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 atypical 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