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Quais du polar: Lyon celebrates crime fiction

April 1, 2013 17 comments

Quais_PolarThis weekend Lyon hosted a festival dedicated to crime fiction named Quais du polar. Let me explain the name. In French, polar is a crime fiction category that covers Noir, thriller, hardboiled and pulp. Cozy crimes and whodunnits aren’t called polars. I have a category Polar on the blog since I never know exactly how to tag the crime fiction book I’m reading. So more precisely, a Raymond Chandler is a polar and an Agatha Christie isn’t. That was for polar. Now, what about Quais? In Lyon, we have two rivers, the Saône and the Rhône. This means lots of banks and piers (Quais) in the city. In addition to this geographical consideration about Lyon, 36 Quai des Orfèvres is the address of the police department in Paris. So a festival named Quais du polar makes sense when it deals with crime fiction.

This event is a firework of crime fiction feasts. There are conferences with writers and publishers, a literary fair (more about that later), an investigation organized in the city, theatre plays, touristic tours, operas and films in the Institut Lumière, the place where the cinema was born.

We did the investigation with the children and I went to the literary fair. It was held in the Palais du Commerce, the beautiful buildings owned by the Chamber of Commerce, located Place de la Bourse. (Stock-exchange plaza). I mused about the irony to have a book fair in the premises of the corporate world. There, independent book stores had stands and each stand had writers present to meet readers and sign copies of their books. I’m not usually looking for signed copies of books, except for particular writers. I was really happy to discuss with Nancy Huston once, more to talk about our common love of Romain Gary than about her own books. This time I was on a mission; my mother is a huge crime fiction reader and with Mother’s Day coming soon, I had the perfect idea for a gift! So I got the signed books I wanted.

Quai_Polar_SalonTo me, the most interesting part was to meet with enthusiastic booksellers. (Sorry, sorry, writers… I never know what to say to you). The nicest one was the crime fiction aficionado from Au Bonheur des Ogres. The name of the book shop itself is attractive since it’s the first title of the Malaussene series by Daniel Pennac. (You can read a review of Fairy Gunmother another volume of this series here) This bookseller uses “tu” at first sight because we’re members of the great brotherhood of compulsive readers. He recommended a Spanish writer, Carlos Salem, and you’ll read about him soon. This bookseller helped Salem’s career in France, along with two other independent bookstores in Toulouse and Paris. I know because they are all mentioned in the acknowledgments of Matar y guardar la ropa, the book I purchased. Yes, as far as I know, the only murder that occurred during the festival is that of my book buying ban. I came home with:

  • Matar y guardar la ropa by Carlos Salem (Nager sans se mouiller). I’m loving it so far.
  • Le petit bleu de la côte Ouest by Jean-Patrick Manchette (Three to kill, review here) I’ve never read Manchette and I’ve been willing to try him for a while.
  • The Blonde by Duane Swierczynski. Also recommended by the friendly bookseller. I knew the name though, thanks to Guy. (See his review of Severance Package)

Salem_Nagermanchette_Bleu

Swierczynski_BlondeI love crime fiction, I’ve always read this genre and I wondered why I hardly read any lately. I came to the conclusion that it stemmed from a language Chinese puzzle. I don’t know much about French crime fiction writers and I’d rather read English-speaking ones in English. And here come the difficulties: I enjoy reading crime fiction to unwind and reading crime fiction in English requires more concentration than in French. Plus, I came to question old translations of crime fiction classics, so reading them in French isn’t an option anymore. With hindsight, it seems quite stupid not to pick crime fiction on the shelf because of a bad concentration-fun equation. So I’ve decided to read recent polars in French; you’ll have to make do with billets without quotes (terribly frustrating at times) and probably poor ones too because I’m not very skilled at reviewing crime fiction.

I think the festival was a success, the place was full of people engrossed in conversations with booksellers, avidly reading their recent purchase on one of the side benches and writers seemed happy to be there. There were lines in front of the conference rooms, we crossed a lot of families and couples also doing the fake Chinese investigation in town. The Palais du Commerce is gorgeous, it gives a classy touch to the event and I hope these independent book stores gained new readers. I can tell you Au Bonheur des Ogres has me now, especially since they also deliver books.

PS: The book buying ban is a phoenix, it can be born again from its cinders.

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