“Now, don’t ask me to arrest X. Because you’ll agree, Monsieur le Maire, that anyone in this town–especially someone who knows the principal characters involved in this business and, in particular, the regular customers at the Admiral cafe–could be that X.”
The Yellow Dog is my first investigation with Inspector Maigret, about whom Georges Simenon wrote over seventy mysteries. They are slim volumes (150 pages here), but often praised for their dark realism.
Late one night in the small seaside town of Concarneau, M. Mostaguen is shot at from an abandoned building. There is no provocation and little evidence save the appearance of an unknown yellow dog. The mayor calls in Maigret, and soon incidents happen to other members of the group that frequents the Admiral. Who is committing all the these crimes, and how are they linked?
This French story was written and set in 1931, as you can probably tell by the evocative art deco cover. I love this Penguin edition-it’s a small book, almost square, and fits comfortably in your hand.
I must agree with the “dark realism” attributed to Simenon. He captures extremely well the effects of these crimes on the small town–fear of an unknown assailant, concern about reputation, morbid curiosity, and the invasion of outside reporters. I could feel it myself, wondering what the next strike would be. He also deftly parallels the stewing situation with the weather–the stormy and overcast days give a restless unease to a town usually occupied by fishing, while the blue sky prevailing means the end is in sight. This gesture could easily have become cliche, but here it just helped contribute to the overall atmosphere. Though dark in that they realistically portray crimes the events of the story are neither bleak nor unsavory, sometimes even tinged with pathos.
I will have to read more in the series before I can form an opinion about Maigret himself. He is a good foil to his brethren Holmes and Poirot. He scorns deduction and hard evidence as jumping to conclusions but also doesn’t display any little grey cells. Instead he seems to rely on primarily intuition, letting the drama play out within reason as he considers the situation and rules out possibilities. As an additional contrast, his young assistant Inspector Leroy would much prefer to rely on hard evidence. This is an interesting concept, and successful here despite the impatience of others. It gives Simenon the opportunity to focus primarily on atmosphere, but also the leeway to not quite play fair with readers. Since Maigret seems to rely primarily on hunches the details of the case are not brought to light until the final scene–I really believe he didn’t know them beforehand, and there is certainly no way the reader could have figured it out.
Maigret also doesn’t seem as idiosyncratic as other detectives like Holmes, Poirot, or even Nero Wolfe. His one concession to this convention seems to be continually smoking his pipe. He is impatient with those who would interfere or rush him, like the mayor, and usually withdrawn. At the same time he has a good heart, acting almost parental towards Leroy, and also solicitous to the waitress Emma (who was a little confusing for me, having just read about a different Emma.)
As this was translated from French by Linda Asher, it’s my fourth book for the Lost in Translation Challenge. Two more to go!