Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Crime fiction careers in Finland

I was writing earlier about John Gardner's following in Finland, which has been sporadic at best. First, three Boysie Oakes books, then nothing, then some half dozen of his James Bonds. A one-off during the interval. At least, the publisher has remained the same.

I got to thinking about other examples. Two of the most frustrating ones have been Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block, both very professional and widely-read authors working in the crime and mystery field. Leonard has had at least four different publishers, even though there's been some 15 translations in all. Some of the translations are wildly wrong about Leonard's style.

The first Leonard novel to come out in Finnish was, to me, one of his best, Mr. Majestyk. It came out as a cheap paperback in 1979 and it was followed by 52 Pickup from the same paperback house the next year. I think it's a small wonder none of his Western novels came out as paperbacks, even though there were lots of those by writers like Lewis B. Patten and Gordon Shirreffs.

Then the turn was shifted to Tammi who did some pretty bad translations in the late eighties - this was a phase when I was wondering what was so great about this Leonard (I'd been reading some magazines that had articles about hardboiled crime fiction that praised Leonard). Then came Book Studio, a smallish independent publisher, who did lots of Leonard's later efforts from Rum Punch to Out Of Sight. And then another big house steps in with Pagan Babies and Tishomingo Blues - I hear with good results regards to translation. These are the only Leonard translations in the 2000's. No one has ever touched his earlier books, save for the paperback house who did Mr. Majestyk and 52 Pickup.

Lawrence Block has been served more ill than Leonard. He's had only two publishers in Finland, first Vaasa Oy, newspaper publisher and printing house, who had several paperback lines from early sixties to the eighties. In the Manhattan series (which was actually of Swedish origin) Block's thriller Deadly Honeymoon (1967) came out in 1974. I think it's a small wonder that not even Block's paperback originals came to be translated, when there were at least two or three new titles every month from the Finnish paperback houses. I'd love to see a Tanner novel by Block to have come out from Vaasa Oy in their Manhattan series.

Then there was a long break, after which Book Studio made several of Block's Matt Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr novels, starting from the mid-eighties. Then Book Studio was bought by a bigger house, which ultimately caused the main editor and original publisher to leave the business and the Book Studio line was dropped with all of its crime fiction. Without Book Studio, Block has no Finnish publisher. (The Book Studio head honcho Kari Lindgren has a new publishing firm with him, but last I heard he had dropped the plans to publish more Block - I think it was meant to be a collection of Block's short stories. I'd hope someone grabbed Block's early novels, the ones that have been dug out by the good folks at Hard Case Crime.)

Alongside Deadly Honeymoon, there were half dozen short stories in several magazines in the 70's and 80's and an early porn paperback Block is reported having written as by Sheldon Lord (Kept, I think, is the title; Maksettu rakastaja in Finnish). I don't think Block ever received any money from the translation...

The similar thing has occurred also with Donald Westlake. And I bet there are dozens of other good, respectable authors who should've deserved better.


Anonymous said...

Two early Scudder novels, "Time to Murder and Create" and "In the Midst of Death" were in fact published in the *Swedish* Manhattan series, in 1981 and 1982. Had the Finnish series been discontinued by then?

Juri said...

I'm not at home, so I can't check, but I think the Finnish series was cancelled in 1982, with Barry Malzberg/Mike Barry's first Burt Wulff being the last one to come out. There was later another series with the same title, but I don't know if there was any connection with the Swedish Manhattan publishers at that time.