This September will see the launch of a brand new imprint from Pushkin Press. Pushkin Vertigo will bring some of the best classic crime novels from all over the world to British readers. The first four titles are out on September 17th. In preparation for this launch I have had the extremely enviable task of consuming a cornucopia of international suspense stories and whodunits, immersing myself in a world of eerie mysteries and macabre murder, all with the aim of finding the most unsettling, intriguing and downright compulsive thrillers from around the globe to add to our list. It’s been a wonderful journey so far, and along the way it’s been particularly gratifying to discover how many foreign crime-novel traditions there are, existing in parallel to the familiar and hugely Anglo-Saxon world of crime fiction. I had never heard of the Japanese shin-honkaku logic puzzles, which draw their inspiration from Golden Age British and American whodunits, nor had I ever opened a breathlessly dramatic Italian giallo or watched one of the many lurid and shocking films that grew from that genre. But perhaps the most enjoyable and gripping of all these traditions is the French psychological thriller, exemplified by the work of the masterful writing duo Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac.
Boileau and Narcejac were successful writers in their own right, both having won the prestigious Prix du roman d’aventures before published the first of their collaborations, She Who Was No More, in 1952. The pair were bored with hardboiled US crime novels and genteel British whodunits. They wanted to create a new and distinctive tradition – one that would focus on characterisation and suspense; one that would place the protagonist in the centre of the mystery, rather than on the outside looking in; one that would keep the disoriented reader on the edge of their seat, too caught up in the mounting tension to do anything other than turn page after page. The hero of a Boileau-Narcejac thriller doesn’t peer at clues through a magnifying glass or ponder complicated puzzles from the depths of an armchair in their gentleman’s club – they’re more likely to be found running for their life or questioning their sanity. This new style was enormously successful and together the duo wrote dozens of books, in a hugely popular partnership that stretched from the Fifties to the Nineties.
With such an emphasis on pace and tension in their novels, it’s no surprise that famous film-makers were drawn to their work. Rumour has it that Alfred Hitchcock wanted desperately to secure the rights to adapt She Who Was No More, but he was pipped to the post by Henri-Georges Clouzot, whose Les Diaboliques is a recognised classic of noir cinema. Hitchcock had to wait until 1954 and the publication of Vertigo before he would get the chance to adapt a Boileau-Narcejac book for the big screen – since his film version is commonly regarded as the best thriller, perhaps even the best film, ever made, it’s safe to say it was worth the wait.
Despite their great success, influence and the famous cinematic adaptations of their work, Boileau and Narcejac remain relatively unknown in the English-speaking world. We’re hoping that’s about to change. Both Vertigo and She Who Was No More are coming from Pushkin Vertigo this Autumn, and we hope there will be many more page-turners to follow from these Gallic masters of suspense.
Vertigo by Boileau-Narcejac, The Disappearance of Signora Giulia by Piero Chiara, Master of the Day of Judgment by Leo Perutz and The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada are all published on 17th of September by Pushkin Vertigo.
She Who Was No More by Boileau-Narcejac and I Was Jack Mortimer by Alexander Lernet-Holenia are published in November 2015