Jonathan Guyer in The Guardian:
From Baghdad to Cairo, a neo-noir revolution has been creeping across the Middle East. The revival of crime fiction since the upheavals started in 2011 should not come as a surprise. Noir offers an alternative form of justice: the novelist is the ombudsman; the bad guys are taken to court.
“Police repression is an experience that binds people throughout the Arab world,” writes Dartmouth professor Jonathan Smolin in Moroccan Noir: Police, Crime and Politics in Popular Culture. That experience of repression did not simply pre-date the 2011 uprisings; it stimulated the revolts themselves.
The genre has long been popular in the Middle East though often considered too lowbrow for local and international scholarship. Mid-century paperbacks – shelves of unexamined pulp, from Arabic translations to locally produced serials, along with contemporary reprints of Agatha Christie – languish in Cairo’s book markets. Writer Ursula Lindsay quips: “Cairo is the perfect setting for noir: sleaze, glitz, inequality, corruption, lawlessness. It’s got it all.”
A variety of new productions – cinema, fiction and graphic novels – address crime, impunity and law’s incompetence. Novelists are latching onto the adventure, despair and paranoia prevalent in genre fiction to tell stories that transcend the present. Ahmed Mourad’s best-selling thriller, The Blue Elephant, now showing in cinemas across Egypt, is one of many unsentimental reflections. British-Sudanese author Jamal Mahjoub has also penned three page-turners under the nom de plume Parker Bilal, taking the reader from Cairo to Khartoum.
Enter Elliott Colla. The American scholar has written Baghdad Central, a meticulously researched whodunnit set in wartime Iraq, 2003. With the pacing of film noir, Colla seizes the disorder of the US occupation.