Foreign Bodies (edited by Martin Edwards)

Since their launch, the British Library Crime Classics have been a source of pure joy: beautifully produced editions of lost Golden Age mysteries with stunning covers, they’ve been a massive hit with bloggers and general readers alike (and I’m very attached to those which have made their way onto my bookshelves…) However, a new collection of short stories is taking the series a little bit outside of its remit by presenting 15 Golden Age works with a difference – they’re all translated from a variety of languages!

Of course, despite the current media hoo-ha about Scandicrime and the like, translated crime fiction is nothing new – for example, the book often regarded as the original ‘locked-room’ puzzle, “The Mystery of the Yellow Room” by Gaston Leroux was not written in English! I know when I discovered GA crime in the 1980s that authors like Emile Gaboriau and Maurice Leblanc were ones that were recommended, but very hard to find. However, many of the translated stories available were from European authors, but this collection goes way farther in exploring the world of crime shorts in other languages.

This collection has been brought together by the redoubtable Martin Edwards, responsible for the BLCC editions as a whole and it seems to have been something of a labour of love. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that GA crime is cosy, English and set in little villages with stereotyped characters, but this book really goes out on a limb and is a triumph.

Each story comes with a short introduction by Edwards giving a little background context plus details of translator where this is known. A few have appeared in seminal (and long out of print) anthologies collected by Hugh Greene, whereas several are translated for the first time giving us a rare and welcome glimpse into work from as far afield as Japan, India, Denmark, the Netherlands and Mexico.

Like all of the best BLCCs this books was completely unputdownable! I can read GA crime at any time of year, but it goes down particularly well on dark, wet and windy autumn nights and there were plenty of those while I was reading the book and staying up far too late, telling myself I would enjoy just one more story before bed… All are inventive and all are marvellous reads.

It’s hard (and perhaps unfair in such a varied collection) to pick favourites, but there were a couple which really stood out for me and had me gripped. “The Spider” by Koga Saburo was a chilling tale of a devious murder in a rather unusual laboratory; and “The Cold Night’s Clearing” by Keikichi Osaki was a beautifully written, atmospheric piece which vividly brought to life the setting and events. Others were tongue in cheek, like “The Mystery of the Green Room” by Pierre Very which channels Leroux’s seminal story and gives it a very humourous twist. Many of these works, of course, draw on the Holmes/Watson template (as do UK tales of the same era) and there’s no shame in that at all – the format works so well, why change it??

So yet another winner from the British Library Crime Classics imprint – they really are going from strength to strength. And happily, I have another two lovely books from them on the TBR pile – what a treat! 🙂

Review copy kindly provided by the publisher – for which many thanks!