I deplore xenophobia in others, so I’m not happy to acknowledge any form of it in myself. It’s especially embarrassing to admit that my fear of the foreign applies mostly to mysteries and suspense novels.
I’m a great fan of English, Scottish, and Irish crime writers -- Ruth Rendell, Stephen Booth, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin, and many others are among my favorites. I also enjoy Canadian crime novels, especially the work of Giles Blunt, and I’m mystified when readers in the U.S. show indifference toward the wonderful authors who live and work just to our north. The language is the same, the legal system is mostly the same, social customs and everyday life are similar. A cop chasing a killer in Toronto is not all that different from one doing his job in Detroit. But that border between the countries makes some residents of the lower 48 see Canada as a place too foreign to visit in fiction.
But who am I to criticize Canadaphobes when I’ve just confessed to my own form of xenophobia? I have read and enjoyed many literary novels and classics set in France, Italy, and other countries, but for some reason I usually avoid crime novels translated from foreign languages. I pick them up, read the flap copy, put them back on the shelf. Why? Sometimes I don’t think I’ll be able to appreciate the police and court procedures described in the books. Sometimes I don’t think I’ll be comfortable with a setting that’s totally unfamiliar. Neither of these statements make sense, though, when I consider how much I enjoy foreign films.
Clearly I have a problem that needs to be dealt with. I made a start recently, when I picked up a library recording of a Japanese crime novel, Out by Natsuo Kirino. This book was nominated for an Edgar Award a few years ago, but even so, my first impulse was to put it back on the shelf. How can I enjoy a book about crime in Japan? But instead of passing it by, I checked it out and began listening to it. I was hooked from the start. The book reminded me a lot of A Simple Plan in the way the ordinary characters are inexorably drawn deeper and deeper into a dark secret life. I could never have imagined myself becoming a fan of a Japanese crime writer, but I will seek out more books by this author.
Now I’m feeling positively adventurous. Where shall I go next in my exploration of crime on foreign soil? Give me some suggestions. Name your favorite translated-into-English crime novels and tell me why I should read them. If I can find them, I’ll try them, and I’ll let you know what I think.