A taste of BalkaNoir

Noir is a word that certainly appeals to us. Add an adjective or a location and hey presto! a new universe of literary possibilities opens. But what do we know about a mysteriously called BalkaNoir? Is the World Book Day a good reason to venture into the unknown?

Some lucky English readers had a chance to sample BalkaNoir at NewcastleNoir crime fiction festival in 2019 when three Romanian authors Anamaria Ionescu, Teodora Matei and Bogdan Hrib shared their enthusiasm, creativity and books. Their writing is original and brings a new interesting perspective to the European table.

Anamaria Ionescu, a journalist and a writer, has been working for the Romanian Broadcasting Company for over twenty years.  She had her literary debut in 2008 in the literary section of a national publication with a short story called Travelling Family. In 2014 she published the first novel of her Sergiu Manta mystery and thriller series Code Name: Arkon. The series keeps track of an IT specialist also a biker and a rocker, whose destiny pushes him into being an assassin.

Zodiac, the second novel in the Sergiu Manta series, was out in 2016:

When investigator Sergiu Manta is handed the investigation into a series of bizarre murders, he has no idea what he’s getting involved in as he has to work with regular detective Marius Stanescu who has his own suspicions about the biker he has been told to work with, and wants to get to the truth. The twists and turns of the story take both men from the city of Bucharest to the mountains of rural Romania, and back.

Teodora Matei is the deputy chief editor of the online magazine Gazeta SF. Her debut novel in print was The Butterfly Man (cyberpunk-crime, 2015), the first volume of the trilogy with the same name, written together with Lucian-Dragoș Bogdan, a Romanian SF/ romance/ thriller author.

Living Candles:

The discovery of a woman close to death in a city basement sends Bucharest police officers Anton Iordan and Sorin Matache on a complex chase through the city as they seek to identify the victim. As they try to track down the would-be murderer, they find a macabre trail of missing women, and realise that this isn’t the first time the killer has struck. Iordan and Matache hit one dead end after another, until they decide they would have to take a chance that could prove deadly.

Stylistically the novels differ: Zodiac is pacey, impatient, international, with a touch of a Bond fantasy. Living Candles is much more low-key, quieter, understated. And dangerous. Both books, however, are strongly anchored within the recent history of Romania which demonstrates itself in the social attitudes and past perceptions of women. Female characters seem to be in the background of the society, essential yet not recognised for their own abilities. There’s a hint of fury in a female assassin and eagerness of a young pathologist to make a mark in a man’s world. Nevertheless, machismo rules on most of the fronts. Anamaria Ionescu and Teodora Matei observe what happens around them, and are fully aware of all changes.

English, Icelandic and Romanian connections: Quentin Bates, Teodora Matei, Anamaria Ionescu, Bogdan Hrib and Marina Sofia (world literature champion) at NewcastleNoir 2019

Bogdan Hrib’s varied career encompassed the professions of photographer, journalist, lecturer and book publisher as a co-founder of Tritonic Publishing Phillips. He has been instrumental in bringing other Romanian crime writers into English publication. He also contributed short stories to and edited several crime fiction collective books such as: Noir de Bucuresti, GastroNOIR (including contributions from Teodora Matei as well) and Noir de Timisoara.

His debut as a crime fiction writer came in 2007 with Filiera greceasca / The Greek Connection:

A Greek holiday abruptly interrupted by the murder of a Russian girl. The primary suspect is a Romanian man, and when journalist Stelian Munteanu happens to be nearest person to the crime scene, he soon gets pulled into the sordid tale where nothing is what it seems. A pursuit from Greece to Rome, Bucharest, Vienna and finally across France, Munteanu finds himself entering the dark world of diamond smuggling and stolen furs, where a mysterious ex-KGB agent knows it all.

And the Nordic connection?

Bogdan Hrib said that BalkaNoir couldn’t be more different than NordicNoir regarding the social context as Romania is still trying to come to terms with massive changes of moving from capitalism to totalitarian state and back to capitalism. It is all about survival and adjusting to the new reality. Yet Romanian Noir looks up to Nordic Noir. But even if the concept of the crime fiction is different to what we’ve become familiar with coming from Nordic and Scandinavian countries, the essence of the writing is the same: good gripping narrations, interesting characters, search for answers.

Bogdan Hrib representing Romania at IcelandNoir in Reykjavik in 2014

I feel that this is a beginning of something much bigger and BalkaNoir (or RomanianNoir?) is just about to conquer the world.

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