Thursday, 24 September 2009

Who Was Frederic Valmain?


One of the books I discovered in Hay-on-Wye was a novel I’d never heard of, by a writer unknown to me. But a glance at the back cover was enough to cause me to buy it. It was a paperback from 1965, a novel by Frederic Valmain called The Jackals (this copy does not disclose the original French title.)

The front cover bears an encomium from James Hadley Chase: ‘A book I can recommend for those who are looking for something new in suspense.’ Now, I’ve never read anything by Chase, and I’m not sure his work would appeal to me, but the back cover account of the plot – a young doctor is seduced by a woman who wants rid of her monstrous husband – suggests a story in the mould of some of the French novelists of suspense who worked at the same time as Valmain, and whom I admire: Boileau and Narcejac, Hubert Monteilhet, and Catherine Arley.

But who was the author? Initial researches have failed to reveal much, though Valmain obviously produced quite a lot of work, and some of it seems to have been filmed or televised. At least one internet site refers to him as a playwright. I consulted that great expert Xavier Lechard, but even Xavier didn’t know anything about Valmain. He told me that there was a belief that Valmain’s name was a pseudonym for a writer called Frederic Dard. But Valmain confounded that theory by giving an interview after Dard’s death. As Xavier said: ‘Valmain, as you can see, is thus a mystery writer in all meanings of the term.’

So do any of my knowledgable readers know anything about Valmain, or his work?

17 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I don't. Very interesting (sounds like something from "Shadow of the Wind"!)

Maybe it was a pen name. Although it makes you wonder why he'd use one at all.

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Tim said...

The National Library of Scotland has a copy which says the original title was "Chacals", published in 1962.

It's the only one they have of his.

One more small piece in the jigsaw :-)

Kate said...

I have no idea who the author is but wanted to say thanks for the post as the book sounds really interesting and I am going to try and get a copy to read.

Kate x

R. T. said...

Check out this site for some additional informatin about Valmain:
imdb.com

Bob Cornwell said...

Valmain is NOT listed in Claude Mesplède's superb (and usually faultless) Dictionnaire des littératures policières. Nor does the pseudonym appear in the three-page entry on the prolific Frederic Dard (who wrote under no less than 14 known such aliases). Playwright and screenwriter perhaps, as has been suggested (which would perhaps account for his omission from the Dictionnaire). Novelisations perhaps?

Martin Edwards said...

Tim, thanks for the research.

Martin Edwards said...

Welcome to the blog, Kate. Let us know if you find the book.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for the link, R.T.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Bob. I think Valmain published quite a few books, listed on Abebooks, which weren't translated into English. So though some may be novelisations, I assume some at least were original novels.
Can you tell us more about the Dictionary you mention?

Philip said...

A number of sources, many of them French, state quite matter-of-factly that Frederic Valmain was a pseudonym of Paul Baulat (de) Varennes, who also published copiously as James Carter. Of Baulat I know only that his birth date is given as Jan. 30, 1931, one day off that given for Valmain on IMDB. Many of the novels that appeared with the name Carter were published in a series called Fleuve Noir. If anyone's in the market, bouquinet.com has the 1958 paperback edition of La Mort dans L'ame for eight euros.

Tim said...

I also checked the British Library which has several entries. Some are adaptations, others not.

Bob Cornwell said...

Martin, as requested...
When I asked BILIPO in Paris for the definitive guide to French crime fiction, they unhesitatingly named editor Claude Mesplède’s Dictionnaire des littératures policières , first published in 2003 and updated for 2007. Two volumes , each of over 1000 pages, extensively illustrated in b/w. (To see their other recommendations download Crime Scene France: A Practical Guide on the Crime Time website :– http://www.crimetime.co.uk/mag/index.php/crimescene).

LE Mesplède as François Guérif, France’s distinguished critic has called him, is not only the editor, bringing together a team of 120 experts in many areas of crime fiction, but the work’s major contributor too (I estimate he wrote about 60% of the entries himself). 2200 individual crime writers are included. And not just from France, or the UK or the USA either. There are writers from Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Chile, China. Czechoslovakia and so on through to the Ukraine and Uruguay. Many more are covered in the articles on Africa, Albania, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Cuba, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, (Catalonia is listed separately!) Sweden and Russia. It is limited to some extent, of course, (though limited is hardly the right word!) by what has been published in France, the dictionaries breadth a testament to that country’s open-minded view of what should be available to them from the wealth of world literature.
In addition there are articles on genre, sub-genre, critics, magazines, prizes, key characters, and particular criminal themes.
Which reminds me, let’s look up “Théatre Policier”, a short article by Marc Madouraud. Dictionary to hand? And what’s this? “After the second World War, a crazy period for the roman noir, several new writers became interested in things theatrical, like Frédéric Valmain, Jean-Pierre Conty and above all Frédéric Dard who collaborated for a long time with Robert Hossein.” (Later an actor, in Rififi for example, also screenwriter and film director. BC). Nothing under Fiction Radiophonique or Film Policier Français, though...
These amazing volumes are available from Joseph K of Nantes via Amazon France for 47.5 Euros apiece.
NB There is a fuller review in CADS 54, July 2008.

Martin Edwards said...

Philip, that's great. Thank you. Do you know if any of his other books were translated into English? I couldn't find any on Abebooks.

Philip said...

I didn't come across mention of anything in translation at all, Martin, written either as Carter or as Valmain. One curiosity is that while Valmain is listed as both novelist and screenwriter for the film Le Cercle Vicieux (1960), James Carter is given as one of the writers of the screenplay of Johnny Banco (1967), based on the Valmain novel Le Flamenco des Assassins. I also noted that Valmain adapted a play by Leslie Sands, the late Yorkshire actor, for production in France. I think this must be Sands' Deadlock, out of which also came the movie Another Man's Poison (1951), which starred Bette Davis. This seemed like a bit of an odd mix to me, but then I noticed that Sands based his play on Zola's Therese Raquin, in the process turning that character into a crime novelist.

Marcus said...

Hi, I was looking for information after a conference I attended.
Best guess appears to be that Valmain (theater figurant that Dard met at a former adaptation than "Liberty Bar") lent his name to Dard so that he can avenge himself from few camouflets he got from Simenon.
Best proof must be "Liberty Bar" theater adaptation copyrights compared to "La neige était sale", there are also lots of corresponding books dedications, style, etc.
(google : "duel simenon dard")

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Marcus. You have supplied another piece in the jigsaw!

alexandre clement said...

Many specialists in France think that Valmain (alias Paul Baulat) was just a man of straw. Of course in the interview Valmain tell us : "I am a real writer ! I signed contacts with editors !"
In 1955, Valmain signed a play, adapted from Simenon, "Liberty Bar". The great biograph and critic P. Assouline write that Frédéric Dard was the author of this play.
Many people that have knew Valmain speak me "this man never write a word in his life"