Home > Personal Posts > My two days at Quais du Polar

My two days at Quais du Polar

This weekend, there’s the crime fiction festival Quais du Polar in Lyon. It lasts three days but I could only attend yesterday and today. I met with Marina Sofia and we had a great time together, chatting about books, browsing through books, attending conferences and having literary fun.

Yesterday, I took time to check out the huge bookstore set up in the beautiful hall of the chamber of commerce. It was wise to spend time there on Friday because today, it was overcrowded. It was my shopping day. Here are the new members of my TBR:

Dias de combate by Paco Ignacio Taibo II (Jours de combat, translation by Marianne Millon). He was present at the festival. I followed Guy’s recommendation and got his book. It’s the first one of his series, it dates back to 1976.

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (Marée noire, translation by Clément Baude). The blurb says that Jay Porter is a black lawyer and former civil rights activist. We’re in Houston in 1981 and when he saves a white woman from drowning he knows his life just got a lot more complicated.

Attica Locke was there signing her books. I got to talk to her a bit and her parents were activists. I couldn’t help asking if her name had anything to do with Atticus Finch. She says she was named after the Attica prison. She’s also a militant and I wish I could have attended the conference she gave.

Hell on Church Street by Jake Hinkson (L’enfer de Church Street, translation by Sophie Aslanides). In the booklet advertising Quais du Polar, each author presents themselves with a short biography and mentions their favourite book, film and writer. Jake Hinkson said that he was raised by Christian fundamentalists in the mountains in Arkansas, that he used to snuggle banned crime fiction books in Bible camp. He added that if Jim Thompson had knocked up Flannery O’Connor in a sleazy motel in Ozark, he’d be their offspring. After that, I had to get one of his books and Hell on Church Street sounds like a hell of a journey. A man is victim of carjacking and instead of giving up his car, he bargains with the thief. He promises him $3000 if he drives him to Little Rock and listens to him confess something.

Les yeux des morts by Elsa Marpeau. She’s a young French writer and she’s not been translated into English. (yet?) I was drawn to this novel by the blurb: Gabriel Ilinski is a medical examiner who’s called to the ER of the Hôpital Lariboisière and has to be admitted as a patient in the hospital to move his investigation forward. I thought the idea was original. I’m curious to discover her writing.

La amigdalitis deTárzan by Alfredo Bryce-Echenique (L’amygdalite de Tarzan, translation by Jean-Marie Saint-Lu). The writer is from Peru. It’s not a crime fiction book but the title (Tarzan’s Tonsillitis) caught my eyes. I wondered what kind of book could be hidden behind such an odd title. Well, it’s an epistolary novel and I’m really fond of them.

Vernon Subutex by Virginie Despentes. It’s her last novel, it’s just been released in French. So, no translation is available so far. I hoped to have it signed and talk to her but the line was too long to even enter the building on Saturday afternoon. Tant pis!


Apart from buying books, I also attended three conferences. Marina Sofia and I managed to hear Elizabeth George talking about her work. The conference was in the theatre des Célestins, where I recently watched the play Comment vous racontez la partie by Yasmina Reza. This play is about a writer who participates to a lecture in a provincial town and it shows the sensitive triangle between the author, the journalist who interviews her and the local librarian who organized the reading. Well it was a bit odd to be on the same premises, to hear a real reading this time. Anyway.

The hour with Elizabeth George was lovely. She gave information about how she writes books, how she sees her characters. She was gracious, fun and humble. She’s very successful but doesn’t show off. I liked her sense of humor, her thoughts and what her reactions gave away about her vision of life. I enjoyed hearing her discussing her main characters, Linley and Barbara Havers, how they were born and how they live in her head. She said she starts her books with the characters and the location and the plot comes to her later.

The second conference I attended was done by Michael Connelly and John Grisham. To be honest, I’ve never read their books and I’ve never been tempted to. The conference was about the judicial system in the USA, its representation in books and movies. The theme was interesting, the conference, not so much. The journalist kept trying to bring the two writers into thought-provoking territories but they kept surfing on the surface. They obviously didn’t want to analyze anything or worse they actually had nothing to say. Connelly seemed to have a bit more substance that Grisham that I thought vapid. Well, they didn’t win a new reader. (Not that they care about winning my readership)

The third conference was entitled Are noir novels companions to the fight for equality between men and women? Frequent readers of this blog know that this would attract me. The writers participating to this discussion were Kishwar Desai (India), Edyr Augusto (Brazil), Santiago Gamboa (Colombia) and Elsa Marpeau. The four of them have written books where women have a key role, fight for themselves. They also use their novels to picture the society they live in. I found Elsa Marpeau and Kishwar Desai very interesting. Desai uses her books to dig into topics where women are mistreated by society and custom, harassed and exploited. She believes that her books can bring awareness because they raise questions and start discussions. Maybe it sounds optimistic to think that books can change something but as Virginie Despentes pointed out in another conference I attended a couple of weeks ago: as far as we know, all over the world, dictators take measures to ban or destroy books. If books had no power, why would they ban them?

That’s all folks! I had a wonderful time at Quais du Polar. The event grows every year and it was the first time I saw such a line to enter the building. It’s fun to see writers wandering in the city center, it’s a great opportunity for indepedent bookstores to find new customers and it’s a fantastic festival for readers. I wonder what writers think about it.

  1. March 29, 2015 at 12:34 am

    Gosh, you are fast! I’m too tired to even think about writing up my impressions yet (but then I did queue an awful lot). Delighted to hear your impressions of the conference I missed about noir and gender equality – it clashed with another conference on the burden of history, so I chose that one (with Attica Locke, who is indeed as militant, thoughtful and charming as you might have expected).
    Pleasure meeting you, Emma, and my one fear is that maybe the festival has become too successful for its own good in the 11 years of its existence, that it’s outgrown its current venues (hence the queues), so maybe they will have to rethink the strategy in future years.


    • March 29, 2015 at 8:39 pm

      You must be back home now. I hope your Sunday was successful.

      Will you post about the conference about the burden of history, it sounded interesting.

      It was a pleasure meeting you and I agree with you, the festival becomes really famous and they’ll have to adjust. I don’t know how, though. I don’t think there’s a bigger place for the global bookstore than this one without going outside the Presqu’île. To move the festival to a congress center would destroy part of the soul of the festival.

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 29, 2015 at 9:05 pm

        I agree – hope it doesn’t lose its urban atmosphere! I’ll post a report on Crime Fiction Lover website tomorrow and then a couple more posts about certain panels I liked or people I met on my own blog. You’ll be fed up with me this week, I promise you! Lovely meeting you and perhaps I can interest you in the Salon du Livre in Geneva?


        • March 29, 2015 at 9:15 pm

          OK, I’ll try to keep up!

          You’re right, I could come to the Salon du Livre in Geneva, especially if it’s in a nice location. I’m not interested in going to the Salon du Livre in Paris. It’s at the Porte de Versailles, the place is huge and is more adapted for the Salon de l’Automobile or the Salon de l’Agriculture than for a Salon du Livre. Books are special objects that deserve a special place. (Plus the TGV costs a fortune between Paris and Lyon)


  2. March 29, 2015 at 1:29 am

    I’ll be interested to see what you make of Paco Ignacio Taibo II. My impression of Jake Hinkson’s work is that is it quite violent. Could be wrong.


    • March 29, 2015 at 8:39 pm

      We’ll see if Jake Hinkson’s book is violent. I didn’t get that vibe from the libraire who discussed it with me.


  3. March 29, 2015 at 9:21 am

    I’m glad you had fun at the Quais du Polar! I hadn’t heard of Jake Hinkson, but the Jim Thompson and Flannery O’Connor connection would catch my eye too. Looking forward to hearing more about Hell on Church Steet (as and when).

    I have a Santiago Gamboa in my TBR: Necropolis. Not sure if it tackles the gender equality issue, but the blurb sounds intriguing.

    Thanks for the write-up – it’s good to hear about these events.


    • March 29, 2015 at 8:44 pm

      I had a lot of fun.

      The number of writers present is really impressive and they all seem relaxed. The festival is located in the city center, in beautiful buildings (the chamber of commerce, the Théâtre des Célestins, the Chapelle de la Trinité) . Everything can be done on foot and it’s also a way to enjoy the city.


  4. March 29, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    I love book festivals and I need to attend more of them.

    Books are full of ideas and ideas are constantly changing the world. You make a very good point about repressive regimes and books.


    • March 29, 2015 at 8:46 pm

      It’s a great festival. It’s really international and it leaves a lot of space to lesser known writers. It’s an opportunity to discuss with writers you didn’t know. It’s really nice.


  5. March 29, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks for posting about this festival. I’m surprised to see that Grisham spoke in the first place: he’s not a usual guest at US crime fiction festivals. Too busy with his side projects? I’m very interested in the last panel: must check out Desai etc al.


    • March 29, 2015 at 8:52 pm

      Welcome to Book Around the Corner.
      I didn’t know John Grisham is not used to participating to festivals. I’ve seen that it was his first time in France in twenty years. So hooray for Quais du Polar! What a coup to have him on board!

      You can find here the list of writers attending the event.


  6. March 31, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    Sounds great. The Hinkson sounds interesting, I’ll be curious to see your review. Not surprised Grisham had nothing to say, he’s written whole books of nothing to say.

    The noir event also sounds very good. What a lovely festival, and nice too it’s not just a few big names but something much more eclectic and inclusive.


    • March 31, 2015 at 8:41 pm

      I’m very curious about the Hinkson, I’ll read it soon.

      I can’t say anything about Grisham’s books accept than I was never tempted to read one of them. Still, the man is a lawyer. He should have something to say about the judicial system, no?

      It’s a fantastic event for crime fiction, Max. I’m not much into book fairs but this one is more a celebration of crime fiction than a commercial affair. Of course, lots of books are sold at the giant bookstore. But first, it’s for independant bookstores only and second, the place is gorgeous. So it doesn’t look like a trade fair.


  1. March 31, 2015 at 10:20 am
  2. February 20, 2016 at 11:21 pm

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