Marseille - City of Culture
This is the guide in English for all things about Marseille.
Books set in Marseille or about Marseille
Books based in Marseille - Books that feature Marseille - Non-Fiction Books - Guide Books - Other items
While we hope that our website will contain all the information you need, you might still want to do your holiday in the traditional way and read a book. So, for those who like nothing better than to curl up with a good book, here is our selection of Marseille related books, each with a brief review (mostly provided by the publishers).
Finally, please note that the links to the books on this page are provided by Amazon.co.uk. Each time you buy something from Amazon.co.uk we get a small sum that helps us to cover our running costs. See the Friends of Marseille City of Culture page for more details.
Apparently there are not a lot of novels that feature Marseille directly, however we have done our best to search out those that do. We have divided these into 3 categories crime novels, historical novels and "other".
As you might expect, Marseille makes an appearance in more than its fair share of crime fiction. The selection below are novels where the City features prominently.
The Marseille born writer Jean-Claude Izzo is probably the best-known exponent of the genre of murder mystery novels known as "Marseille thrillers" or "Marseille Noir". In his novels, the city becomes an actor in its own right not simply a backdrop for the action. Following his death in 2000, "The Marseille Trilogy" has been published in English.
The Marseille Trilogy
Fabio Montale, disillusioned ex-cop and son of immigrants with a taste for food, poetry, jazz, fishing and women takes us into the underworld in Marseilles with a cast that includes drug dealers, right wing activists, gangsters, radical Islamists, investigative journalists and, of course, the mafia.
The Lost Sailors
A group of sailors is stranded in Marseille after their boat is impounded as security against an unpaid debt. The book focuses on the tension between the captain and the first mate, and how they come to terms with their enforced stay.
A Sun for the Dying
Not so much a story about Marseille, more a story of a return to Marseille. However, as this book was written by Jean-Claude Izzo and contains many of the same themes as his other books, this seems to fit here better than with the Books that feature Marseille below.
The Daniel Jacquot detective series from Martin O'Brien features Chief Inspector Daniel Jacquot of the Cavaillon Regional Crime Squad. A former French rugby international who once scored the winning try against England but now wears his hair in a ponytail and loves good food and good wine.
Jacquot goes to Paris where Marseille Magistrate Solange Bonnefoy's niece has been abducted. A trail of violence and corruption leads back to Marseille where an unexpected murder sends him undercover.
Jacquot and the Master
Jacquot is called to a luxury hilltop hotel where a young woman, it seems, has been murdered. There are bloodstains, but no body. When a summer storm isolates the hotel, and not one but two bodies are found, passions run high.
Jacquot and the Angel
A local gardener is arrested and charged with the murder of a wealthy German, but Jacquot is convinced they have the wrong man. A psychic in Alsace thinks the same and comes to Provence to help Jacquot. Together they uncover a secret that goes back more than half a century.
When you're a cop in Marseille, threats of violence and revenge go with the territory. Usually they come to nothing, but when friends and colleagues start turning up dead it soon becomes clear that someone has a score to settle and intends to see it through.
Jacquot and the Waterman
Jacquot investigates a series of killings, where the female victims are drugged, raped and left under water. With only a three-word tattoo to work on, Jacquot gradually closes in on the murderer.
Jacquot and the Fifteen
Marc Dombasle is a successful businessman and the captain of the French Rugby team that beat England twenty years earlier. To mark the anniversary, he organises a reunion. When one of Jacquot's old team-mates apparently commits suicide, past rivalries soon re-surface.
The Dying Minutes
In 1972, a gold bullion convoy is hijacked in Marseille. More than twenty years later, Daniel Jacquot receives an unexpected gift from an old fisherman. At the same time, a Marseille lawyer called Claude Dupont receives an equally unexpected gift from a dying gangland boss.
Marseille born Xavier-Marie Bonnot's character, Commandant Michel "the Baron" De Palma, is an old style policeman and member of the Marseille Murder squad, however the stories are more than simple tales of cops, robbers and Marseille's ever present underworld.
The First Fingerprint
A series of bizarre murders in Marseille share a common theme: the mark left by a three-fingered hand. A murder mystery that links the prehistoric cave paintings found in Grotte Cosquer, south-east of Marseille, to the modern day world of academia in Aix-en-Provence.
The Beast of the Camargue
A body is found at the foot of an effigy of the Tarasque, a mythical beast that features the coat of arms of the town of Tarascon in the Camargue. The twist is that the body shows all the signs of having been killed by the beast itself. Michel De Palma is sent to investigate.
Although the French crime novelist Léo Malet's hard-nosed detective Nestor Burma is best known for his exploits in Paris, he did occasionally find his way down south to do a bit of crime fighting and Marseille features in a couple of novels.
Mission to Marseille
Featuring private detective Nestor Burma in wartime Marseille where he is caught between the local villains and the Gestapo whilst searching for the secret of the mysterious Formula 5.
Death of a Marseille Man
On a journey, private investigator Nestor Burma is assaulted but manages to push his attacker from the train. The mystery begins to grow when he discovers that a young woman was thrown from the same train exactly a year before.
The Marseille Caper
Sleuth extraordinaire Sam Levitt and glamorous insurance agent Elena Morales move to Marseille to find themselves in the middle of an increasingly intrigue-ridden and dangerous real estate grab.
A US agent sets out to stop the activities of a big drugs dealer in the only way he can, by hiring an underworld hit man, who turns out to be an old friend - also available as a film.
Given Marseille's long history as a port, perhaps it is not too surprising that there are also a few historical novels that feature Marseille. Here we have taken "historical" to include anything up to the fairly recent past.
Last Seen in Massilia
A mystery novel by Steven Saylor set in Massilia (ancient Marseille) and featuring the sleuth "Gordianus the Finder". Part of his Roma Sub Rosa series of novels.
Much of the novel is set in London, so this is possibly more suited to the category of books that feature Marseille, however it is a historical novel and it does begin with a typically Dickensian description of the Marseille of the 1820s.
The Arrow of Gold
One of Joseph Conrad's less well known novels, this is a story of a young sea captain, his love for a beautiful woman, gun-running and a conspiracy to overthrow the king of Spain - most of the action for which is set in 1870s Marseille.
Written by the Harlem Renaissance Writer, Claude McKay, the novel features Lincoln Agrippa Daily, known to friends as 'Banjo', who passes his days panhandling in the Vieux-Port in Marseille during the 1920s. When he is joined by Ray, a writer, it triggers the rediscovery of his African roots.
After escaping from a Nazi concentration camp in Germany, the nameless narrator of the novel is asked to deliver a letter to a man named Weidel, who he finds to be dead. In Marseille, the narrator converses with other refugees, listens to their stories and gradually pieces together the story of Weidel.
Written by the Senegalese writer, Sembene Ousmane, the book tells of the life of Diaw Falla, a black docker in Marseille for whom work exists merely to finance his true obsession - writing. It paints a grim picture of Marseille in the 1950s, and the fierce, brutal and harsh life of the dockworkers there.
Michael T. Hertz
Seven Victims In Marseille
The story is set in Marseille in 1962 concerning an American who was raised in Marseille, helped liberate the city during the war and is now drawn into the terrorism associated with the French exodus from Algeria.
In seven chapters (a reference to the seven hills surrounding Marseille), the book uses various forms of writing - essay, narrative, description, list, recipe, glossary, conversation - to examine the city.
Ten hectic days in the life of Michel Ronay, a taxi driver in Marseille.
In case none of the novels that feature Marseille directly take your fancy, then here are a selection of some others that are connected to Marseille in one way or another.
Marcel Pagnol was born in Aubagne and, as a boy, spent most of his summers in La Treille, both of which are villages near Marseille; in addition, as an adult he also lived and worked in Marseille for a period. A great deal of his work, some of which is available in English, (see also the page on films about Marseille) is based on his Provençal childhood.
Jean De Florette / Manon Des Sources
A story of intrigue set in the idyllic Provencal countryside that revolves around water (the source), tragic deaths (principally that of Jean De Florette) and revenge when Manon (his daughter) sets out to punish those responsible for the death of her father. This popular story is available in a variety of formats.
La Gloire de Mon Pere and Le Chateau de Ma Mere
Two autobiographical stories from Pagnol's childhood: the first concerns his schoolteacher father's attempts to become a hunter in the Provençal countryside; the second concerns the young Pagnol's first love affair with a local lass.
The Count of Monte Cristo
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas' famous novel, may not feature Marseille very much but the Château d'If certainly plays a major role. At 1488 pages, this may be the only book you will need during your stay! Alternatively, you might prefer the unabridged audio version - much more practical for your trip to the Iles de Frioul.
Zola spent most of his early life in Aix-en-Provence, which is near to Marseille. Marseille itself however only makes an appearance in two of his works.
The Mysteries of Marseille
An early novel by Émile Zola that was first published as a serialized story in 1867 It tells the tale of the love of Philippe Cayol, a poor untitled republican, for Blanche de Cazalis, the niece of De Cazalis, a millionaire and all-powerful politician in Marseille.
One of Zola's short stories about the trials of a factory worker in what was then the village of L'Estaque and is now administratively part of Marseille.
J. M. G. Le Clezio
The book is an interweaving of two related stories, one about an uprising against the French in North Africa in 1910–1912 and the other, set in the 1970s, about a woman who flees North Africa to avoid an arranged marriage, travels to Marseille and endures the hardship of an immigrant's life.
The 10:30 from Marseille
A beautiful young woman lies sprawled on her berth in the sleeping car of a night train from Marseille to Paris. The task of finding her killer is handed to an overworked, crime-weary police detective Pierre Emile Grazziano, nicknamed Grazzi, who would rather play hide-and-seek with his little son than cat and mouse with a savage murderer.
The Sleeping-Car Murders
A book based on the film version of "The 10:30 from Marseille".
Stephen C. Norton
The Marseille Scrolls
Some 1st century manuscripts are discovered near Marseille. Jeanne-Marie de Nord, a young Canadian translator, realizes that the scrolls are the journal of an unknown woman. Why were the scrolls hidden and why has their tale been suppressed for 2,000 years? Others are closing in, intent on re-burying the scrolls, and possibly Jeanne along with them.
J. P. Smith
The Man From Marseille
Alexander Ostroff is an unsuccessful writer living in London who becomes obsessed with finding the truth about his parents, Russian expatriates who fled to southern France in 1919 and took up with a Mephistophelian character - the man from Marseille.
If you are more interested in finding out facts about the city than reading a good yarn, here are a selection of non-fiction reads.
World Film Locations: Marseilles
Marseille, France's oldest city, has a significant cinematic culture, dating back to the 1890s when the Lumiere brothers shot some of the first moving pictures in the world there. The book features maps of film scenes, high quality screen-grabs and images of locations as they appear today.
Villa Air-Bel: The Second World War, Escape and a House in France
The story of the Emergency Rescue Committee, based in New York and set up by the American Varian Fry during the second world war, which compiled a list of two hundred people it wished to evacuate from a Marseille controlled by the Vichy government. Many of those evacuated passed through the Villa Air-Bel in the 'La Pomme' district of Marseille.
Alban Janson and Carsten Krohn
Le Corbusier, Unité d'Habitation
This is not a book about Marseille, but about (arguably) Marseille's most famous building La cité radieuse de le Corbusier. Unfortunately there is no English version of this book available, but this dual text English-German version will tell you all you need to know.
Junko Thérèse Takeda
Between Crown and Commerce
Between Crown and Commerce examines the relationship between French royal statecraft, mercantilism, and civic republicanism in the context of the globalizing economy of the early modern Mediterranean world. Junko Thérèse Takeda tells this tale through the particular experience of Marseille, a port the monarchy saw as key to commercial expansion in the Mediterranean.
Communism and Collaboration
Written from Sabiani's experiences as a Corsican neighbourhood boss in Marseille from the 1920s until the end of the German occupation in 1944.
Made in Marseille
New York restaurant critic and food commentator Daniel Young's paints a portrait of Marseille by way of its food.
The book reads like an autobiography written by a travel writer, which is exactly what it is. However, it does include a chapter on Marseille that gives a good feel for the place, which is why it appears in this list.
Naturally, we hope that our guide tells you everything you need, but just in case you want to carry a book around with you, here are a few guides on paper.
Innercities Cultural Guides
If you're looking for a more in depth exploration of Marseille, its history, its culture and its traditions try this. It is, as it says, a cultural guide rather than a visitor's guidebook. It is very well researched and will be useful as background reading as you travel on the train from Paris to Marseille.
Footprint Focus Guide
Marseille and Western Provence
A small, soft cover guidebook to Marseille that is slim enough to fit in your pocket.
Wallpaper City Guides
Wallpaper* City Guides not only suggest where to stay, eat, and drink, but what the tourist passionate about design might want to see. Includes features on up and coming areas, landmark buildings and design centres.
A city breaker's pocket guide to seeing and doing more in France's oldest city - with a fun-seeking and cost-conscious slant. Includes accommodation, restaurant and nightlife listings.
Pinpoints the highlights, showing the visitor what to see and do in a limited timescale. Includes shopping, sightseeing, eating and drinking and ideas for the low-budget traveller.
This Kindle Edition of the guide offers a personalized, up-to-date travel guide using a combination of search technology and contributions by both amateur and professional travel experts.
This is not really about books at all, but we could not think of anywhere else to put it!
A deck of Tarot cards
A deck of fifty-six Marseille Tarot cards