Tuesday, August 02, 2005

European police procedurals

Last night I read a very good Dutch crime novel called DeKok and Murder by Melody; the author is A. C. Baantjer, who is incredibly widely read in the Netherlands but virtually unknown here. I was full of remorse at how little fiction I read in translation, I must start setting an arbitrary quota and making sure I lay hands on good stuff not originally written in English: one novel a month, say, would not be an excessively high goal. (Last week I read the first few chapters of Karin Fossum's He Who Fears the Wolf, but somehow it was too muted and tasteful to hold my interest and I skipped the whole middle and just read the end to see what happened.)

Anyway, the Baantjer book is excellent, I will certainly read more of these. My only reservations concerned the translation, which is by H. G. Smittenaar. Obviously I don't know Dutch, but I questioned his choice to use so many of those awful verbs of speaking that should really just be "said," "asked" and a handful of simpler permutations. Too much grimacing and grinning and growling and murmuring and exclaiming and shrugging and muttering and nodding and so forth. One low-life character absurdly talks like a gangster in a 30s film ("Word on da street is dem guys was knocked off because they wasn't using"). Perhaps most horrifying of all, the translator shows no awareness of the difference between "lose" and "loose"--Barbara Wallraff wrote about this problem in this month's Atlantic, though the relevant part of the column is accessible only to subscribers.

I'm sort of poking fun at myself here, I realize I am obsessive about this stuff (and BTW see Laura Demanski's recent post about the Chicago Manual of Style, plus the amazingly lovely website she links to) and maybe some of this will be corrected between the advance reading copy and the printed book but surely it is not too much to expect professionally published books to be more or less error-free? I am relatively forgiving when it's a small press like this one, but it really gets my goat when I read a book from a major imprint and find typos throughout. Seriously, get a grip! Or at least a decent copy-editor! It is incredibly distracting otherwise--I don't search them out deliberately, but it just happens that I was born with that thing where if there's one misspelling on the page my eye will be drawn to it even if I only catch a moment's glimpse of the whole page, it is convenient for work but rather a curse in terms of light reading....


  1. If you haven't already read it, you might get hooked on Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbo series, which is in translation from Penguin. That might also lead you to the namesake for his series, the Spanish mystery writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. Both writers are working in the "gourmet detective" genre.

  2. I've read the second but not the first, thanks very much for the recommendation. The other gourmet detective books I'm dying to read are Poppy Z. Brite's, I must actually go and buy them--I just tried to get them at the library but they are clearly in much demand...

  3. Those books by Poppy Z are fabulous -- I was so hungry after I finished reading them.

    I'm also really curious what you think (if you have read it) of Jose Carlos Somoza's books, espec THE ATHENIAN MURDERS, which is pretty damn brilliant.

  4. ah! i just read an excerpt from brite's _exquisite corpse_ and i think that would be too much for me--not the kind of gourmet that i am looking for. if i read that i wouldn't be able to sleep for a week. i need to stick with light reading recommendations that are actually light, thanks!