Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Maigret Sets a Trap

Georges Simenon Maigret Sets a Trap (1955)
Ordinarily I bristle and mutter at those who read the book because they saw it on telly, and yet here I am, because I'm nothing if not inconsistent. One set of laws for myself and a different set for the rest of you fuckers, that's how it works.

I happened upon a recent televised adaptation of this starring Rowan Atkinson, and while detective shows aren't ordinarily my thing, I was nevertheless well and truly sucked in. I vaguely knew of Maigret as a BBC series from before I was born, but hadn't realised it was based on a series of novels; and so I kept an eye open and chanced upon this, itself published so as to cash-in on a previous adaptation of the same thing starring the Singing Detective. Obviously I have no way of knowing whether or not this is a good translation from the French by one Daphne Woodward, although I'm going to assume it is based on how much I enjoyed it; so assuming that whatever I say can be applied as much to Simenon's original as to this one...

I'm a little out of my comfort zone with detective fiction, mysteries, crime, and all that stuff, and yet Maigret very much worked for me on this occasion. The narrative is tight and efficient, taking one straight to the heart of the matter, unencumbered by fatty tissue or any unnecessary fucking about in hope of getting a reaction; and the style comes across as clean and elegant rather than either rudimentary or pulpy, perhaps thanks to occasional concessions made to place and atmosphere in fleeting, yet arresting images:

All this time they had been standing up. At Doctor Pardon's suggestion they now went and sat down in a corner near the window, from where they could hear the sounds of a radio. The rain was still falling, so softly that the tiny drops seemed to be alighting gently one on top of the other, to form a kind of dark varnish on the surface of the road.

Similarly pleasing is that as mysteries go, this one seems fairly straightforward, indulging in none of the smartarsed labyrinthine plotting of modern detective fiction, at least as it is on telly. A crime occurs, Maigret tracks down the suspect, and then proves him to be the guilty party - none of this shit about some shop in Southend being the only place where you can buy shoelaces in that colour, and if Lord Ponsonby-Smythe, who famously loathes hard-boiled eggs, was indeed wearing his tartan jockstrap at the event in question, then blah blah blah...

Equally refreshing - at least from the point of view of someone who, like myself, usually only encounters this kind of thing on the box - is that Maigret is a quiet bloke who smokes a pipe and doesn't seem to go in for shouting or knackering suspects with a ball-peen hammer before chuckling oh dear - I see you've tripped, my little son. Indeed, that which is left to be read between these translated lines, suggests a thoughtful, sensitive character. For what it's worth, I am informed that views have been expressed opining that Rowan Atkinson's recent performance was somewhat flat in comparison with earlier, more emotional renderings by Rupert Davies or Michael Gambon, but I don't know - based on this one book, I'd say Atkinson pretty much nailed it.

Anyway, yes - very, very readable.

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