Crime Fiction in Countries Where the Police Is Reviled

Kishwar Desai and Dror Mishani in Lyon, 2015.
Kishwar Desai and Dror Mishani in Lyon, 2015.

Crime fiction seems to be most popular in the countries where crime rates are low – perhaps because it is easier to read about terrible things happening when the truth around you is not stranger and more horrible than fiction. But what about those countries where the police is treated with suspicion, where there is no tradition of private detectives and where there is little hope of real justice (as opposed to vengeance)?

There was a panel at Quais du Polar in Lyon about this very subject, with authors from Russia, Costa Rica, Israel and India represented. I bought both of these books in Lyon: Liad Shoham was there in 2014, while Kishwar Desai was there this year.

TelAvivSuspectsLiad Shoham: Tel Aviv Suspects

No conventional crime novel, this is a story of guilt and fears, of mistrust, of crossed wires in communication, misunderstanding, prejudices, jumping to conclusions and… the weaknesses of the police and justice system. Not an overtly political book (which is saying something, set as it is in Israel), but a very interesting look at the larger picture surrounding a crime, the impact it has on everyone involved.

Every single one of the characters has a flawed reasoning, although some of them have good intentions. Elie Nahoum is a middle-aged, old-school police detective who begins to fear he may have arrested the wrong person in a rape case. The ‘rapist’ has something more serious to hide and is being coerced by his conspirators to plead guilty to the crime. The rape victim’s father is keen to accuse somebody and give his daughter back her peace of mind. The police, the prosecutor, potential witnesses all look to their own petty interests, try to save face, face their own fears and refuse to admit their own guilt. When Elie voices his concerns, he is suspended from active duty (and his greatest fear with that is that his wife will expect him to do something more around the house, instead of their traditional gender division of labour – just to show you how old-school he is, and how the author gently mocks him).

Liad Shoham and yours truly in Lyon, 2014.
Liad Shoham and yours truly in Lyon, 2014.

So not at all what I expected, but a rich, enlightening read. Shoham has a more laid-back and chatty style than the other Israeli crime fiction writer I’ve read,  the rather minimalist Dror Mishani.

#TBR7 in a change to the plan, because Raven waxed lyrical about another of Shoham’s books, which I now also want to read. He’s also a really lovely, humorous man, so here’s another picture of him at the Quais du Polar.


WitnesstheNightKishwar Desai: Witness the Night

This could be a very depressing book, given the subject matter (the murder of an entire extended family, a traumatised young girl as a possible suspect, female infanticide and political corruption). But Desai has a deft, lively style and a thoroughly likeable, unconventional, disobedient middle-aged heroine in Simran Singh. A delight to read, but also a great debate about social issues in a country of great contrasts. My full review is on Crime Fiction Lover.


(So, yes, the #TBR20 is going reasonably well, have read 9 to date, but have a few books barging in now for immediate reviews.)

18 thoughts on “Crime Fiction in Countries Where the Police Is Reviled”

  1. Thanks for featuring these. I had heard of Witness the Night from Margot’s blog but never followed up on it. And Liad Shoman is entirely new to me. I cannot afford to add to the TBR piles now but I will be looking for these books. A very interesting post.

    1. That’s one of the reasons I love crime fiction – you get to see so many different cultures and aspects of societies you may never get to visit otherwise… Heartily recommended for when your TBR pile calms down a little.

  2. What an interesting panel that must have been Marina Sofia! I would have liked to hear what they had to say. And thanks for the mentions of the books as well. I’m glad that you found Witness the Night a good read. I think it’s an important and powerful look at society, as well as a look at the way police are viewed.

    1. I first encountered the book on your blog, so I’d been looking for an opportunity to read it ever since (and others by Kishwar Desai, who was such a wonderful person to meet and to speak to).

  3. What fascinating facts re popularity of Crime Fiction!

    Had Witness the Night on my wishlist but was nervous given context… you’ve reassured me it’s well worth a read, and indeed the two that follow.

  4. One of the things I love about crime fiction is the way it can take you round the world. Hadn’t really thought of your question before though – even though I’ve just started Josef Skvorecky’s Lieutenant Boruvka stories. Both books sound interesting.

  5. What an excellent sounding pair of books, I’m especially interested in Witness the Night after reading the full review. And congratulations on the #TBR20 which sounds like it is going exceptionally well.

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