When I started writing my first roman policier in the late 1990s and when I published my first novel the French press was interested in the subject despite the fact I was writing in Arabic. The magazine Jeune Afrique published an article entitled: Morocco Goes on a Whim. The review read “…the Arabic language cannot access the romantic space of noir fiction.” The journalist here had a diminishing vision, and is quite unfair: he justified himself by saying that Arabic is the sacred language of The Qu’ran. So, for him, the Arabic language is too sacred to be malleable – but we forget that it is a language used by great writers throughout history to express themselves.
Morocco implemented a moderate revolution at end of the 1980s, known as Années de plomb (years of lead). This also brought about a rehabilitation of the image of the police in the eyes of Moroccans. There was an improvement in the police, the means of oppression and torture were no longer used, or at least used less; there was a clear improvement to conditions of detention, and punishment to police officers who do not respect the guidelines. As a result, there was also an improvement in the general climate of human rights, including freedom of expression, which was seen through the medium of independent newspapers and magazines.
It was seeing the country implement these improvements that pushed me to write roman policier novels. In my first novels, my goal was to bring the reader in tune with the novel status quo that the policeman is not a person outside the norm, nor above any law, but a person like all the others. The policeman has a duty and he renders services to the people by applying the law without being above the it.
These first novels were positively received by readers and the press. But then I had a desire to change the image of the torturer – that was stuck to policeman – to a new modern image, consistent with the new political era, in which ex-political prisoners begin to occupy important positions in the state. In the year 2000 I wrote Whitefly, and despite being written in Arabic, Catherine Simon from Le Monde wrote: “Whitefly is without a doubt the best of all that has been published with the action that takes place between Tangier, Agadir and the author stages, around the police plot of the current problems: illegal immigration; rivalry between Moroccan and Spanish farmers; organized crime; the question of unemployed graduates; a Dashiell Hammett is born! The ingredients and expectations are there.” It was then that Harvard University researcher and translator Jonathan Smolin noted that roman policier novels did not exist in Arab countries, something he discussed in his PhD. Jonathan went on to translate two of my novels The Final Bet and The White Fly. Currently, Hoopoe (an imprint of AUC Press) has commissioned a series of roman policier novels from me with Casablanca as the central city, and the snake, Detective Hanash, as the central character. Bled Dry is the first novel of this collection and appeared in 2018.
Bled Dry is the first book in a new crime detective series published by Hoopoe, an imprint of AUC Press, available now.