Foreign Bodies edited by Martin Edwards

Crime in translation…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Another collection of vintage short stories from the great partnership of the British Library and Martin Edwards, this one is different in that these are all translated. Many are from European countries but there are some that range further afield – Russia, India, Mexico, Japan. As always the book begins with a highly informative and entertaining foreword from Edwards who always manages to get the tricky balance between not enough and too much information just about perfect. Each story also has its own little introduction, where Edwards gives some information about the author and in this collection also about the translation. Some of the stories were translated earlier and have appeared in magazines or other collections, but some have been translated specifically for this collection and are appearing in English for the first time.

There are fifteen stories in all, and as always the quality is variable. There are “impossible” crimes, Holmes pastiches with a foreign slant, little stories that are just a bit of fun, dark stories that linger in the mind, stories that verge on gothic horror. For me, the collection got off to a pretty poor start – I wasn’t impressed by the first two or three and began to think I’d made a mistake with this one. But as it goes on, the stories get better and better, and some of the later stories are very good indeed. One of them in particular rates as one of the best crime short stories I’ve ever read. In the end, I rated 6 of the stories as 5 stars and another 5 as 4 stars, and there were only two that I thought were complete duds that didn’t really deserve inclusion on the basis of their quality, although I could see why Edwards had picked them – one for the author’s name (Chekhov), and the other because it plays on a classic of the genre. So despite the iffy start, this ended up being one of my favourites of these collections overall.

Here are a few of the stories that stood out for me:-

The Spider by Koga Saburo translated by Ho-Ling Wong. Japanese. Part crime/part horror and definitely not one for arachnophobes! A scientist built a tower where he keeps vast numbers of spiders for study. But one day a visitor to the tower comes to a sticky end. Our narrator is looking into events after the later death of the scientist himself. This is almost Poe-ish in style in that we learn what happened mostly from the diaries of the scientist – a tale told by a man driven mad. Those spiders have haunted me for weeks now!

The Venom of the Tarantula by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay translated by Sreejata Guha. Indian. Very much a Holmes pastiche and excellently done. The detective Byomkesh Bakshi and his Watson, Ajit, apparently appeared in many stories and I’d happily read more of them. In this one, an old man is driving his long-suffering family crazy – he takes a drug that makes him impossible to deal with and they don’t know how he’s getting hold of it. The solution is very Holmesian even if it’s a little obvious, and the story is highly entertaining.

Poster from the 2015 film based on the stories

The Kennel by Maurice Level translated by Alys Eyre Macklin. French. There is a crime here, a fairly horrific one too, but mostly this is a great little gothic horror story. A man suspects his wife of having an affair, especially when he finds another man in her room. She claims it’s all very innocent but things are about to take a very nasty turn. It has a darkly twisted ending that made me gasp aloud (and then laugh). The author apparently wrote for the Grand Guignol and this story is of that type – melodramatic, gruesome and lots of fun!

The Cold Night’s Clearing by Keikichi Osaka translated by Ho-Ling Wong. Japanese again – there’s something about the Japanese approach to crime fiction that always draws me in, and this is the story I referred to above as being one of the best crime shorts I’ve ever read. It’s also by far the darkest story in the book. A teacher is called out in the middle of the night to his friend’s house, where he finds his friend’s wife and cousin dead, Christmas toys and sweets strewn around the floor, and the couple’s young son missing. Beautifully written and translated, the author uses the winter snow, the dark night and the frozen countryside to create a great atmosphere of uncanny dread, and there’s an excellent puzzle to be solved too. I was blown away by this story – a little piece of dark perfection.

So some great stories in there that well outweigh the less good ones, and make this for me one of the best of these collections… so far! Highly recommended and I hope Edwards and the BL keep ’em coming!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

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39 thoughts on “Foreign Bodies edited by Martin Edwards

  1. I love these collections and could read them forever. Glad to see this one measures up to expectations! There do seem to be two spider-related stories here, FF, what with the tarantula venom one as well. The Spider sounds genuinely creepy – but that might just be because of my aversion to the eight-legged little buggers!

    • Me too – I can’t keep up! I have another one coming along soon… 😀 Haha, happily the tarantula doesn’t put in a personal appearance so I wasn’t too freaked by it, but the other story has more spiders than anyone needs in an entire lifetime I feel!

    • Yes, I loved the idea especially since it went way beyond Europe. Forced my insular little mind to realise crime fiction is worldwide… 😉 If you do get a chance to read this collection, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 😀

  2. So glad you ended up liking this collection as much as you did, FictionFan. Interesting how, so often, the quality of the stories goes up and down in these collections, but there are almost always some gems among them. And I’ve found that, with the ones Edwards puts together, it’s always worth reading all the stories – even the ones that aren’t so great. He’s got such skill at choosing stories that really represent the topic, if I can put it that way.

    • Yes, all anthologies tend to be variable – a lot of it is to do with personal taste, too, of course. But I find with all of these BL ones that the majority are good ones, and this was particularly interesting for giving us a glimpse into what was happening in crime fiction around the world. I hope they keep on producing these collections… even if every time I read one, my TBR does get even more swamped with authors I’d like to read more of! 😉

  3. Thanks for flagging the stories you really enjoyed-I always find it helpful to know that when going into a book of short stories (and I’m gradually working my way through this whole collection so I’m sure I’ll get to these soon).

    • Glad you find the mini descriptions helpful – I find it the easiest way to show how much variety there is in these collections. They’re great, aren’t they? I’ve missed a couple of the earliest ones, so I’ll need to backtrack and get them sometime… 😀

    • Yes, there are always some less good stories in any collection, but this one has loads of excellent ones – perfect for the long dark evenings… especially the spider one… 😱

  4. Great review as always. I haven’t yet read any of the titles in the British Library Crime Classics range, but they sound fab and I see that you’ve read quite a lot of them – are there any standout favourites for you that you’d recommend to a newcomer?! Got my eye on a couple of the John Bude ones, and Verdict of Twelve…

    • Thank you! 😀 I’ve been loving the crime classics series – in fact, I think I’m addicted! Verdict of Twelve is an excellent one – really original structure. I enjoyed a couple of the Budes but not quite as much as lots of other people did. I loved The 12.30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts – inside the mind of the murderer. And I thoroughly enjoyed the two Sergeant Cluff books by Gil North – his style takes a bit of getting used to but it’s worth it, I think. Of the short story collections, Capital Crimes would be my recommendation as a great one to start with. Whatever one(s) you pick, I hope you enjoy! 😀

    • Haha – very wise! Otherwise I think you’ll enjoy this collection a lot – I did! 😀 Oh, and don’t be put off The Venom of the Tarantula – the spider doesn’t actually make an appearance in that one…

  5. Ewww, I’ve got the chills just reading the first synopsis. Not sure I could sleep at night after reading that one. The others sound quite interesting. Perhaps keep me awake while reading but won’t give me nightmares.

  6. Inspired by you, and by Laila who I saw on GR was currently reading it, I picked up “Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries” from the library. I’ve never read a book like this before – I think it’s going to be fun!

    • Ooh, I hope you enjoy it! That’s one of the very few of this series I’ve missed and Laila has made me want to get it to read over Christmas too. Last year I read another of them called Crimson Snow, and it was great fun… nothing like a bit of murder and mayhem to create the festive spirit! 😉

    • I’ve had so much fun with the Crime Classics over the last couple of years I’m beginning to feel like a pusher, shoving them at people in the hope they’ll get addicted too… 😉 The Spider story is actually very good, but oh, those spiders did give me the creeps…

    • Those spiders gave me the creeps – I still keep thinking I’m spotting them out of the corner of my eye… ugh! 😉 I do enjoy Japanese crime – it always feels kinda a bit strange and unnerving as if I don’t properly understand their mind-set…

    • Yep, these covers just keep getting better! Ha – I’m kinda regretting highlighting the spider story now – I seem to have put everyone off. But they were pretty ugh!

  7. I really enjoyed how you stated the country of origin and how that changes the story a bit by adding horror, etc. I’d like to see more genres collected this way so I can think about and compare them.

    • I do find it fascinating to see both the similarities and differences in style. And the short story format allows you to sample lots of different countries whereas reaading full length novels is such a big time committment…

  8. I have to at least read the Cold Night’s Clearing (feel I’d be missing out if I didn’t after your recommendation) so I’ve just put the book on hold at my local library, I should have it for Christmas 🙂

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