Maigret is called to the town of Concarneau on the coast of Brittany in France. A man making his way home from the bar of the local hotel, slightly drunk, stopped to light a cigar in the porch of an uninhabited house and was shot through the letterbox. It seems the man is one a group of well-to-do cronies who drink together in the hotel bar. On arrival Maigret senses instinctively that these are the kind of men who have secrets and that the barmaid, Emma, might well be involved.
Within a few days poison is found in two of the bottles of liquor that the group drinks. No one is harmed but panic sets in, not only among the group but the townspeople too. A yellow dog is seen hanging around but apparently belongs to no one. Is the dog some kind of bad omen? It appears it might be when another of the group disappears and his car is found riddled with bullet holes and blood spattered on the seats. Then one of the group is found dead at home, poisoned.
Maigret plays a waiting game. There's an unknown factor at work and he knows it will eventually come to light. The problem is preventing rising panic, keeping the mayor at bay, and controlling the press hordes. And where exactly does the yellow dog fit into all this?
It's so easy to forget how good some of the vintage crime authors were. Georges Simenon apparently wrote over 200 books - not all of them Maigret titles by any means but about 100 were. That's quite an acheivement but like many authors Simenon thought of his popular books as the wage earners which gave him the time and money to write his more serious books.
My first experience of the French detective was actually not in a book but on the TV. Actor, Rupert Davies, played Maigret from 1960 onwards and the BBC made 52 episodes. In our house this series was a 'must see', and I remember the series being absolutely excellent.
I can't remember when I began to read some of the books, I think possibly in my twenties I may have read the few that the library had. I had no idea there were so many but I do remember really enjoying them and finding them surprisingly funny. When I started to read this one I wondered if I would like them as much as I did back then. I needn't have wondered... the books are every bit as enjoyable as I remembered.
The setting for this one is a storm-swept French coastal town that I've actually been through, Concarneau, and the book really does evoke the atmosphere of a place miles from anywhere in the middle of winter. Maigret himself is a bit of an enigma. He bides his time with his investigations, never tells anyone what he's thinking and then suddenly has all the answers at the end. Details the reader could never have imagined emerge and suddenly everything makes perfect sense. It surprised me how many of the reasons for crime are still relevant today... this book was written in 1931 and apart from one pertinent detail could easily have been written today. One thing did strike me as I was reading about France in 1931, and that was that their country was going to be invaded in eight years time and of course the author had no thought of any such terrible thing happening. I wonder if any of the Maigret books written between this one and 1939 have any mention that that might happen.
Anyway, to finish here's a lovely painting I found on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York site. The fishing fleet was mentioned quite a lot in The Yellow Dog and this painting is very evocative even though it was painted 40 years before the book was set. It's called Evening Calm, Concarneau and is by Paul Signac.