THE YELLOW DOG (1931) by Georges Simenon

This is one the first Maigret novels. Georges Simenon chronicled some 100 of his cases over a period of 40 years but initially churned them out in a blaze of activity – indeed this was the first of seven Maigret novels that were published just in 1931! As so often in the series, this book is more of a character study than a procedural, though what is unusual is the decision to take a location as its subject – in this case it’s the small out of season coastal town of Concarneau, a busy summer resort currently deserted. This becomes the rain-swept location for a series of attacks in which our protagonist is paired with Leroy, a young detective very keen on scientific methods. But Maigret is more interested in Emma, the hotel barmaid …

The following review is offered as part of Kerrie’s 2012 Alphabet of Crime community meme over at her Mysteries in Paradise blog, which has reached the letter Y. I also offer the following review as part of Friday’s Forgotten Books meme run by Patti Abbott at her Pattinase blog. You should head over there right away and check out the other titles being unforgotten.

“Superintendent Maigret? … I’ve heard a lot about you. Let me introduce myself …”

Originally published in 1931 in France as ‘Le Chien jaune’, the book has appeared with many different titles in English over the years including ‘A Face for a Clue’, ‘Maigret and the Concarneau Murders’ and ‘Maigret and the Yellow Dog’ but the most recent use the direct translation. The eponymous stray has a powerful, symbolic role in a story with a fascinating allusive quality. Three men have their regular nightcap at the Admiral Cafe but when prosperous wine merchant Mostaguen heads home and out into a dark and windy night and gets shot though the letterbox of the door to an empty building. He isn’t killed but the seeming randomness of the attack soon makes panic descend on the town and Maigret is called in. Soon the same three men – the sickly mother’s boy Ernest Michoux, the journalist Jean Servières and the wealthy and spoiled Yves Le Pommeret – have their Pernod spiked with Strychnine. The next morning Servières  goes missing, his car abandoned with the seat covered in blood and shortly afterwards Le Pommeret is poisoned in his own home and dies. But Maigret angers the mayor with his apparent indifference and indolence – even Leroy starts to worry that his Chief is not up to the task. Why is he so interested in the rather plain Emma and the stray yellow dog that has begun to haunt the Cafe?

“Has the waitress been here long?”

In many ways this is a book that sums up many of the very best qualities of the series – it is succinct (my edition is barely 135 pages long), has plenty of humour, displays the author’s renowned ability to vividly depict landscape and wealth in all its sensuousness, shows his disdain for those who exploit and prey on others and his apparent lack of method and depicts characters, both human and animal, in subtle but wonderfully varied shades.. At the same time, the story is carefully constructed along somewhat traditional lines so as to even have all the suspects rounded up for a final confrontation on the jailhouse revealing a villain with a seemingly unbreakable alibi and a surprising pattern to the apparently random series of attacks. Having said this, this is not a traditional whodunit and those expecting to be able to work out who did it will be disappointed as the reader could not possibly solve the crime before Maigret as the information is simply not made available. The resolution, with its roots in a criminal scheme of half a dozen or so years earlier, is forcefully presented so that our sympathies lie with the hulking brute of a man who has been seen lurking around the town with the dog and both of whom have been blamed for bringing fear and death with them. This story also makes for fascinating reading historically for both prosaic reasons (a size 11 shoe in 1931 was apparently that of a giant in those days …) but also in terms for the series as it provides an early version of a clever plot gambit that Simenon would use to much greater effect in Maigret Sets a Trap (1955). The plot for this novel was first developed in a short story, Sing-Sing or The House with the Three Steps, which you can read online in English here. In other respects it is aypical in that it is set entirely outside Paris and features none of the usual supporting cast of characters.

The novel has been adapted several times for television, like virtually all the Maigret books. A movie version was made in 1932 but it is apparently a lost film. I initially got it confused with La Nuit du Carrefour, by Jean Renoir, that does exists, more or less, but is adapted from a  different book – apologies, and thanks to Roger Allen for setting me straight on this (see his comments below) – I’ll leave the details below just as a reminder to myself to show how careful one really should be … La Nuit du Carrefour (1932), released shortly after the book’s publication. It was the second film of the great French director Jean Renoir, who would go on to make such masterpieces as La Grand Illusion and La Regle du Jeu, and was shot partly on location in Concarneau. Pierre Renoir (older brother of the director), starred as the detective.   Although there are subtitled versions of this available in the US, these are a bit hard to get hold of now (and the rights situation may have been slightly ‘questionable’), which is a real shame as the reviews sound great!

There are lots of editions and adaptations of this book to choose from and also several excellent reviews – my pick of these include the ones the indefatigable Margot Kinberg, hostess of the Confessions of a Mystery Novelist blog here, a typically incisive summary by Mike at Only Detect while Ed Gorman posted his expert review here.

Anyone interested in finding out more about Simenon and his novels should seriously consider checking out Steve Trussel’s massive Maigret web resource at: www.trussel.com/f_maig.htm

***** (3.5 fedora tips out of 5)

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42 Responses to THE YELLOW DOG (1931) by Georges Simenon

  1. Sergio – First, thank you for the kind words and the link-back – much appreciated. One of the things I like about this novel and that you’ve rightly pointed out is that Simenon helps us to understand and sympahise with Léon LeGlérec, And yes indeed, he was a master at depicting setting and atmosphere. I like the touches of humour myself and ‘though I hadn’t thought deeply about it, I think you’re spot on about Simenon’s contempt for those who exploit the vulnerable. An excellent review!

    • Thanks Margot, really kind of you. I must admit, I held back from dealing with Léon LeGlérec as you did such a fine job of it. Simenon is an author I really like but the translations are not always the best and in this case I was in fact largely using an old Italian one, which I think helped. I might track down the one currently being used by Penguin as I haver that it is a good one. Maigret is still evolving in tbis one, by turns taciturn and sentimental – I loved the extended ending, with its happy ever after couole and the dry irony of the endless court case involving the guilty party.

      • Sergio – I liked that irony too. I also thought that Maigret’s relationship with the mayor an interesting little touch – subtly done and effective. And I couldn’t agree with you more about the importance of a quality translation. That can make all the difference in the world in my opinion.

        • I do really like that scene in the mayor’s home when he tries to mollify Maigret after being rebuffed so many times – it’s funny and a bit sad but of course also holds crucial clues to the final shooting – very impressive stuff.

  2. A fascinating review of another author I’ve never got round to. Thanks, Sergio

    • Cheers Steve, very kind. You’ve got abotu 100 stories to choose from chum so at least you’re spoiled for choice.

        • Simenon wrote about 20 to start with in the early 1930s after which there was a considerable gap. The Yellow Dog and Maigret Stonewalled, which I reviewed here, belong to this group as does another favourite, ‘L’Ombre chinoise’ (1932), usually translated as Maigret Mystefied and The Madman of Bergerac (1932). These early books are all enjoyable and well worth seeking out though Of his postwar novels I would especially recommend My Friend Maigret (1949) – incidentally, this was also Julian Symons’ favourite – Maigret Sets a Trap (1955) and from the really late ones I would single out The Patience of Maigret (1965) and Maigret’s Boyhood Friend (1968).

  3. Colin says:

    Another of those writers whose name I’m obviously familiar with but whose work I haven’t tired. Maybe this is a bit of an excuse but the sheer volume of Maigret stories has always put me off – I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

    • Red rag to a bull! Actually, and I should have said this darn it, this one is a bit anomalous in that it is not set in Paris (actually, not completely unusual except that none of it is set there, which is strange for Simenon) and has none of the usual supporting characters, not even Maigret’s all-important wife, so not an obvious place to start. But actually they are all good and it makes little difference where you start. You used to be able to get omnibus edition with 4 or 5 novels in each one as the books are in fact very slim and I bet there are plenty of those second hand. Plenty of great movies taken from Simenon books of course, though it does irritate me tht the renoir adaptation of this one is a bit hard to get hold of and, one suspects, a bit on the gray side too (sic).

      • Colin says:

        Cheers. I did get the impression this book might not be the ideal one for a total beginner – must keep an eye out for some of those omnibus editions.

        As for the movies, the two Simenon adaptations I immediately think of are The Man on the Eiffel Tower & The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, even did a write-up on the latter ages ago.

        • Hi Colin – I hadn’t spotted your Simenon review (and here it is). Possibly my favourite is Patrice Lecompte’s 1989 version of Monsieur Hire, though Tavernier’s The Watchkmaker of St Paul comes close.

          • Colin says:

            Browsing IMDB, I see that The Brothers Rico, which I have but haven’t watched is also credited as to Simenon.

          • He was incredibly prolific and on top of that many of his novels have been filmed several times over (and not just the Maigret book either). I think I saw the TV-Movie remake of Rico (Paul Wendkos directed it as I recall) before the Karlson original in fact. He preferred his ‘hard’ novels amongst his huge output and these probably make better movies though the Maigret books may be better suited to TV (though the Gambon series was strangely disappointing – never seen any of the Rupert Davies episodes and only a few of thiose from italy featuring Gino cervi, which are OK if slow – Jean Gabin was great casting but only played the role 3 times).

  4. TomCat says:

    Good review, Sergio, but now that you brought up Simenon, I have to ask: have you picked up one of Baantjer’s novels yet? :)

    • Hello TC and thanks for the kind words. DeKok and the Sorrowing Tomcat, a title chosen entirely in your honour, is very prominent on my TBR – as soon as I finish the alphabet next week and then Bev’s 2012 challenge in December (only 6 more books to go! After Patrick’s forfait I really feel I have to try and complete it) then I promise to review it very promptly. Indeed, I plan to spend at least the first quarter of next year reviewing those titles that have been kindly reccommended through blogs such as yours and whatever happens, yours will be the first. Thansk again chum.

  5. Georges Simenon and his books have been haunting me for a while now, not having succeeded in acquiring any of his works so far. I’m quite keen to read some of his novels many of which have come with high recommendations from several bloggers who have reviewed his books. In fact, I feel as if I know him fairly well already! Thank you, Sergio, for adding to my curiosity about this fascinating writer as well as for all the links.

  6. Brian Busby says:

    Thank you for this, Sergio. I read Le Chien jaune decades ago in my grade 10 French class, then promptly forgot all about it (along with much of my high school French, sadly).

    • Thanks Brian – I think there is more than one generation of learners of French who took the Simenon route! I tend to erad them in Italian thogh on this occasion I wasn’t crazy abotu the translation – like you, wish I could remember more of the lingo from my school days!

  7. Simenon was attracted to small town life and the corruption behind the rural curtain. THE YELLOW DOG sets up the template for several more Maigrets where horrible crimes occur in seeming placid villages.

    • Cheers George (or rather, santé!). Eventually the small town appeal seem to work more as a function of remembrances of his own upbringing – this one struck me as being unusual as it really is just Maigret on his own, completely detached from his Paris life and colleagues.

  8. Richard says:

    A good one for certain and a fine review of it. The Maigret novel I did for the Simenon special FFB had a similar interest in a barmaid.

  9. John says:

    That does it! I must dig into all the Maigret books I’ve owned for decades. I still cannot accept the fact that I have never read a single Maigret book. Shameful. I always liked his non-series books more.

    • Hello mate = well, if I’m the straw the camel’s back, I think that’s a compliment … though, frankly, I’m not sure there’s really a vast difference between them though and after all, Simenon preferred the ‘hard’ novels, didn’t he? I do find it quite important to not read too many in a row I will say that … can be a very rich diet!

  10. Ha! I almost picked this one for Patti’s Simenon day back in July. Although Simenon’s books have a varying degree of quality when it comes to writing, I am in awe of his prolific literary output. I think he and John Creasy are close to being tied for the number of works they published.

    • Hi BV – I think Simenon wrote about 200 books, that is to say a third as many as the scarily prolific Creasey (apparently they just just kept rolling out years after the latter died he’d had so many stockpiled – or so the legend goes anyway …) but I agree, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer scale of such an output. There is a vast qualitative gap between the two though …

  11. TracyK says:

    Sergio, what a nice review, which makes me want to find some Maigret to read. I did read lots of Simenon years and years ago, mostly Maigret but some of the standalone books. I have wanted to revisit his books. A goal for 2013.

  12. Yvette says:

    I picked a Simenon book too, Sergio. Great minds think alike. Ha! I vaguely remember reading The Yellow Dog but if you ask me about it, my mind is blank. So thanks for the reminder. I think it’s time for a re-read.

    • Hi Yvette – I really like the Maigret books but with so many to choose from I definitely have them running together a bit in my memory. Good to hear from you – I hope things are vaguely starting to get back to normality. All the best, Sergio

  13. Roger says:

    La Nuit de Carrefour is another Maigret novel. An interesting aspect of Renoir’s version is that the editor or producer left several reels in a taxi so the plot is almost incomprehensible.

    • Thanks for that Roger – maybe that’s why it has such a strong reputation?! I’d love to see it though. Jonathan Rosenbaum says great things about it here.
      Maigret

      • Roger Allen says:

        By ‘another Maigret novel’ I meant a different one.
        Rosenbaum is right about Winfried’s effect- perhaps because she wasn’t a professional actress.

        • Thanks very much Roger – looks like I got my wires completely crossed on this one! I’ll amend my entry rather than correcting it just to keep me humble! I’d still like to see it though!

  14. scott says:

    7 in one year! :) Very prolific for that era.

  15. Mike says:

    Sergio: Thanks, belatedly, for linking to my review of this book. And thanks for offering so much contextual info about this title. I’ve actually never seen a screen version of a Maigret tale. (I have the Michael Gambon series in my Netflix queue, but it hasn’t reached the top yet.)

    • Thanks Mike (though obviously I am not always to be trusted in some of my info about Maigret film adaptations …). Gambon was very good in the series though the show itself was only middling *and they changed Mrs Maigret between the first and second season which didn’t help). They did adapt many of the best books though …

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