Pushkin Press have done a sterling job since they launched themselves on to the publishing world back in 1997. Having introduced a bountiful collection of literary gems to the Anglosphere, with translation after translation of novels, short stories, essays and poetry from revered writers of past and present. Pushkin Press make you realise that the English speaking world misses out on so much genius.
I was introduced to this tiny power house of publishing only last year, but in that short time, along with reacquainting myself with those familiar literary legends, I have discovered writers I had never known existed. So I was of course delighted to here that this month sees the release of Pushkin Vertigo, a series of crime and thriller novels, carefully handpicked from the book shelves of Europe and beyond. With, as always, beautiful translations and piercing cover designs, which this time contain elements of unabashed Hitchcockian reverie, I can imagine the work of Saul Bass being the designers greatest influence here. It was remarked on Twitter that the cover designs do actually induce a feeling of vertigo, some would call that a criticism, I would call that a bit of marketing gold.
Photo by Ben Mirza
So, on to the series itself. The preview collection, neatly packaged, landed in my hands last month, and the first novel to grab my attention was 'Master of the Day of Judgement' by Czech-Viennese writer Leo Perutz, whose fans included Graham Greene and Ian Fleming no less. A murder mystery first published in 1921, before the genre of murder mysteries became embroidered into the fabric of popular culture. There are undertones of Kafka within the words of Perutz, the physiological fabric is of a distinct calibre and it's hard to not get drawn in completely. Perutz explores the concepts of human motivation, why we do the things we do in life, whether to enhance it or end it.
The rest of the series includes novels that capture the same psychological intensity and brevity. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada, which invites you to decipher the mystery before the end of the book, ignites the mind with such immediacy. 'The Disappearance of Signora Giulia' by Piero Chiara, a writer whose early life was tainted by Mussolini's black shirts, is a detective novel which easily sits alongside the great 'noir's' of the 1940's, I can imagine Humphrey Bogart portraying Detective Sciancalepre, as he races to find a missing girl. Finally 'Vertigo', the inspiration for this series and of course the Alfred Hitchcock's big screen adaption, by Boileau-Narcejac (a collaboration between the French fiction writers Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud) is powerfully bold, so confident is it in creating deceitful complexities, a true masterpiece.
Pushkin Vertigo has picked the fruits of a genre that is now so well known, but these men were and are the trail blazers, who perfected it, and brought it centre-stage in the public consciousness. A roster of psychological exploration and testaments to the voracity of man's imagination.
Pushkin Vertigo is currently avaiable from the Pushkin Shop, with more editions coming in November.