The end of the year approaches and with it thoughts re the best of 2013 and objectives for 2014; one of which is usually a book-buying ban. Not this year, in fact not for the next 6! The plans of Penguin Classics to publish Simenon’s Inspector Maigret chronologically over the course of 75 months (73 months remaining) have seen to that. Particularly as multiple translators are involved in the project. I’m not sure whether 75 translators are involved. Only time will tell. Certainly the first 6 in the series have different translators and there’s got to be some scope for a few translation duels somewhere down the line. For now though, let’s just sit back and enjoy the first two in the series.
1) Pietr The Latvian (1931) – translated by David Bellos
2) The Late Monsieur Gallet (1931) – translated by Anthea Bell
The simplified and modernised English titles are the first items of note. Originally translated as The Strange Case of Peter The Lett and The Death of Monsieur Gallet. Like the directness of Pietr The Latvian – it’s more engaging in this age of economic migration, even though that isn’t an actual theme. And besides, who,would have known that Lett meant Latvian? The Late Monsieur Gallet is quite simply more elegant and focuses attention on the person of Monsieur Gallet, whose enigma Maigret must first solve before he gets a real handle on what turned him into a corpse.
I’m not going to go into details here because the plots aren’t very complicated and certainly don’t compare to the sophistication of some contemporary crime fiction or even Simenon’s romans durs (psychological thrillers). However, they do demonstrate the same fascination with human psychology, which lies at the heart of Maigret’s investigative technique. Maigret cracks the case of Pietr The Latvian which involves foreign crime gangs and doppelgangers through the analysis of the faces in an old photograph. Monsieur Gallet’s secret is discovered when Maigret identifies the motivation of the dead man who lived in poverty while prioritising the payments for a seemingly extravagant life insurance.
So the crimes at the heart of these novels remain current, and good, old fashioned logical deduction (minus spurious Sherlockian flashiness) together with psychological insight solves the cases. Neither are there any hints of the artificiality of a typical Agatha Christie setting. (See footnote.) Very enjoyable. 2 down, 73 to go …..
Footnote: Nothing against Agatha, everything against Sherlock!