Re: RARA-AVIS:Jean Bruce and Paul Kenny (was: New member)

From: Etienne Borgers (
Date: 13 May 2002

I read French for obvious reasons. And, since a few months now, I reside near Brussels…

Jean Bruce started his famous series OSS 117 in 1950, and as far as I remember the best was in the first part of his production, as the high rate of output eroded quickly the basic qualities. Bruce was slightly better than most of his colleagues of the French popular lit. found at the time in collections publishing the lower end of French mystery, adventure and spy novels. As I was never very attracted by these mass produced (even so on the writing level ) spy novels of the 50's and 60's (Bruce and others) I read only few of them compared to the production. The first batch of OSS 117's was published by the well known "Fleuve Noir " French publishing house that published a total 1905 titles for spy novels only, all locally written, from 1950 to 1987 in their
"Espionnage" collection. Fleuve Noir produced a lot of different cheap collections all of the mass paperback format (approx 200 pages/ 220 max) and always originals. Bruce wrote also some mysteries for FN.

Later, in 1953, after 18 books with OSS 117, and already very successful, Bruce switched to a competitor: "Presses de la Cit馱uot; where the publisher created a collection publishing only OSS 117's! Bruce died in 1963.

If spy novels of the kind attract you, you will have to read some by Paul Kenny with his character: Francis Copland, French spy. To replace Bruce when he left, FN asked to one of their writers to create a new spy series. The Belgian writer took a pseudonym Paul Kenny for the new series. After something like 10 novels he teamed up with another Belgian writer and still under the Kenny alias they produced hugely successful spy novels with Copland as the hero. After 130 titles, in 1973, FN created a special collection publishing only the Copland novels. The total sales for Copland's were never really known. But in 1965 they had already sold a total of 16 million copies since the beginning. The success of these novels was tremendous for the size of the French market. I personally never liked Kenny's novels, a lot of them being rather badly written.

To-day, Fleuve Noir, like a lot of popular lit publishers, shrunk and near-collapsed under difficulties due to the disappearing readership, but was lately revived producing trade paperbacks now at outrageous prices (15 USD) with writers far from FN's roots and translations. But with writers of value like the Italian Andrea Camilleri and his police inspector Montalbano for instance.

If you are interested by real hard-boiled/noir lit. try to read the recent French production (I understand you read French?) by authors that were never (or rarely) translated in English and you will also discover with them how a different culture handles this genre. You will find a few names of authors on my web site POLAR NOIR, at:

and also in the S鲩e Noire Chapter of Hard-Boiled Mysteries.

And… welcome to the list.

E.Borgers Hard-Boiled Mysteries

--- Jeremy Duns <> wrote:
> Hi there. I joined last week,
> One reason I like Semyonov is that it gives me the
> chance to see the world from the perspective of
> another culture. I am getting more into spy stories
> not written by Brits or Americans. In this vein, I
> was
> wondering if anyone here had read any of Jean
> Bruce's
> stuff. He created the French-born CIA agent Hugh
> Bonneville de Bath, OSS 117, a few years before
> Fleming created James Bond, and he wrote around 70
> of
> the things. His wife took over after his death,
> followed by their kids. There must be 300 or so
> books
> in the series - kind of a French Nick Carter. During
> the 60s spy craze, several were "adapted" for the
> silver screen, starring the likes of John Gavin. In
> France and Benelux, these novels (and the dreadful
> series) can be found in just about every used
> bookstore: I picked up six for around a euro the
> other
> day. A few were translated into English in the
> Sixties, both in America and Britain. Does anyone
> know
> the books at all? Jeremy

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