I think it is appropriate for a blog that has been mainly about European crime fiction to finish the year with a review of a book about the detective who introduced a whole generation to the genre.
The Yellow Dog is a classic novella written in 1931 by Georges Simenon featuring his pipe smoking detective Maigret.
When Monsieur Mostaguen, Concarneau's biggest wine merchant, is shot in the stomach, Maigret, who was in Rennes reorganizing its mobile unit, is sent to investigate.
Then as three prominent citizens are about to drink an aperitif in the bar of the Admiral Hotel it is noticed that in the Pernod there are some floating crystals, which turn out to be strychnine. One of the three Jean Servieres, then disappears and his empty car is discovered with blood stains on the seat.
A mysterious yellow dog is lurking around the hotel, and there are more events to come .....
Crime fiction to be successful needs atmosphere, plot, characters, and a mystery combined together in a sensible cocktail.
In The Yellow Dog Simenon demonstrates his total mastery of the art by creating a perfect mix. We get a cleverly created atmosphere of fear, a real bouillabaisse of a plot, superb characters, and a mystery to untangle.
I particularly liked the way firstly Maigret reads a newspaper article giving details of what has happened, and then later explains the key features of the case to the Mayor. This allows us slow Watsons to organize our thoughts in line with those of the master detective Holmes-Maigret.
Maigret interestingly also gathers all the suspects together for his final explanations in the style of the English country house mystery.
In a surprisingly brief 130 pages Simenon covers an enormous amount of social commentary about life in a small town. He also creates one of the most memorable detectives in all of crime fiction.
Maigret, the incorruptible pipe smoker, calmly thinking his way to a solution amid the general panic.
He drank his aperitif down straight and got to his feet.
"A piece of advice , gentlemen! No jumping to conclusions. And no deductions, above all."
"What about the criminal?"
He shrugged his broad shoulders and murmured: "Who knows?"
Superb stuff from a master, with more action in a short novella than others manage in a 600 page blockbuster.
Leroy, sitting on the edge of the little iron bed, remarked, "I still don't quite understand your methods, superintendent, but I think I'm beginning to see...."
Maigret gave him an amused glance and sent a large cloud of smoke out into the sunshine. "You're lucky, my friend! Especially in this case in which my method has actually been not to have one....."