Wednesday 15 January 2014

The Yellow Dog

My first book for the Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge, being hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block, is The Yellow Dog by Georges Simenon, one of his many books about Superintendant Maigret. It gave me a slight problem because the bingo card has many categories and it fitted several, including 'Book set anywhere other than the US or England' and 'Book with a colour in the title'. In the end though I settled for 'Book with an animal in the title' as it seemed to me this was a more difficult category to fill. (I've already read The Hound of the Baskervilles.) Anyway... my first Maigret book in many years, what did I think of it?

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.



Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

'Maigret' was a 'must see' for my family too all those years ago! I didn't read the books then, but have read a few since writing my blog, but not 'The Yellow Dog'.

I've found them variable - not surprising when he wrote them over a period of 40 years. The few I've read all have well developed plots, a great sense of location and at under 200 pages are quick, satisfying books. And I do like Maigret himself!

Kailana said...

I should check these out one day. I don't read enough mysteries.

Peggy Ann said...

Cath, I have not read any of his books YET. Have a couple on the shelf. But have seen 2 different versions of the show. Loved them. Nice write up on the book, by the way!

Major said...

The Depression era Maigret stories are gritty, and timeless. Simenon didn't really care about the conventions of mysteries such as fair play. He such could set a scene.

Cath said...

Margaret: Glad someone else remembers the excellent TV series.

I read somewhere that the best ones were the ones written in the 50s but have no idea if that's so. I certainly plan to read a few more and have another on the library pile and one on reserve.

Kelly: It might be as well not to start on mysteries... they're so addictive! LOL

Peggy: They're a good read for the Vintage Mystery challenge! Lots of different titles to fit the various categories.

Major: I'll see if I can find a few of the depression era books, but the series is not easy to find. Not fashionable now I suppose, which is such a shame.

TracyK said...

Cath, I have also wondered how I will like the Maigret books when I return to them after many years. I have several books by Simenon to read, some Maigret, some stand alones. I am glad you enjoyed this one and I will look out for a copy.

Cath said...

Tracy: This thing about how we react now to books or series we read years ago is interesting. Sometimes I like them just as much and with age find I get even more out of the book. (Trying to think of an example and can't but I know it's happened.) Other times I wonder what I saw in the book and then realise how much I've changed as a person since my teens or whatever. I hope you too like this series just as much. I have a couple more to read from the library and am looking forward to it.

Bev Hankins said...

Cath: I am making a dedicated effort to go back and take a peek at everyone's reviews for the Vintage Challenge. Sorry it's taken me so long to get here.

I read this one a couple years ago. I actually like Maigret better in short story form.

Cath said...

Bev: No problem. That's quite an undertaking... good luck!

I've not read any Maigret short stories, I'll have to try and find some.