The Marseille Thriller Novel – Crime School (PART2)

Drawing its inspiration from the city's sulphurous reputation since the early 20th century, this literary movement is a spinoff from the 'Roman Noir' crime novel

Publié le 20 March 2017 Mis à jour le 30 August 2018

From activism to the 'Marseille Thriller'

One of the benchmarks of this literary genre is undoubtedly its call to citizenship. The Marseille thriller is heir to the neo-noir crime novel movement led by Daeninckx, Fajardie, Jonquet and Pouy, which emerged after the uprisings of May 1968. Patrick Raynal, director of Gallimard's 'Série Noire', draws parallels between them: "Neither of them trust the establishment or attempt wishy-washy political analyses. They have nothing to offer, but everything to write. They are witnesses to chaos, speaking of death and universality." (3) To underline their independent character, the authors willingly used local slang, as demonstrated to extremes by Philippe Carrèse in his hair-raising books ending with a glossary. In his works, readers from outside Marseille discovered the meaning of such colourful expressions as jobastre, alibofis and estranciner. Although this trend inevitably slowed down the standardisation of the genre, the very-militant style of the original thrillers began to evolve with the publication of many new works, gradually leading to today's 'Marseille thriller' signature style. New authors emerged and various well-known authors embraced the genre, such as Jean-Paul Delfino, Maurice Gouiran and Gilles del Pappas (who wrote 7 books in 3 years!). Variations emerged too, such as political fictions (Pet de mouche et la princesse du désert by Carrèse), documented novels (Où se perdent les hommes by René Fregni), historic novels (a speciality of the very-prolific Jean Contrucci) and even children's books (the Albert Leminot series by Georges Foveau, whose hero is a 13 year-old detective). Between 1995 and 2000, a total of 45 works were released (including 14 in 2000 alone) and numerous publishing houses - Baleine, Flammarion, Fleuve Noir, Jigal, Librio, Métailié, Seuil and Éditions Autrement, which published a series of short stories in 2001 combining national and local authors - entered into the dance: the Marseille thriller had become a marketable commodity. Various local publishers also emerged, such as Rouge Safran (founded in 1999) and L’Écailler du Sud.

The 'Écailler du Sud' era

The genre reached its peak (and the end of its Golden Age) with the prime-time broadcast of Fabio Montale, adapted into films for television by TF1 in early 2002 (starring Alain Delon; a highly-controversial choice in view of the actor's political convictions). Meanwhile, François Thomazeau, Patrick Blaise and Michel Martin-Rolland upped the odds in 2000 with the creation of 'L’Écailler du Sud' publishing house – a nod to Marseille's leading literary review Les Cahiers du Sud – which went on to publish 10 titles a year for around a decade, including works by Marie Neuser, Pia Petersen, Jean-Christophe Duchon-Doris and various amateur writers from the city's troubled northern quarters, such as Ridha Aati and Nordine Zoghani. "The Marseille thriller got a whole generation's feet on the ladder", asserts Patrick Blaise today. With the creation of L'Écailler du Nord and its new series of collections (Overlitterature, L'AtiNoir, etc.), L’Écailler began to branch out and even possessed its own bookshop for a while, located a stone's throw from La Canebière main thoroughfare. The 'Overlitterature' collection even became independent under the impetus of authors Henri-Frédéric Blanc and Gilles Ascaride (brother of the actress Ariane Ascaride). "Iconoclastic, burlesque and shamelessly tasteless", it vowed to perpetuate the spirit of deconstruction and social criticism promoted by the neo-thriller (4). The collection met with a degree of national success (L’Immortel by Franz-Olivier Giesbert told a romanticized version of the story of Jacky Le Mat), but the genre was losing its momentum. Bought up in March 2011, L’Écailler has been dormant since 2013 but may be back in business soon with a new line-up of publications: "The Marseille thriller is dead, long live the Marseille thriller", jokes Patrick Blaise, who considers there are other options for capturing the dark side of the city: his latest works, L’Inventeur de Villes and On l’Appelle Marseille (released in spring 2017), are chronicles staged in various locations throughout the city. In addition, his peer François Thomazeau is preparing a major fresco on Marseille in the Thirties (Marseille Confidential, to be published by Plon in 2018) inspired by James Ellroy's works.

A persistent utopia

The author of Marseille’s Burning in 2013 and local orchestrator of the international work Marseille Noir in 2014, Cédric Fabre embodies a new sensitivity in the Marseille thriller world. Flirting with science fiction, he describes the movement as "territorial literature". A keen activist, he seconds Izzo's desire for solidarity, materialized through the solitary yet altruistic act of writing: "What inspires me to write is the desire to upturn this city's status quo. We need to speak about Marseille differently, so that ordinary people can reclaim their own story." In his new work Un Bref Moment d’Héroïsme, scheduled for release in 2017 (Plon), Fabre will be digging into his pet topics: the influence of art in the city and notion of conflict. "If you can pinpoint where the violence is coming from, you're already half way to solving the social issues" he esteems. The notion of a "social lawsuit", instigated in the original novels, is still alive and kicking among the new generation of Marseille thriller writers, confirming the conclusions of a study conducted by Alain Guillemin: "It is a stage for sometimes-conflictual co-construction between authors, publishers, readers, critics and the media. In other words […] a stage for debate". (1)

Hervé Lucien

Journalist, writer and author

From 1994 onwards, I took part in a pioneering adventure: a free cultural magazine entitled Taktik. It was the first of its kind in France and shaped my journalistic approach – throwing bridges between the most rigorous artistic disciplines and popular culture, with a regional angle. I was born in Marseille and defend my city, with clarity but stubbornness.
I currently write for the electronic music magazine Trax, the weekly culture and society mag Les Inrockuptibles and paper and web versions of the Mars En Ville city newspaper. I'm working on several book projects on the theme of Marseille and, especially, its history.

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