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The Best International Crime Fiction of May 2024

The Best International Crime Fiction of May 2024

I should really have titled this column “The Best International Crime Fiction of May Plus One From April and One From Last Year”: mistakes were made in my reading preparations, and when you read two-thirds of a book that came out last year thinking it was out this month, you feel compelled to recommend it. Thanks, as always, to my loyal readers, and our search engine overlords. Also, thank you translators! This column was initially conceived to showcase the intricate art of those who distill meaning from words, and the following titles are all testaments to their superlative skill.

Layla Martinez, Woodworm
Translated by Sophie Hughes and Annie McDermott 
(Two Lines Press)

This book is so creepy!!! In a visceral exploration of the absurdities of male control, a woman and her grandmother are trapped in a house of horrors, built by a husband who cursed his female relatives to be bound to the abode, only to be trapped there himself, along with numerous other spirits. It’s all pretty bearable if you don’t let the ghosts think you’re getting too vulnerable—just don’t look under the bed, and if something grabs your ankle, squash it ever so firmly. Grotesque brilliance, all the way through.

Beatrice Salvioni, The Cursed Friend
translated by Elena Pala 

For some reason this one is comped only to Elena Ferrante, despite the fact that the FIRST SENTENCE IS ABOUT A DEAD BODY, so somebody needs to clear this up for me: does Ferrante Fever imply…murder?!? Or would this better be described as “Ferrante with a murder”? Anyway, The Cursed Friend is about two adolescent girls in 1930s Italy, who, on the first page, kill a fascist. He deserves it. Do I even need to say that? He’s a fascist. And the girls are badasses, but doomed badasses, because it’s 1930s Italy.

Johana Gustawsson, Yule Island
Translated by David Warriner

Johana Gustawsson is a perennial favorite, and her latest chilling noir has the queen of Scandinavian detective fiction at the top of her game. In Yule Island, a bloody murder on a remote island is the catalyst for all kinds of chaos in the insular world of wealthy Swedish art collectors. Hehe insular in two ways…I’m writing this blurb very late at night, okay?

Lina Wolf, The Devil’s Grip
Translated by Saskia Vogel
(Other Press)

Lina Wolf is as cutting in her observations as she is knowing in her study of human behavior. The Devil’s Grip recounts the sordid tale of a toxic relationship in Italy between a traveler in Florence and her ugly-hot paramour (who I imagine looks exactly like Harvey Keitel). Despite an intense initial infatuation, things go downhill rather quickly, and soon enough, there are demons involved.

Shumona Sinha, Down with the Poor!
Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan
(Deep Vellum Publishing)

This is the one from last year, but it’s so good, y’all, and also I read the whole thing before I realized it came out last year. In this dark comedy of misplaced loyalties and imperialist corruption, a woman recounts her woeful, furious story to a police officer after being arrested for attacking a migrant man on the subway. She, too, is an immigrant, employed as a translator in an office where she must listen to the desperate pleas of those who know they are about to be rejected for asylum, and her hatred of the newly arrived masses ebbs and flows with her willingness to forgo solidarity in favor of identifying with the power structure. A timely and terrifying read.