Olen Steinhauer: This Book Isn’t Lost in Translation
Posted by: Keir Graff
Two days ago I wrote that Tana French was the only author on Likely Stories this month to bat 1.000 with Booklist starred reviews. But, just now, I looked up Olen Steinhauer‘s track record and realized that Ms. French is not alone. Of the six Steinhauers we’ve reviewed (I regret to say we missed one), six received stars. And while his most recent two, The Nearest Exit (2010) and The Tourist (2009) are indeed great, I find myself more often recommending that people read his Eastern European quintet—if only because those books aren’t as well known. Start with The Bridge of Sighs (2003) and you’ll be hooked. When I asked Steinhauer to share his favorite crime-fiction read of the past year, he answered the question not as a writer—but as a critic.
I’ve not read a lot of crime fiction lately, and even fewer collections of short stories. However, late last year the New York Times Book Review sent me a slim collection called Crime, by Ferdinand von Schirach, for review. I held it at arm’s length, sniffed it, noted that it was translated from German, and thought, “Well, at least it’s short.”
Which only shows how foolish even the most well-meaning critic can be, for this was one of my favorite reads of the year—in any genre. Von Schirach, a well-known German defense attorney, reached into his own case histories to come up with these fictional tales of flesh-and-blood men and women ending up on the wrong side of the law, either by stupidity, good intentions, or simple human failing. Reflecting the realities of his profession, the cast of characters is wide-ranging and full of characters who live with you long after the book is closed. But what mesmerizes most is the voice—minimal, almost surgical, but with heart, bringing to mind the cool mastery of a Raymond Carver with a wry sense of humor. The stories are always engaging, most of them mesmerize and some are truly brilliant. I’d encourage anyone to pick up Crime.
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