Barcelona, capital of the crime novel

Host to the BCNegra crime novel festival, Barcelona is one of the best cities in the world to be used as a location for a crime book due to its special character and physiognomy. It is the city which has more crime authors, more characters, more readers clubs and the only specialized crime novel library, in l’Hospitalet de Llobregat. Despite this, the Catalan authors still face difficulties to have their books published.

Guillem Jané / Victòria Oliveres

Barcelona (CNA).- The Catalan capital is known as one of the European paradigms for the crime and detective genre. It is usually the background of many stories because of its geography and social network. The city has recent hosted the 9th edition of the BCNegra crime novel festival, a key date on crime literature calendar. It is used as a loudspeaker for authors and editors, and is also the perfect occasion for readers to meet their favourite writers. The festival organises other activities such as debates on cybercrime or journalism. Barcelona is the city which has more crime authors, more characters, more reader clubs and the only specialized library, in l’Hospitalet de Llobregat. But Catalan authors of this genre still have obstacles to position their books in the market.

Barcelona is usually the scene for a special kind of literature, known as crime, detective, ‘noir’, ‘polar’ or ‘giallo’ novel. Paco Camarasa, the steward of the main literature festival of this genre, called BCNegra, and owner of the only crime novel bookshop in the Catalan capital, “Negra y criminal” (‘Black and criminal”), told CNA of the reasons of this phenomenon. He describes Barcelona as “the European capital of the crime novel, there’s no other city like this”.

A unique city as a location

Barcelona has got lots of ingredients that make it special. It is an important city, while not the capital, such as Milan, Edinburgh, Manchester, Lyon or Marseille. And that means, for example, that the police are different. The secret service was in Madrid. “During Francoist Spain, when the crime novel emerged, Barcelona had two things: a very active port, one of the most important in Europe, and the marginal neighbourhood known as the “barri xino”, explains Camarasa. The port means contraband and the black market. And the “barri xino” means nightlife, prostitution and crime.

In fact, both the port and the neighbourhood are really close to each other. “The barri xino was a rough area, a combination between popular classes and prostitution. But, meanwhile, in two hundred meters there was the Gran Teatre del Liceu, one of the main opera halls in Europe. This is Barcelona”. And this is what makes the city special for crime novels. And that is why it provides good shelf for writers such as Manuel de Pedrolo, Rafael Tasis, Jaume Fuster or Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.

Catalan authors face difficulties

Nowadays Catalonia also has many crime fiction writers but they have difficulties to be read by a local public, and have even more trouble to be known abroad. Only a few novels are translated, for example Un crim imperfecte (‘An imperfect crime’), written by Teresa Solana, and La mala dona (‘Barcelona shadows’), by Marc Pastor. Camarasa explains that, as a minority language, there is a small budget to translate Catalan authors and “this is normally taken by the big names in general Catalan literature, such as Jaume Cabré”.

Another remarkable fact is the difference between the Catalan and the Nordic crime novel. Camarasa thinks Nordic writers have a higher quality due to their cultural context. In Sweden and Norway, for instance, authors have always read crime novels because there is an extense network of libraries, bookshops and readers.

Now this is starting to change due to a public and private effort to position the crime genre on the literature map. For example, a municipal library in l’Hospitalet de Llobregat, called ‘La Bòbila’ has a special section for crime and detective novels, the only of its kind in Europe. Besides that, the publishing house ‘Alrevés’ created the collection ‘Crims.cat’ two years ago, only for this kind of books in Catalan. Also the publishing house ‘La Magrana’, owned by communication group RBA, is promoting once again their collection entitled ‘La Negra’. Both are a reflection of a project in the sixties which published crime novels in Catalan, called ‘Cua de palla’.

The BCNegra literature festival

A mega event for the crime novel genre is BCNegra, the crime novel festival used as a loudspeaker for authors and editors. This year Italian writer Andrea Camilleri received the Pepe Carvalho award for his importance among Mediterranean crime novelists. This festival is organized by the Barcelona City Hall in collaboration with many editorials and bookshops on the city, such as “Negra y criminal”, the only specialized one in this genre. In the words of its curator, Paco Camarasa, “Barcelona is the European capital of crime novel, there’s no other city like this”.

The BCNegra “is a public and private initiative for a special kind of literature, known as crime, detective, ‘noir’, ‘polar’ or ‘giallo’”, explains Camarasa. But many of the activities aren’t just about novels, they go deeper into the interpretation of reality. The curator offers examples of these combinations of fiction and real issues: “we invited three novelists to talk about violence towards women and architects to discuss about the city and crime”.

Other fields include cybercrime or journalism and, beyond literature, television series, music and cinema have found their place in the BCNegra. According to Camarasa: “there is a critical novel but also others are to entertain; those novels which discovers who is the murderer and others that explain why”. “The crime novel is always a novel that deals with moral issues and order. A crime, a murder, breaks society’s order”, adds Camarasa. 

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