The Grand Banks Café – Georges Simenon
I am working my way through the Penguin reissues of the 75 Maigret stories – whether I will get to the end only time will tell. Simenon was the master of pithy narrative, words chosen with care, no unnecessary embellishment, straight to the point. It is said that he limited himself to a vocabulary of around 2,000 words because he wanted his readers to read and enjoy his work, not to have to consult a dictionary. And as he worked at a prodigious pace, knocking out a story in a few days, you don’t feel so bad polishing one off from start to finish in an evening.
I’ve chosen this book, not because I think it is a great book but because it has some interesting features, none more so than the more central role played by Mme Maigret. In other books she is the long-suffering wife, whose role is to cook the detective’s meals, pack his bags for his investigative trips and to stay at home. In this book she accompanies, perforce as this is supposed to be their holiday, and adds intuitive insights which help the case along and provides a well-padded shoulder for Marie Leonnec to cry on.
And then there is the ending. For a man who earns his living as a policeman Maigret plays fast and loose with the letter of the law. For him natural justice is more important than seeing the malefactor getting banged up. Rather like Sherlock Holmes he quite often allows the offender to walk free to live with their conscience whilst getting on with their lives. Unlike Holmes, who is a gentleman detective, Maigret is a professional and you would have thought he would be paid by results. While in Conan Doyle’s stories the reprieved malefactor usually gets their comeuppance this is rarely the case with Simenon.
The case involves the death of Captain Fallut immediately upon the return of his vessel’s return from a disastrously unsuccessful fishing trip to the Newfoundland Banks. Maigret, about to go on holiday to Alsace, diverts his plans and goes to Fremat at the request of an old friend, Jorissen, to help clear the name of the radio operator, La Clinche, who is suspected of the crime. Maigret eventually solves the crime – it all hinges on events on the third day at sea – but resolution is achieved by way of observation and intuition rather than the collection of hard evidence.
The plot is actually quite preposterous. We are asked to believe that an attractive woman would agree to be locked in the captain’s cabin for the three months of the trip to be his plaything. The captain’s bed is raised to allow her to hide under it – a fact spotted by Leonnec rather than the great tec himself. That apart, the story is atmospheric, is imbued with the salty air of the sea and gives a fascinating insight into the hard lives of fishing communities in 1930s France.
At a higher level you could argue that Simenon is pondering the question who is responsible for a murder – the person who committed it or the person who drove the murderer to commit the crime?
At whatever level you choose to consider the book, it is an entertaining page turner and what more do you want in a book?