Nestor Burma

Created by Léo Malet
(1909-96)

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

Malet was heavily influenced by Chandler, Hammett, et al, and Burma’s first appearance, in 120, rue de la gare (1943), ushered in a whole new era in French detective fiction. But Burma is more than just a transplanted American dick in a beret.

Burma was a former POW, returned to a still-occupied Paris after a stint in a a German Stalag, and the world has–to put it mildly–changed. A former anarchist, with roots in radical politics, his life had already been precarious enough before the war, although his cynicism–and his pipe-smoking–seems to have survived intact. Now it’s a time and a place that few have dared to touch–namely, occupied France, and the years just after. Nestor is the owner and sole operator of the Fiat Lux Detective Agency in Paris, in a France still 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.

But 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 until somewhere around 2000, which ought to indicate how well-thought of the character is in France.

In 1982, legendary French comics artist and huge Malet fan Jacques Tardi (alone and with fellow cartoonist Emmanuel Moynot) began adapting the Burma novels into some very well done graphic novels, and even penned some original Burma stories. More recently, Moynot has continued the graphic noveld, but very much following Tardi’s style. Some of their graphic novels have even been translated into English — they’re well worth tracking down.

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. Again, they’re worth tracking down.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

One of the most influential detective writers in France, Léon Jean Malet was born in 1909 in Montpelier and lived a rather colourful life. He adopted the shortened version of his name, Léo, when as a teenager he started hanging out with local radicals. Like Burma, he was a reformed left-wing idealist and anarchist. Lacking much education, he became a chansonnier at La Vache Enragee in Montmartre,  Paris in 1925. He tried his hand at poetry, and became a reporter for a number of radical papers, and a member of the notorious Surrealist Group from 1930 to 1949. His first detective novel, Johnny Métal , appeared in 1941, under the pen name of Frank Harding. In 1943 he published 120, Rue de la Gare, which introduced Nestor Burma, his most popular character, and by 1948, he had won France’s prestigious Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. The Burma series is one of the longer running private eye series, with twenty-nine books and several short stories spanning almost fifty years. When Malet passed away in 1996, his beloved character Nestor Burma was honored by a French stamp.

UNDER OATH

  • “Imagine sardonic Gallic wit, a mystery pulling you deeper and politically incorrect characters of a Paris that’s gone. Malet set fifteen of his Nestor Burma novels in the different arrondissements of Paris, taking him to the forgotten pockets and quartiers of Paris. I’ve liked them so much I hope to do the same with my own character, Aimée Leduc, so she and the reader can the Paris, real and sometimes gritty, that tourists rarely see.”
    –Cara Black

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 several 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’s 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 very first film, based on the first novel was 120 rue de la gare (1946). I’ve never seen it (saw only a few sequences from it) so I cannot comment, although by most accounts it’s a worthy attempt at a “American-style” hard-boiled detective film. 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, Nestor Burma, 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) | 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)

SHORT STORIES

  • “Solution au cimetiere” (1946, Image du Monde)
  • “Pas de Veine avec le pendu” (1952, Mystere Magazine; translated as “The Haulage Company” in The Great French Detective Stories [1984])
  • 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
    As bad as Etienne says (above). Plus…punk rockers? Ugh…
  • 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)
    Series of made-for-television movies
    Based on characters created by Léo Malet
    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); and Jeanne Savary (Seasons 4-7)
    Pierre Tornade as Commissaire Farroux
    Claude Brosset as Zavatter (Season 1)
    Also Michel Fortin (Seasons 2-7)
    Patrick Guillemin as Inspecteur Fabre
    and Elisa Servier as Commissioner Niel (Season 8)
    Guest stars: Ludwig Briand, Bernard Haller

    • SEASON ONE
    • “Pas de Bavards à la Muette” (1991)
    • “Les Cadavres de la Plaine Monceau” (1991)
    • “Corrida aux Champs-Elysées” (1992)
    • “Fièvre au Marais (1992)”
  • SEASON TWO
  • “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)
  • SEASON THREE
  • “Des Kilomètres de Linceuls” (1993)
  • “Retour au Bercail” (1993)
  • “Boulevard Ossements” (1993)
  • SEASON FOUR
  • “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)
  • SEASON FIVE
  • “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)
  • SEASON SIX
  • “En Garde Burma” (1998)
  • “Mise à Prix pour Nestor Burma” (1999)
  • SEASON SEVEN
  • “Burma et la Belle de Paris” (2000)
  • “Atout Coeur” (2000
  • “Concurrences Déloyales” (2000)

GRAPHIC NOVELS

  

  • BROUILLARD AU PONT DE TOLBIACBuy this book
    (1982, Casterman)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Adapted by Jacques Tardi
    Art by Jacques Tardi
    English translation serialized in Graphic Story Monthly, #1-5, 1990.
    Also available in English as “Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge” (2017)Buy this book
  • 120, RUE DE LA GAREBuy this book
    (1988, Casterman)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Adapted by Jacques Tardi
    Art by Jacques Tardi
    Also available in English as “The Bloody Streets of Paris” (2003)Buy this book
  • UNE GUELE DE BOIS EN PLOMBBuy this book
    (1990, Casterman)
    Based on characters created by Léo Malet
    Text and art by Jacques Tardi
  • CASSE-PIPE A LA NATIONBuy this book
    (1996, Casterman)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Adapted by Jacques Tardi
    Art by Jacques Tardi
  • M’AS-TU VU EN CADAVRE? Buy this book
    (2000, Casterman)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Adapted by Jacques Tardi
    Art by Jacques Tardi
  • LA NUIT DE SAINT-GERMAIN DES PRÈS
    (2005, Casterman)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Adapted by Jacques Tardi
    Art by Jacques Tardit and Emmanuel Moynot
  • LE SOLEIL NAÎT DERRIÈRE LE LOUVRE Buy this book
    (2007, Casterman)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Adapted by Jacques Tardi
    Art by Jacques Tardit and Emmanuel Moynot
  • NESTOR BURMA CONTRE CQFD
    (2016, Casterman)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Adapted by Jacques Tardi
    Art by Jacques Tardit and Emmanuel Moynot
  • MICMAC MOCHE AU BOUL’ MICH’ 
    (2017, Casterman)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Adapted by Jacques Tardi
    Art by Jacques Tardit and Emmanuel Moynot
  • L’HOMME AU SANG BLEU Buy this book
    (2017, Casterman)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Adapted by Emmanuel Moynot
  • LE SOLEIL NAÎT DERRIÈRE LE LOUVRE Buy this book
    (2017, Casterman)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Adapted by Emmanuel Moynot
  • LES RATS DE MONTSOURIS Buy this book
    (2020, Casterman)
    Based on the novel by Léo Malet
    Adapted by Emmanuel Moynot
    Art by François Ravard

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’s career and contributions to the French policiers while delving into his surrealist roots.

LE DICK DU JOUR

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

  • 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.
    Zut! 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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