Mystery-novel detectives aren’t overly concerned with investigative jurisdiction: ask Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Heck, even Miss Marple was known to pack it up and head for the Caribbean every now and then. Georges Simenon’s Maigret is no exception, which is why, when all the murders are solved in France, Maigret grabs his suitcase and moves on. Like “The Murderer”, “A Crime in Holland” is set on the land of dikes and canals, of windmills and clogs and legalized tulips. Simenon clearly had affection for the place; he wrote the first Maigret novel there, in the town of Delfjzil. What better way to repay the inspiration than to drop a fictional corpse in there?
Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of “A Crime in Holland” isn’t the picturesque locale, but the challenge it poses for Maigret: he doesn’t speak Dutch, and most of the people he has to interrogate speak little or no French. However, the seeming barrier proves to be illusory: since the denizens of Delfzjil can’t hide behind the civilizing, deceitful curtain of language, their petty human passions are left exposed in an above-average “parlor scene.”
The detective travelled even farther in “Maigret in New York.” The recently retired Maigret, now in his late 50s and grown even more corpulent than before, crosses the Atlantic to inquire into the state of a mind of an American businessman with a hazy past. Once in New York, he has some problems finding good cognac, less problems finding properly made poulet, and no apparent problems meeting people who speak French fluently, including a certain Detective O’Brien. Aside from Simenon’s uneasy amazement at the “melting-potness” of the Jewish/Italian/Irish neighborhoods, there’s very little sense here of a New York glimpsed beyond a short vacation. But few will mind the small jarring details, like when Simenon refers to a New York rookie officer as a “Constable” in the British style. That title has never, to my knowledge, been used in that context in Brooklyn.
Sometimes the foreign travelers intrude upon us. “The Man from London” has the titular fellow (name of Mr. Brown) arrive at the French coastal town of Dieppe carrying a mysterious suitcase. Monsieur Maloin, a frustrated sad-sack railway worker, witnesses the arrival, as well as a violent altercation between the Brit and an accomplice, and then finds himself in possession of the suitcase and several thousand pounds. Subsequent events, as in many of Simenon’s roman durs, capture our interest less by virtue of their suspense than by the fascination of their fatality. While I wasn’t fully convinced by the psychology behind a late-game twist, this is a fog-shrouded nightmare of a thriller, maybe the best Simenon I’ve read so far. Hungarian slow-pace auteurist Bela Tarr directed a (slow)-motion picture based on the novel.
RATING: COOL! particularly “The Man from London.”