Saturday, 29 December 2012

MacLehose and Stone on Crime

My friend Susan Stone has a great piece at PRI's The World today about why German thrillers aren't popular in the States - and one that just might break that mould, Nele Neuhaus's mega-selling (in Germany) Snow White Must Die.

And then there's a long profile in the Guardian (by Nicholas Wroe) of the British editor Christopher MacLehose, now of MacLehose Press, who Susan interviewed in Frankfurt but got edited out in the end. He's the man, they tell us, who brought Stieg Larsson into English, and had "come to the conclusion that he should confine himself to translated works, preferably featuring a policeman with a forensic element – although he did make an exception for Godfather author Mario Puzo."

Both fascinating.


Anonymous said...

Katy, I didn't edit Mr. M out; my editor did! Best wishes, S

kjd said...

Sorry Susan - I shall change that! K x

Lauren said...

OK, this is a subject I actually know something about, and the situation leaves me a bit puzzled.

Nothing against Neuhaus - I found her Taunus novels perfectly pleasant. But I read a lot of German crime fiction, particularly the police procedural end of things, and I cannot see anything distinguishing Neuhaus from many other authors I've read. If the point of difference is supposed to be that the characters have a private life, well, I've encountered that before. Lots of times. (Incidentally, I don't think starting with book 4 makes sense given the character developments, but clearly nobody asked me...)

Maybe the aristocratic hero and the generally upper-class setting/s will appeal to the Inspector Lynley/Agatha Christie-loving audience, but that's really the only distinctive element I can think of. If that's the case, then that's the way it is, I suppose.

To be fair, I suppose Neuhaus *is* different to most of the German crime writers who've been translated - Juli Zeh and Andrea Maria Schenkel, for example. However, if the problem is simply that German crime fiction on the popular and somewhat routine end of the spectrum isn't being translated, I still don't understand why Neuhaus as opposed to any other author. OK, some of the really regional Krimis won't have a market, but there's a lot of other crime fiction out there that's set in Hamburg/Lübeck/wherever but is pretty generic. And, well, some of it's better.

(Incidentally, I did enjoy the profile of MacLehose, but I've always found the attitude that translating literary fiction is the main game - funded by excursions into the mass market - a bit irritating. Not only is it is a bit unfair on the majority of readers, but I, at least, cannot live on *serious* literature alone, and I've never understood why people should have to stick to English-language authors when reading for fun. Maybe I'm completely off-beam, but surely I'm not the only person who will read Herta Müller and the adventures of Kommissar Generic. On the same day, even!)

kjd said...

Hi Lauren. I've listed a few more crime novels today, but to address your issue: I think often sales figures are the driving force behind what gets sold abroad. And Neuhaus's publisher Ullstein has a very capable and friendly foreign rights person who is good at selling books. I don't have a good overview of less literary crime writing in German but I think another factor is that for English-language publishers, German books have to have a bit of local colour but not too much!
On MacLehose - I've always seen him as very much championing mass-market international fiction rather than the literary end. Interestingly, he had his own little booth at Frankfurt in a separate hall to Quercus (the publisher of his imprint) all snuggled in with the Scandinavians. So he obviously feels at home with what he's doing.

Lauren said...

Thanks for the reply. In that case I suppose the question is why Neuhaus sold so well in Germany too! Probably due to the publisher as well, although I daresay the moderately aristocratic background helped locally too. The main characters are definitely not strapped for cash.

(I still think there's more interesting, moderately local fiction out there. I might look up the German sales figures to see how my favourites have done.)

Less literary German crime is a bit of an odd genre, to be honest. Among my friends, I'm almost the only one who reads it. But I think it's somewhat underrated - a lot of books translated into German are not any better than the local offerings, yet the hint of the exotic (and in the case of Scandinavia, the sense that Nordic = quality) seems to lead to a lot more foreign books being sold. Admittedly, if there were really that many murders in picturesque locations in Germany, no-one would still live there, but that's hardly a problem unique to German-language crime!

And that's interesting about Maclehose, as I didn't necessarily get that impression from the article. Nice to know. It's not that I'm anti litfic, as I do read a lot of it. I just think it's not everything and that it's important to give everyone access to international work. (It's not just publishers who find it hard to understand that one can like multiple genres. It's the same with music - my love of cheesy 80s karaoke doesn't hinder my fairly regular enjoyment of Brahms. Oh well.)