Red harvest, by Dashiell Hammett, was published in 1929. That same year it appeared The mystery of the seven spheresby Agatha Christie. Both are based on criminal acts, but the first is black and the second, police. What difference there are? The controversy does not stop in Spain. To elucidate this and other issues, the experts Àlex Martín Escribà and Jordi Canal have written Trets per totes bandes (translated into Spanish as Point blank), both published by the publisher Alrevés.
The book deals with the classical era of the genre, from its origins to the seventies of the 20th century. It will be followed by a second volume, in early 2021, covering the seventies to the present. Trets per totes bandes it is an original and surprising essay, of enormous erudition but of pleasant reading. It includes a series of lists of the best authors from different eras published between 1952 and 2017; a selection of covers that recall readings and collections; an extensive bibliography and onomastic index.
The most interesting contribution is its double objective. Martín Escribà tells it: “It is about filling a gap in the publishing market in Catalan and Spanish, since until now a panoramic history of this genre has never been published and, on the other hand, providing a little light in the debate on this macrogenre that includes subgenres, currents and labels, such as the enigma novel, the armchair detectives, the metaphysical police, the case of the locked room, the white-gloved thief, the problem novel, the detective hard boiled, the novel of delinquents, the prison, the criminal psychology, the procedural, the espionage novel, the chronic novel, the suspense and the thriller”.
“Police literature is a consolation: the stories end well and we live in the best of all possible worlds. It is entertaining reading: it is interesting who the murderer is. In the black, everything is disturbed, on the personal, economic, social level … Everything creates insecurity, “argue the authors.
Martín Escribà (Barcelona, 1974) is a professor of Catalan literature and language and co-director of the Congress of Novel and Noir Film at the University of Salamanca. Author, among other works, of Rafael Tasis, novel. Police list and of Jaume Fuster. Gènere negre sense limits. Canal (Berga, Barcelona, 1955) was director of the La Bòbila library, the first in Spain to have a black and specialized police background. He created the first black and police reading club, the L’H Confidencial Prize and the fanzine of the same name. Together they published La Cua de Palla: portrait in black and whiteand.
The debate between crime fiction and crime has been around for a long time, but in recent times the confusion has increased. Javier Coma (1939-2017) anticipated it in 1989: “The cultural recognition of the crime novel in our latitudes is repeatedly used to label as such an endless number of books that do not respond to the characteristics of that peculiar and important literary movement.”
“Police literature is comforting: crime disrupts the established order and we must return to safety. The stories end well and we live in the best of all possible worlds. It is a kind of entertainment reading. What matters is who the murderer is. In the black, everything is disturbed, on the personal, economic, social level … Everything creates insecurity. People like the crime novel more but prefer to call it black. It’s more cool”. Martín Escribà is of the same opinion: “The one that likes is the detective novel, especially the domestic noir. In Spain, the crime novel is read very little. It only remains to see what an author like Julián Ibáñez sells ”. And he adds: “The problem is that there is a lot of creation and little reflection. We are a country without specific terminology. The French are clear that their gender is called polar; the Italians, giallo, Germans, krimi… And we use terms like black and police interchangeably, without really knowing exactly where each of them takes us. Here we invent all kinds of commercial labels, but none of them has or has had the slightest consistency ”.
Did the detective novel emerge first and then the black novel? “In part yes, but let’s not forget that one is a consequence of the other. The crime novel takes police issues seriously and establishes a committed discourse of the writers in the face of the circumstances in which they have lived, ”explains Martín Escribà. Canal adds: “The black woman was born in the United States, in the postwar period of World War I. The first great crime novel is Red harvestby Hammett. It evolves according to the events that take place: dry law and Prohibition, the Depression of 29, with bankruptcies and massive layoffs, the great drought (1932-1939), one of the great ecological catastrophes of the 20th century… ”. Canal and Martín Escribà go through each of the stages of this macrogenre with examples from books and writers.
What would be the appropriate denomination, according to the authors? “We don’t have a concrete word. We have become used to talking about crime and crime novels. The most correct definition would be criminal or crime novel. It was already tried in the eighties. Authors such as Salvador Vázquez de Parga, Javier Coma or Román Gubern reflected on a term that united the two great currents, but it did not come together, ”explains Canal.
Between the police and the black, the authors place Simenon. “Simenon is already different from the policemen. He uses keys that bring him closer to the world of the black woman, such as manners, the weather, the most crappy spaces, the psychology of the characters … Maigret understands and does not judge. The great influences come from the North, but Simenon introduces gastronomy ”, says Canal. “He is as far from Sherlock Holmes as he is from Sam Spade and he is also the great inspiration for writers such as Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Andrea Camilleri, Jean-Claude Izzo, Petros Márkaris, Domingo Villar, Leonardo Padura and many others,” says Martín Escribà.
The authors dedicate a section to the issue of the canon, an always controversial issue: eight lists of the best crime and crime novel authors made between 1952 and 2017, “with the purpose that readers can compare and rediscover authors,” says Canal . Among the eight, there are two published by Spaniards: the one by Néstor Luján, from 1971, which includes such interesting writers as Eça de Queirós or Friedrich Dürrenmatt, and the one by Javier Coma, from 1994, with which many fans of the crime novel they will agree. In many of the others, writers such as Victor Hugo, Dostoevsky, RL Stevenson, Joseph Conrad or Faulkner are included.
Canal and Escribà have not drawn up their own canon. “We probably would have made different lists,” says Canal. They have their favorite writers, all crime novels. Martín Escribà: David Goodis, Donald Westlake, James Crumley and Jean-Patrick Manchette. Channel: Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, David Goodis and James Ellroy.
Trets per totes bandes (the title corresponds to the Catalan translation of a novel by Bill Pronzini) is aimed at a wide audience. “To restless readers, above all. To readers who do not know about the genre, to fans, but also, and that is very important, to specialists ”, says Martín Escribà. “We wanted it to be an enjoyable reading book, but well documented with extensive bibliography so that any reader who has an interest in a specific subject can delve into the state of the art.”
The book opens with a foreword by Claude Mesplède, renowned specialist, director of the Dictionnaire des Littératures policières, passed away last December. He quotes in his text the French writer Claude Aveline, whose statement should not fall on deaf ears: “There are no bad genres, only bad writers.”