Friday, 21 April 2017

Forgotten Book - Bird in a Cage

Frederic Dard was a successful and exceptionally prolific French crime writer whose work is little known in Britain despite the fact that he's often been compared to his friend Georges Simenon. That should change now, since Pushkin Vertigo have begun to publish some of his books.in English translation. I decided to have a look at Bird in a Cage, first published in 1961, and now translated by David Bellos.

This is a mystery set at Christmas, but if you're expecting a Parisian equivalent of The Santa Klaus Murder, you are in for a shock. It's really a noir story, with a melancholic mood, and a whiff of Boileau-Narcejac (when will more of their mysteries be translated into English, I wonder? Vertigo was far from being their only masterpiece).

The protagonist is Albert, who has come back home after years of absence. His mother is dead, and he becomes entranced by an attractive woman he chances to meet. The woman has a child (although it has to be said that the narrative does not show her parenting skills in a particularly good light) but she seems as drawn to Albert as he is to him.

Before long, however, we are confronted with a corpse, and in due course, in classic mystery fashion, the body vanishes. What is going on? I enjoyed this story, and felt that Bellos' translation worked well. It's a very short book, not much more than a novella, but none the worse for that brevity. I enjoyed reading it, and will look forward to reading more Frederic Dard.

8 comments:

Christopher Greaves said...

Pushkin Press have also published Boileau-Narcejac's 'She Who Was No More' - the source material for the movie, 'Les Diaboliques' - which you might like. It's clever and well-written, but it consists of a lot more 'psychological narrative' than plot, and in no way at all could it be described as a jolly read.

Rick Robinson said...

I'm wondering if the length was shortened by the act of translation, or if the original was also about novella length.

J F Norris said...

Glad to read that Dard's books stack up against Boileau & Narcejac who, as you know, I also admire a lot. I'm going on a buying binge and grab as many of Dard's books as I can and dig in this summer. Thanks for reminding me about these reprints. Four so far -- one more coming in September!

J said...

I have just three of the Boileau-Narcejac novels in English: THE WOMAN WHO WAS NO MORE, THE LIVING AND THE DEAD (filmed as VERTIGO), and CHOICE CUTS. On my permanent want list are FACES IN THE DARK, EVIL EYE, and THE PRISONER--all published in hardback in London (meaning relatively small editions) about fifty years ago. As you say, there are so many others that have not even been translated.

I had suggested to Doug Greene that the detective story pastiches, IDENTITY THEFTS, would be an ideal volume for his Crippen & Landru press, but again, the fact that only a handful of the pieces have ever been done into English (for EQMM) makes it a dream project...

Martin Edwards said...

Christopher, thanks, that is one I read and enjoyed. Among others I can recommend their The Prisoner and Who Was Claire Jallu?

Martin Edwards said...

Rick, I don't think it was shortened, at least not significantly.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi John. Dard is certainly interesting and it's good to have a chance to read these books in English.

Martin Edwards said...

J - I haven't read Identity Thefts. I can strongly recommend The Prisoner.