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June’s Best International Crime Fiction

June’s Best International Crime Fiction

There’s only one truly new novel in this month’s crop of international crime fiction—the others are all reissues, some translated for the first time, and others back in print for the first time in decades. Any translated novel takes a village to produce, but a translated and reissued novel is a special kind of group project, and I want to express some appreciation for the great translators, editors, and publishers whose passionate advocacy for global fiction is responsible for so many of the books I read and love. Without further ado, the list!

Aleksandr Skorobogatov, Russian Gothic
Translated by Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse
(Rare Bird Books)

Aleksandr Skorobogatov’s haunting masterpiece of jealously and rage first came out in 1991, but it’s taken three decades to make its way over to English-language audiences. In Russian Gothic, a veteran with severe PTSD is convinced his wife having an affair, a conjecture put forth by the mysterious Sergeant Bertrand, who is either a conniving mastermind or a hallucination conjured up to confirm the narrator’s suspicions. Reality is doubly questioned via the veteran’s wife, who splits her time between pretending to be in love on stage and pretending to be okay in the presence of her increasingly violent husband. This book might as well be titled “Russian Grand Guignol,” for the plot is not for the faint-hearted.

Antoine Laurain, French Windows
Translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie

(Gallic Books)

A therapist gets an unusual new client at the start of Antoine Laurain’s slyly humorous new thriller. The patient is a photographer who witnessed a murder while snapping shots of the apartment building across from her and hasn’t been able to take pictures since. The therapist assigns her a novel task: she must write about the residents on each floor of the building as she watches them from her window. Much of the novel takes the form of vignettes of each resident that are masterpieces in miniature, all building on each other for a final twist. I was a huge fan of Laurain’s Smoking Kills, a sardonic thriller about a man who can only enjoy cigarettes after committing murder, and I can assure mystery readers that French Windows is just as good.

Nawal El Saadawi, Woman At Point Zero
(Bloomsbury Academic)

Woman at Point Zero is one of five classic works by the great Egyptian feminist writer Nawal El Saadawi to be reissued by Bloomsbury this month, and an essential work of social criticism. Structured as a confession from prison, this sharp sliver of a story takes into the life of Firdaus, a sex worker soon to be executed for murder. Her lack of shame for her violent act first shocks, then inspires, for a novel that feels as revolutionary now as when it was first published.

Akimitsu Takagi, The Noh Mask Murder
Translated by Jesse Kirkwood
(Pushkin Vertigo)

Akimitsu Takagi started as an engineer before a fortune teller told him to start writing mysteries instead, and perhaps that’s the secret behind his skillful grasp of structure and playful use of classic tropes. The Noh Mask Murder, originally published in 1946, follows an amateur crime writer as he attempts to solve an intricate and bizarre locked-room puzzle, for a fair-play mystery that also reads as metafiction.