Mongolia and Montana : two crime fiction books

February 13, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Yeruldelgger by Ian Manook (2013) Not available in English

Ian Manook is the penname for the French writer Patrick Manoukian. (A play-on-word on his surname Manoukian/Manook Ian, I guess) Yeruldelgger is the first volume of the Commissaire Yeruldelgger trilogy set in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. It won the Prix SNCF 2014, a prize dedicated to crime fiction.

Commissaire Yeruldelgger is still recovering from a personal tragedy when he’s called on two crime scenes at the same time. One is in the steppe, away from the capital. Nomadic people called him because they found the body of a little girl, buried with her tricycle.

The other is in Ulan Bator: three Chinese men were killed and their penis was cut and stuffed into three hookers’ mouths. Six bodies and a horrific crime scene. Inspector Oyun who works under Yeruldelgger, goes on scene and starts the investigation.

Yeruldelgger and Oyun work on the two cases at the same time. We meet the police of Mongolia, its corrupted and non-corrupted members. Yeruldelgger works with two women, Oyun and Solongo, the medical examiner. A street boy named Gantulga will help them.

Their investigations will lead them to Yeruldelgger’s past, to the exploitation of Mongolia’s natural resources by Chinese companies, to corrupted Mongolian business men who organize wild rides in the steppe for rich Koreans and to Mongolian neo-Nazi groups.

While the plot is solid and the story unfolds nicely and according to the codes of crime fiction, I can’t say that I loved Yeruldelgger. Something was off. The sense of place felt stilted, the landscape descriptions as fake as a theatre décor. I am sure that the details about Ulan Bator and the cultural references were accurate but they didn’t flow well.

The titles of the chapters were disconcerting, sounding like 19thC literature. You know those titles like “Where Mr … goes to XX and makes a fool of himself” The language couldn’t hide that the book is written by a Frenchman. A native from Mongolia would have written differently, with another sensitivity.

I think the book would have been better if Ian Manook had embraced the fact that he was a Frenchman writing a book set in another country. Yeruldelgger could have become a foreigner living in Mongolia, working with the local police under whatever capacity and all would have been well. The awkwardness would have had an explanation.

Yeruldelgger is not available in English and for once, it’s not a Translation Tragedy.

Dead Man’s Fancy by Keith McCafferty (2015) French title: La Vénus de Botticelli Creek. Translated by Janique Jouin-de Laurens

After this visit to Ulan Bator, I turned to one of my comfort crime fiction series: cozy crime by Keith McCafferty. Back to Montana with the sheriff Martha Ettinger helped by Sean Stranahan and Harold Little Feather.

In Dead Man’s Fancy, Nanicka Martinelli, a fishing guide at the Culpepper Ranch, goes missing. For once, she was riding with the tourists of this dude ranch and her horse came back to the ranch, without its rider. A wrangler took off to find her in the mountain and he’s found dead, impaled on an elk antler. (Who needs guns for a crime scene when the wilderness provides such weapons, eh?)

The investigation leads Martha and her team to the controversy around the reintroduction of wolves in the mountains. Nanicka was pro-wolves while her father Alfonso worked for the ranches to control the population of wolves. Another strange character haunt the woods: Fern Amarok, a pro-wolves activist who camps in the area with his girlfriend. Did Nanicka and Fern know each other? Is she missing or dead?

The plot is well-drawn but the fun isn’t in the story. It is in what happens around the plot. I wonder how Keith McCafferty got the idea of Nanicka’s father, Alfonso, a Frenchman born in the Hautes-Alpes, in the village of Saint-Véran and who emigrated to Québec, British Columbia and then Montana.

Our hero Sean Stranahan now lives in a tipi. He still paints but has an office at the community center because he can’t paint in his tipi. I didn’t that change coming in the previous volume.

Stranahan works for the sheriff but never forgets to take the time to fish. He stops to fish any time he wants. Determined to try out all the rivers possible? Given McCafferty’s job as Survival and Outdoor Skills Editor of Field and Stream, the descriptions of fishing and living in Montana ring true.

I found in Dead Man’s Fancy the fun and relaxation I was looking for, even with the dreadful elk antler and the wolf cries. Despite the violent crimes, some unmistakable peace oozes from this series. I’m a bit dubious about Stranahan’s new accommodation and life style, I find it a bit too much. So, now I’m curious to see what McCafferty will do with his characters in the next volume.

Dead Man’s Fancy is published by Gallmeister, an independant publisher in France. It belongs to Oliver Gallmeister and it’s specialized in crime fiction and Nature Writing from the USA. It has recently branched out to Italian fiction, always with nature as an important part of the book.

  1. February 13, 2022 at 8:44 am

    An interesting pairing and another prize I wasn’t aware of. I like that you have a reliable cosy mystery series to come back to when another doesn’t quite get it right. They both sound quite evocative of place, your reading has taken you to some interesting landscapes.

    Like

    • February 13, 2022 at 9:00 am

      This SNCF prize was created in 2001. Un clin d’oeil au “roman de gare”?

      I love crime fiction with a great sense of place and books that take me away from my quotidian. I’ve noticed that it’s not easy to write something set in another country when the writer is a foreigner or hasn’t lived there long enough.

      Liked by 2 people

      • February 13, 2022 at 11:18 am

        Yes, I can imagine that there is a danger in that, I remember thinking the same thing about The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker, the Swiss author writing about America. It was a bestseller in France for over a year (on the supermarket shelf bestsellers), but not at all in the US. So clearly, even if these books aren’t valued in the country they are set in, they can be become very popular with the masses.

        Like

        • February 14, 2022 at 2:17 pm

          I remember the Dicker book. I wasn’t tempted and yes, it was a huge success.

          P. Besson wrote a book set in LA and I remember I noticed an odd comparison about traffic jam looking like the weekend of the 15th of August. I thought that an American wouldn’t think that and it stood out in the story.

          Like

  2. February 13, 2022 at 4:07 pm

    Always so impressed with the breadth of your reading of crime fiction, Emma!

    Like

    • February 14, 2022 at 2:09 pm

      Bless French readers who love crime fiction and are ready to read anything.

      Stay tuned: next trip is to Marseille, then Québec and I have another one from Bénin on the shelf, published by an indie publisher!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. February 13, 2022 at 11:58 pm

    What an interesting setting for the first book! Sad it doesn’t quite work though. Getting impaled on an elk antler would be a rather painful way to go…

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 14, 2022 at 2:10 pm

      It is an interesting setting and there were valuable information about the nomadic culture and the city of Ulan Bator. But…it’s hard to sound like a native when you’ve only visited the country, even if the stay was rather long.

      Terrible weapon, these elk antlers…

      Like

  4. February 14, 2022 at 10:13 am

    I completely agree about truth in geography in fiction.
    And a Montana murder mystery with fishing AND a Frenchman to complicate the plot. The author must read your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 14, 2022 at 2:15 pm

      Let’s say that you have to have spent enough time somewhere to really feel a place.

      One guy does it well: Caryl Férey. But he goes to live in the country and reads a lot about it. (especially PhD thesis, he explained once at Quais du Polar)

      In one of Craig Johson’s book, he writes about the Basque community in Wyoming. These two states seem to have attracted French shepherds from the Basque country and the southern Alps.

      Like

  5. February 21, 2022 at 11:05 pm

    I know you’re saying that they didn’t work for you in this crime novel, but in general I really enjoy those old-fashioned chapter titles with strange little summaries, especially in contemporary fiction. Connie Willis used them in To Say Nothing of the Dog (which is not the first book in the series, but I mistakenly read it first years ago) and I thought they were hilarious there. As for the second novel, ouch!! (That’s one exclamation mark for each antler.)

    Like

    • February 22, 2022 at 12:27 pm

      I like them too, if they agree with the style and the tone of the book, which is not the case here.

      About the antlers. I wonder how he came with this idea. A real accident found in a newspaper?

      Like

      • February 23, 2022 at 6:23 pm

        That’d be my guess! Truth being “stranger than fiction” as they say. *wry laugh*

        Liked by 1 person

  1. April 9, 2022 at 8:57 pm

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