Nestor Burma
Created by Léo Malet

Mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen, may we introduce to you France's answer to Chandler's Marlowe, the one and only, NESTOR BURMA -- detective de choc!

Malet was heavily influenced by Chandler, Hammett, et al, and Burma's appearance ushered in a whole new era in French detective fiction. But Burma is more than just Marlowe in a beret. A former anarchist, with roots in radical politics, Nestor lives a precarious existence in a time and a place that few have dared to touch -- namely, France during and just after World War II. Nestor is the owner and sole operator of the Fiat Lux Detective Agency in Paris, in a France very much under the thumb of the Nazis and the Vichy regime. And Marlowe thought Bay City was bad.

The only other employee at Fiat Lux is Nestor's long-suffering, starry-eyed secretary, Hélène, who's got it bad for the boss. Other supporting characters include Zavatter, an allegedly-reformed burglar, who sometimes helps out Burma, Police Commissioner Faroux, who begrudgingly admits Burma's a pretty decent detective, and Faroux's assistant, Inspector Fabre, who doesn't trust Burma any farther than he can throw him.

Burma appeared in almost thirty novels, including an interesting series within a series called "les Nouveaux Mysteres de Paris," comprising fifteen novels, each one devoted to a Paris district.

Nestor's popularity and influence have gone far beyond the original novels. There have been at least three films and, in the nineties, a television series. The show ran for from 1991 untl somewhere around 2000, which ought to indicate how well-thought of the character is in France.

More recently, comics artist Jacques Tardi (alone and with fellow cartoonist Emmanuel Moynot) has begun adapting the novels into some very well done graphic novels, and has even occasionally written some original Burma stories.

And if your French isn't up to snuff, in the nineties, Britain's Pan began releasing English translations of several of the books in the nineties. They're worth tracking down.

One of the most influential detective writers in France, Léo Malet was born in 1909 and lived a rather colourful life. Like Burma, he was a reformed left-wing idealist and anarchist. He was a published poet, a "chansonnier" in nightclubs in Montmartre, a reporter for a number of radical papers, and a member of the notorious Surrealist Group from 1930 to 1949. His first detective novel, 120, Rue de la Gare, was published in 1943 and by 1948, he had France's prestigious Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. The Nestor Burma is one of to the longest-running PI series of all time, with twenty-nine books and several short stories spanning almost fifty years. Somehow, Malet (under the pseudonym of Frank Harding) also found the time to create another French character, reporter Johnny Metal, who often acted like a PI.When Malet passed away in 1996, his beloved character Nestor Burma was honored by a French stamp.

BURMA AT THE MOVIES AND ON TELEVISION
A Brief Overview by Etienne Borgers

  • Last weekend, I watched a very good, almost pristine copy of one of the three films based on Malet's Nestor Burma. The first time I saw it, years back, it was a pitiful copy, marred by a clumsy pan & scan treatment and washed colors that left a very bad impression. This time, though, I could really enjoy La nuit de Saint-Germain-des-Prés (1977), directed by Bob Swain and based on the novel of the same title.

    Michel Galabru plays Burma, and although his tempo and pacing isn't quite suited to the Burma of the novels, strangely enough, this movie is very close to the ambiance and universe of Malet's novels so that, even with the main character not well rendered, the director managed to recreate something of value. I've rarely experienced such a thing, but I must admit I finally liked this film.

    Anyway, it's miles above the scam that was another Burma movie: Nestor Burma: détective de choc (1982) made by Jean-Luc Miesh. And a total shame.Michel Serrault portrayal of Burma is grotesque and out of proportion, misplaced and childish compared to the original character. Just avoid this movie . It was allegedly based on the novel M'as-tu vu en cadavre?

    The third movie, based on the first Burma novel, is: 120 rue de la gare (1946). I've never seen it (saw only a few sequences from it) so I cannot comment. I've heard that complete copies or copies in fair state of conservation are rare to find. Which explains probably why I could never see it.

    There was also a long series of Burma's films made for French television, starting in 1991, with Guy Marchand as Burma. It is slightly modernized, but the quality fluctuated dramiatically. Many of the episodes range from merely average to just plain bad, but there are some exceptions. The best are from the season where shots of Paris were utilized as background for the opening credits.

NOVELS

  • 120, rue de la gare (1943)
    English translation "120 rue de la gare," 1991....Buy the English translation
  • Nestor Burma contre C.Q.F.D. (1945)
    English translation "Dynamite Versus QED," 1991....Buy the English translation
  • L'homme au sang bleu (1945)
  • Nestor Burma et le monstre (1946)
  • La cinquieme procede (1948)
    English translation "Mission to Marseilles," 1991....Buy the English translation
  • Coliques de plomb (1948)
  • Gros plan du macchabee (1949)
  • Les patelots sans manches (1949)
  • Le soleil nait derriere le Louvre (1954)"
    English translation "Sunrise Behind the Louvre," 1991. ...Buy the English translation
  • Des kilometres de linceul (1955)
  • Fievre au Marais (1955)
  • La nuit de Saint-Germain-des-Pres (1955)
  • Les rats de Montsouris (1955)
    English translation "The Rats of Montsouris," 1991....Buy the English translation
  • M'as-tu vu en cadavre? (1956)
  • Corrida aux Champs-Elysees (1956)
  • Pas de bravards a la Muette (1956)
  • Brouillard au pont de Tolbiac (1956)
    English translation "Fog on the Tolbiac Bridge," 1991....Buy the English translation
  • Les eaux troubles de Javel (1957)
  • Boulevard-ossements (1957)
  • Casse-pipe a la Nation (1957
    English translation "Death of a Marseilles Man," 1995....Buy the English translation
  • Micmac moche au Boul' Mich' (1957)
  • Du Rebecca rue des Rosiers (1958
    English translation "Mayhem in the Marais," 1991...Buy the English translation
  • L'envahissant cadavre de la plaine Monceau (1959)
    English translation "The Tell-Tale Body on the Plaine Monceau," 1993....Buy the English translation
  • Nestor Burma en direct (1962)
  • Nestor Burma rentre au bercial (1967)
  • Drole d'epreuve pour Nestor Burma (1968)
  • Un croque-mort nomme Nestor (1969)
  • Nestor Burma dans l'ile (1970)
  • Nestor Burma court la poupee (1971)
    .
  • There's also an English translation entitled "Death of a Marseilles Man," published by Macmillan UK in 1995, of one of the novels published in 1957, but I'm not sure which.

SHORT STORIES

  • "Solution au cimetiere" (1946, Image du Monde)
  • "Pas de Veine avec le pendu" (1952, Mystere Magazine; translated as "The Haulage Company", The Great French Detective Stories)
  • Faux frere (1955, Mystere Magazine)
  • Poste Restante (1983, Le Figaro)

FILMS

  • 120, RUE DE LA GARE
    (1946, Sirius)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Screenplay by Jacques Daniel-Norman
    Directed by Jacques Daniel-Norman
    Starring René Dary as NESTOR BURMA
    with Sophie Desmarets as Hélène
    and Jean Clarens as Faroux
    Also starring
    , Gaby Andreu, Jean Parédès, Albert Dinan, Maryse Manuel, Manuel Gary, Jean Heuze, Charles Lemontier, Daniel Mendaille.
    .
  • LA NUIT D'AUSTERLITZ
    (1954, Telefilm)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Screenplay by Stellio Lorenzi
    Directed by Stellio Lorenzi
    Starring Daniel Sorano as NESTOR BURMA
    with Hélène Mora as Hélène
    and Charles Lemontier as Faroux
    Also starring
    Joelle Bernard, Robert Dalban, Hubert Lapparent, Lucien Raimbourg, Albert Remy, Georges Hubert.
    .
  • ENIGME AUX FOLIES-BERGERES
    (1959)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Directed by Jean Mitry.
    Starring Franck Villard as NESTOR BURMA
    Also starring
    Bella Darvi, Armand Mestral, Claude Goddard, Jean Tissier, Dora Doll
    .
  • LA NUIT DE SAINT-GERMAIN-DES-PRES
    (1977, Filmologies)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Directed by Bob Swain.
    Screenplay by Pierre Fabre, Alain Petit, Robert Réa & Bob Swain
    Starring Michel Galabru as NESTOR BURMA
    Also starring
    Mort Schuman, Daniel Auteuil, Chantal Dupuy, Alain Mottet, Manuela Gourary, Annick Alane, Gabriel Jabbour, Jean Rougerie, Fernand Berset.
    .
  • NESTOR BURMA, DETECTIVE DE CHOC
    (1982, Zenith)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Directed by Jean-Luc Miesch.
    Starring Michel Serrault as NESTOR BURMA
    Also starring
    Jane Birkin, Alain Bashung, Corinne Marchand, Anne-Marie Pisani, Pierre Arditi, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Guy Marchand
    .
  • LES RATS DE MONTSOURIS
    (1988, Telefilm)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Screenplay by Bernard Marié, Jean-Claude Chambon & Maurice Frydland
    Directed by Maurice Frydland
    Starring Gérard Desarthe as NESTOR BURMA
    with Charlotte de Turckheim as Hélène
    and Bernard Freyd as Faroux
    Also starring
    Michel Auclair, Roland Bertin, Diane Delor, , Alain Moussey, Jean-Michel Dupuis.

TELEVISION

  • NESTOR BURMA
    (1991-2000 , France)
    Directors: Henri Helman, Claude Grinberg, Gérard Marx, Joyce Bunuel, Claude Grinberg, Maurice Frydland, Joël Séria, Pierre Koralnik, Alain Schwarzstein, Jean-Paul Mudry, Alain Bloch, Jean Marboeuf, Daniel Losset, Philippe Venault, Marcel Zemour, Philippe Laik, David Delrieux, Jacob Berger
    Starring Guy Marchand as NESTOR BURMA
    with Sophie Brousta as Helene - season 1 (also Natacha Lindinger - season 2; Geraldine Cotte - season 3; Jeanne Savary - seasons 4-7)
    Pierre Tornade as Commissaire Farroux
    Claude Brossetas Zavatter - season 1 (also Michel Fortin - season 2-7)
    Patrick Guillemin as Inspecteur Fabre
    and Elisa Servier as Commissioner Niel (8th Season)
    Guest stars: Ludwig Briand, Bernard Haller
    ..
  • 1st season
  • "Pas de Bavards à la Muette" (1991)
  • "Les Cadavres de la Plaine Monceau" (1991)
  • "Corrida aux Champs-Elysées" (1992)
  • "Fièvre au Marais (1992)"
    .
  • 2nd season
  • "Le Soleil naît derrière le Louvre" (1992)
  • "Casse-pipe à la Nation" (1992)
  • "Du Rebecca rue des Rosiers" (1992)
  • "MicMac Moche au Boul'Mich" (1993)
  • "Un croque-mort nommé Nestor" (1993)
    .
  • 3rd Season
  • "Des Kilomètres de Linceuls" (1993)
  • "Retour au Bercail" (1993)
  • "Boulevard Ossements" (1993)
    .
  • 4th Season
  • "L'Homme au Sang Bleu" (1994)
  • "Nestor Burma et le Monstre" (1994)
  • "Nestor Burma dans l'île" (1994)
  • "Les Eaux Troubles de Javel" (1994)
  • "Nestor Burma court la Poupée" (1994)
  • "Brouillard au Pont de Tolbiac" (1994)
  • "Le Cinquième Procédé" (1994)
  • "Les Paletots sans Manches" (1995)
  • "Nestor Burna en Direct" (1995)
    .
  • 5th Season
  • "Sortie des Artistes" (1996)
  • "Nestor Burma se brule les Ailes" (1996)
  • "Drôle d'épreuve pour Nestor Burma" (1996)
  • "La Plus Belle Conquête de Nestor" (1996)
  • "Poupée Russe" (1996)
  • "Les Affaires Reprennent" (1997)
    .
  • 6th Season
  • "En Garde Burma" (1998)
  • "Mise à Prix pour Nestor Burma" (1999)
    .
  • 7th Season
  • "Burma et la Belle de Paris" (2000)
  • "Atout Coeur" (2000
  • "Concurrences Déloyales" (2000)

GRAPHIC NOVELS

  • Brouillard au pont de Tolbiac...Buy this book
    (1982, Casterman; English translation serialized in Graphic Story Monthly, #1-5, 1990)
    Also available in English as "Fog" (2006)
    ...Buy this book
    Adapted by Jacques Tardi
    Art by Jacques Tardi
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    .
  • 120, rue de la gare...Buy this book
    (1988, Casterman)
    Also available in English as "The Bloody Streets of Paris" (2003)
    ...Buy this book
    Adapted by Jacques Tardi
    Art by Jacques Tardi
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    .
  • Une guele de bois en plomb...Buy this book
    (1990, Casterman)
    Text and Art by Jacques Tardi
    Based on characters created by Léo Malet

  • Casse-pipe a la Nation ...Buy this book
    (1996, Casterman)
    Written by Léo Malet
    Art by Jacques Tardi
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    .
  • M'as-tu vu en cadavre ?
    (2000, Casterman)
    Written by Léo Malet
    Art by Jacques Tardi
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet

  • La nuit de Saint-Germain des Près
    (2005, Casterman)
    Written by Léo Malet
    Art by Jacques Tardi and Emmanuel Moynot
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet

  • Le Soleil naît derrière le Louvre
    (2007, Casterman)
    Written by Léo Malet
    Art by Jacques Tardi and Emmanuel Moynot
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet

ALSO OF INTEREST

  • From Surrealism to Less-Exquisite Cadavers (2006; by Michelle Emanuel)...Buy this book
    Subtitled "Léo Malet and the Evolution of the French Roman Noir," this book shines the light on Malet'scareer and contributions to the French policiers while delving into his surrealist roots.

RELATED LINKS

  • The Casterman Nestor Burma Page
    The French comic giant's page devoted to its excellent series of Burma adaptations by Jacques Tardi. Including bibliographies, bios, links, even screen shots.

  • Nestor Burma
    Jean-Marc Lofficier's English language site dedicated to Burma has everything you ever wanted to know about the détective de choc.

  • Les Flics Privés
    Our preliminary list of French eyes.

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Et un gros merci à Jan Christian Schmidt, Antoine Boegli et Etienne Borgers de son aide.


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