Posts Tagged ‘Ian Rankin’


October 24, 2018

I don’t mean to write about any actual person lying under oath, such as Brett Kavanaugh. The title of this post is just the translation of that of a novel by Petra Hammesfahr (the author of The Sinner), Meineid.

I have a quirk about reading. If a book is written in a language of which I have a reading knowledge (with the occasional help of a dictionary, if necessary), then I feel compelled to read it in the original. I won’t try to justify this compulsion — translation is a noble enterprise that I myself have engaged in — but I can’t deny it.

And so, when I found out that the first season of the TV series The Sinner was based on Die Sünderin, I made an effort to get it, assuming that my ever-reliable university library would have it. To my surprise, it doesn’t — no branch has anything other than the English version. Eager to get to know her work, I checked out one of the two German books of hers that I found to be available, the aforementioned Meineid, published in 1991, two years — and six books! — after Die Sünderin.

Like the last-named, Meineid is a murder mystery, and I don’t wish to tell the plot. But the basic story is that of two women of modest family background who are each other’s best friends from the first day of elementary school. Both are brilliant students, but only one of them goes on to university and to a successful professional career, while the other, who grows into a great beauty, drops out and supports herself with odd jobs.

There’s something familiar about this background story, isn’t there? Of course: it’s the basis of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, published between 2012 and 2015. A coincidence? Possibly. Meineid does not seem to have been translated into Italian (at least it isn’t listed as such in the Italian Wikipedia page for Petra Hammesfahr). And since nothing is publicly known about Elena Ferrante, there is no way of finding out whether she reads German (unless the hypothesis that she is actually Anita Raja, who is a translator from German to Italian, is valid). This is quite different from the many coincidental points that I found between Ian Rankin’s The Naming of the Dead and Philippe Djian’s Ça, c’est un baiser. But one never knows, does one?


Crime report

January 4, 2018

About a year and a half ago I wrote about my favorite series (plural) of detective novels, and I included the Robicheaux novels of James Lee Burke with the ones I thought were finished (the last one having been Light of the World, in 2013). I am happy to report that I was wrong. I just learned that a new novel in the series — titled, of all things, Robicheaux — has just been published. I rushed to put a hold on it at my library, and I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

Meanwhile, over the last couple of months I have caught up with the latest Rebus by Ian Rankin (Rather Be the Devil) and the latest Bosch by Michael Connelly (Two Kinds of Trush), as well as what seems to be the onset of a new series by Connelly, featuring a woman detective, Renée Ballard (The Late Show) and written entirely from her point of view (in free indirect style). In addition I read the latest by Tana French (The Trespasser), featuring two detectives carried over from her previous book (The Secret Place)  but written entirely from the point of view (in first-person narration) of the female partner, Antoinette Conway.

Differences in narrative style aside, I was struck by some of the similarities between the latter two novels. In addition to having French first names, both detectives are tall, hard-boiled, rough-talking single women in their thirties; both work the night shift with male partners, are treated unsympathetically (or seem to be) by the other men on their squads, and venture outside their working hours in order to pursue their cases. In both cases the murderer is himself a detective, discovered (by good detective work and a ruse involving a senior detective) after another detective had been a suspect.

The Trespasser came out some nine months before The Late Show. Could the former have inspired the latter?

I have long believed that John Rebus was, in some way, an inspiration for Harry Bosch. The first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses, came out in 1987; the first Bosch, The Black Echo, in 1992. Both men are war veterans (Rebus in Northern Ireland, Bosch in Vietnam) and around forty when the series begin. Both are mavericks who often get in trouble with their superiors and get denied promotion or demoted. Both have unsteady relationships with women, each being married once with a resulting daughter (though the circumstances are vastly different). Both work well with women partners. Both are forced to retire but continue working cases voluntarily. Both series abound with local color of Edinburgh and Los Angeles, respectively.

And in both of the recent novels the women detectives are, at last, referred to by their last names, just like the men, unlike, say, Peter Robinson’s (Alan) Banks and Annie (Cabbot) or Elizabeth George’s (Thomas)  Lynley and Barbara (Havers).

No more yankin’ Rankin!

July 16, 2016

I have just read Ian Rankin’s latest novel featuring John Rebus and Malcolm Fox, Even the Wild Dogs, in its American edition (by Little Brown), and as far as I could tell it was indistinguishable from the British original. Not only was there no Americanization of the vocabulary — Briticisms like ‘pavement’ (for ‘sidewalk’) and ‘tannoyed’ (‘announced on the PA system’) and Scoticisms like ‘haar’ and  ‘bothy’ were left intact — but even the spelling and punctuation were not tampered with. It’s high time!

Now I wonder if William Morrow will treat the new Alan Banks novel by Peter Robinson, When the Music’s Over, with similar respect. Or will it turn out that Morrow yanks Banks?

Extreme Yankin’

November 11, 2015

I have already commented several times on the practice, typical of American publishers, of Americanizing the language in US editions of British books, not only with regard to spelling and punctuation, but vocabulary as well. This is most annoying when it’s done in actual speech by British characters. (Even American writers, when they introduce a British character, usually try to have that character sound like a Brit.)

In the most recent example I cited (here) the practice seemed justified when the overly British speech by Americans in an Ian Rankin novel was properly Americanized, but then it turned out that the same process had been applied to British characters as well.

I have just come across an extreme example of the practice. In his latest novel, Funny Girl, Nick Hornby describes a woman as having “a wasp waist,” and old but not out-of-use term for a very slender or narrow waist. (Google Ngam Viewer shows the expression’s usage to have peaked between 1920 and 1940, but remains at half the peak level.)

In the American edition, however, the wasp waist becomes “a WASP waist,” WASP being an American expression (an acronym of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) denoting a “white, usually Protestant member of the American upper social class” (American Heritage Dictionary).

I can’t see the change having come from autocorrect, since wasp is a standard English word. Could it be that it was a human editor who was unfamiliar with “wasp waist” (though the terms has its own Wikipedia page) and somehow assumed that Hornby was describing an Englishwoman’s waist by reference to an American social class?

The mind is boggled.


Yankin’ Rankin

October 13, 2009

I have just finished reading Exit Music, and not only was the last of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels a pleasure to read, but it was especially enjoyable to read in the Eastern Scottish variant of British English that Rebus and most of his associates speak. When Rebus turns off his torch, closes the boot of his car, drives to his flat and talks on his mobile, I know that I am in Rebus’s Edinburgh.

When I began to read the series, about a year ago, I decided to do so in chronological order. It was a good decision, because each book is full of references to events in preceding ones, even when a summary explanation is given by the author.

The first few books that I found in the UC Berkeley library were the original British editions. Then the American editions began. At first they seemed to be simply reprintings, but eventually they began to be Americanized in the form of changes in spelling (colour/color) and punctuation (reversal of single and double quotation marks). That was still no problem.

But somewhere along the way the language itself began to be yankeefied, or “yanked” as I like to put it for short. Especially vocabulary: flat became apartment (though tenement did not become apartment house), torch became flashlight, and so on. By the time the antepenultimate novel was reached, even the title was changed from Fleshmarket Close to Fleshmarket Alley. But the ultimate in “yanking” was reached in the penultimate novel, The Naming of the Dead. Apparently the text was subjected to some sort of search-and-replace macro, and not only was every instance of mobile phone replaced by cell phone, but the word mobile itself, commonly used in Britain as an abbreviation for mobile phone, became simply cell. This is obviously a risky move for a novel dealing with police work, and in fact there is an episode in which Rebus is imprisoned and then released, but without his mobile phone. When the text reads “he left his cell” it is not at all clear if the reference is to getting out of the lockup or not taking the mobile phone.

I don’t know what led the publisher to abandon the “yanking” of Rankin in Exit Music, but I appreciate the gesture.

Setting aside the language issue, I had another reaction when reading The Naming of the Dead. The novel, which was published in 2006, deals with a murder investigation by a man-woman team of detectives, DI Rebus and DS Siobhan Clarke, over the background of the massive anti-globalization protests that took place in conjunction with the G8 Conference at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005. The book’s chapters are made up of alternating segments in which the protagonist is one or the other of the detectives.

By sheer coincidence, the novel that I had read just before it was Ça, c’est un baiser by Philippe Djian, a very popular French novelist whose books have, for some reason, not been translated into English, except for one, which served as the basis of the film Betty Blue and was translated under the same title. (The original title of both book and film is 37º2 le matin.)

Ça, c’est un baiser, which came out in 2002, deals with a murder investigation by a man-woman team of detectives (who, unlike Rebus and Clarke, have a sexual relationship) over the background of massive anti-globalization protests  in conjunction with a G8 Conference taking place in an unnamed large city in France. The book is made up  of alternating segments in which the protagonist (as well as the narrator) is one or the other of the detectives, Nathan and Marie-Jo.

Am I accusing Rankin of plagiarism? Of course not. The two novels are very different in plot and spirit. But Rankin, who lived in France for a number of years, may well have read Djian’s novel and been inspired by it. Is it a coincidence that the evil tycoon (a stock character in present-day socially conscious crime literature) is named Brennen in Djian’s book and Pennen in Rankin’s?