this award four times already.
In France itself, Pierre Lemaitre won the prestigious award Prix Goncourt in 2013, proof that the genre is indeed in great shape. His thriller Alex, translated in English, is soon to be a movie.

Each year more than 16 million thrillers and crime novels are sold in France, that is 25% of sales in bookstores. Over 1,500 new books in that genre are published in France every year.

So, what’s so special about French crime fiction?

According to The Independent, the French have the perfect combination, with real writers who are also masters at storytelling.

I would like to highlight here a few examples:

Plots are often based on specifics pertaining to France:

jean-francois parot
Its history. Jean-François Parot is a good example with his series of historical mysteries featuring Nicolas Le Floch, an XVIIIth century policeman. Gallic Press has been publishing them in English.
For more recent history, there’s Le dernier tigre rouge, just published by Jérémie Guez (born in 1988), on the French Foreign Legion.

moon in a dead eye pascal garnier
New social realities. Pascal Garnier comes to mind here. He died a few years ago, but his novels are still popular and are being translated, also by Gallic Press whose mission is to offer the best of French in English. Moon in a Dead Eye takes place in a gated community for senior citizens. His detailed and atmospheric descriptions seem to me quite characteristic of the French literary genius that gave birth to its great classics.

There’s also the very recent Aux animaux la guerre, by Nicolas Mathieu, with an unfortunately common situation these days: a factory closes in France, hundreds of workers are unemployed, and they are ready to do anything to express their hatred of a vanishing world.
 And La faux soyeuse by Eric Maravelias, in a Paris suburb struggling with violence and AIDS!

treachery in bordeaux
Cultural elements. One of the most popular icon of French culture is certainly wine. And here one big name comes out: The Winemaker Detective series by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Alain Noël Balen. Le French Book, which does a fantastic job at making French fiction better known to the English speaking world, has just translated and published 4 volumes.

crossing the line frederique molay
New kinds of murderers, new place given to technology. I’m thinking here of another great French woman author of thrillers: Frédérique Molay. Her latest novel, Crossing The Line (Le French Book), shows a mastery in the procedural genre, combined with a very original inspiration. Her style is also extremely visual, probably a trait common to many works in this new wave of French thrillers.

Some other current names in this genre called roman policier or polar in French are Dominique Manotti (don’t tell me the French don’t have women writers!), Caryl Férey, Michaël Mention, or DOA (for Dead On Arrival!), among others.

Because of its success, publishers naturally turn to crime fiction, and several have just started new collections. For instance:

  • «Crimes gourmands», (Fayard) this time on food and chefs!
  • «Suspense» (Héloïse d'Ormesson) for psychological thrillers written by women
  • «Crimes et monuments» (Éditions du Patrimoine) for historical thrillers

It sounds like the perfect time has come to encourage English translators, or best, for you to learn French!


  1. thanks for publishing this. I hope it encourages many readers to go beyond their comfort zone and try something different

  2. Love these suggestions. I love mysteries/crime fiction and reading around the world. Pinning this to my Books to read board till I get them into Goodreads. Hope you join our Travel the World in Books reading challenge so that you can link up some of these book reviews and share with our readers (not just France but any country).

  3. This is so cool :) I enjoy mysteries and study French, so this is the perfect combo! I love learning about more modern French reads too, as a lot of my course is focussed on older stuff. Love it! :)
    Rachel @ Dashing Good Books

  4. Thanks for the great recommendations! So many of these look good!!


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