Maigret and the man on the bench by Georges Simenon

Maigret and the man on the beach

Belgian fiction

Original title – Maigret et l’homme du banc

Translator – David Watson

Source – Library copy

At the start of the year I reviewed the last Maigret book to be made into one of the new series of tv dramas starring Rowan Atkinson Maigret and the dead man, I was in the library the other day and this cover of one of the most recent editions opf the penguin series to reissue new translations of all the Maigret books caught my eye .

His clothes were clean , respectable . He was wearing a dark suit, a biege raincoat and on his feet which were twisted at an odd angle , he wore greenish-yellow shoes, which seemed out of keeping with a day as colourless at this

Apart from his shoes, he appeared so ordinary that he would have passed completely unnoticed onn the street or on one of the numerous cafe terraces on the boulevard. Neverless, the policeman who discovered him said :

“I get the feeling , I’ve seen him before.”

The body would be anypone apart from those shoes of his !!

So this is like the other novels and all starts with a murder . Louis Thouret is found dead on a bench at a dead-end road. He seems normal enough barring a rather bright pair of yellow shoes. As Maigret takes his wife to see him she says his shoes weren’t his own and at the time he died he should have been work . The usual team around Maigret swing into action , the place he worked isn’t there in fact Louis had worked for a long while getting by on loans and then taking a turn into the world of crime but his family seemed to have known nothing about the double life he was living which meant another flat and life away . But as they ask the family maybe his daughter had more to say than she did. Maigret grows to like Louis and he efforts to keep his family unaware of the loss his job.

“Kaplan and Zanin’s ?” he asked her

“the company closed down three years ago next month my good man ”

“wer you already working here ?”

“I’ll have been here twenty-six years this December.”

“Did you know Louis Thouret?”

“Why of course I knew Monsieur Louis! What has become of him? It must be four of five months since he last dropped by to say hello”

“He’s dead” she immediately stopped sorting the letter.

“He always enjoyed such good health ! What was it ? Heart,I’ll bet just like my husband…”

“He was stabbed to death , yesterday afternoon , not far from here .”

They discover his old workplace has long since ceased trading !

This is a classic story line from crime fiction .I know of a couple of similar classic tales from couple of other classic Crime writers. Connan Doyles Holmes investigated the case of the man with the twisted lip where a respected man thought to have died in an opium den and there is a beggar that is well-known for his ability to quote poetry is he the missing man ? . This is also a similar plot themes  to the Poirot the disappearance of mr Davenheim where the main character disappears but had made a sideline as a  criminal and had spent time in prison not south africa as he said , as part of a plan to frame someone. These both involved the male head of a family that has lost position , money or a job , but was too proud to admit it thus leading them to a life on the other side of the fence of the law.The book was originally released as a part work in the french paper Le figaro in the fifties. I wonder if this will get the Atkinson treatment who since he became Maigret is now whom I picture when reading these books.

Monte Carlo By Peter Terrin

Monte Carlo by Peter Terrin

Belgian  fiction

Original title – Monte Carlo

Translator – David Doherty

Source – Review copy

Now on to the books that could be on next years man booker list and first up is the second book I have reviewed buy the rising star of Belgian fiction Peter Terrin , I reviewed him first when he was part of the best european fiction in 2010. Since then he had his novels the Guard and post-mortem come out in english this is the first of his books I have read , I do have the earlier books and read the guard but it slipped the review net at the time. But this is a book about a time I love the golden age of motor sport in the 60’s when we got the feel of this book in the film Grand prix .But the other side of this book is obsession Male obsession and also how scars can become attractive to woman .

It happens by accident . The woman has been holding the camera for some time , peering through the viewfinder now and again, taking the occasional snap. But now she waits, realising that the film is almost full, that she probably has only one photograph left. She wants to wait for the right moment, yet later she will not be able to recall taking the final shot .The fuel is no longer liquid , the transition is taking place.She remembers the heat hitting her face, an invisible cloud, the fire not yet fire

The photo misses Jacks part in saving Dee Dee

The book starts as we join jack Preston ,he is a mechanic for Team sutton, the rising team on the grid. They are in the city of Monte Carlo for the Monaco Grand prix , probably the most iconic of all the race on the formula one circuit and always one to attract the beautiful people and One such is Deedee one of those sixties starlets , I got a feel of cross between Bardot , Fonda and Rigg . Even to later in the book having a part in  the Avengers .Well she has caught Jack’s eye and as an accident on the grid cause a fireball and he save her  from it and after wards has to return to his old home to recover and awaits a thank you but no mention .This is where the book turns and the screw of obsession turns as he waits for her and for his team to come to his aid and free him from provincial life.His wife also has become a bit of vixen driven by her husbands scars

One evening Deedee looked straight into his eyes

Steed had disappeared without trace and she did not know whether he was alive or dead. Speechless, racked with doubt, she wnet into the bathroom, leaned against the washbasin and gazed into the mirror – straight into the camera’s lens – for seconds on end

Jack Prestons nails deep into the arm of the settee.

there was no need for her to speak.

She was entrusting something to him.To him alone.Her look was like a whisper in his ear.

Jack’s obsession with Deedee has grown since he returned home .

He has been compared to Kafka before but at times this was to me an Homage to Hitchcock in a way the way Dee Dee is described made me think of the classic starlets that made the golden age of Hitchcock films like Vertigo or rear window(even Grace Kelly is at the track ) .He manages to get the feeling of male obsession as Deedee becomes both a thing of love and hate in Jack’s eyes . Terrin manages to get the feel of the time a new tobacco sponsor for the team reminds you of when the cars where Jps or Malboro colours  . This novel is about  how Jack  thought he saw something in a glimpse of a second just  before the  disaster struck and how that small moment has led to a mix of obsession and hate as he awaits being acknowledge for what he did. Then there is the return home and his obsessive wife for his scars  that has made her a vixen.While Jack grows in love and loathing at lack of thanks for what he did from Deedee which means a year later the race has a sad start as things come to a head.Terrin has written a short novel that has a classic feel to its writing and settings .

 

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans

 

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans

Belgian fiction

Original title – Oorlog en terpentijn

Translator- David Mckay

Source – review copy

Stefan Hertmans is a poet , novelist and short story writer . He has won a number of prizes including the AKO prize for this book. this is the next stop on the man booker list this is the one I felt would be on the liust as it was frequently compared to Sebald when it came out, which in a way made me get to it later in the list in case I was disappointed by it , which I wasn’t that it was very Sebald like (it isn’t really yes it has pictures and place and memories but in another context it isn’t Sebald work mainly dealt with the outfall of world war two ).

Strange as it may seem, there were details of my own world that never offered up their historical secrets until I read his memoirs: a gold pocket watch shattering on the tile floor ; an oval cigarette from a silver case , smoked in secret, which made me nauseous when I was fifteen years old ; a worn reddish-brown scarf on the discard cupboards in the dilapidated greenhouses, covered within droplets of the disoriented blackbirds that would throw themselves against the glass in panic .

Images of his youth come to life in his grandfathers notebooks

 

The story goes Urbain wrote these notebooks and he died in the sixties the son of a painter also called Urbaine were passed to his grand son Stefan the writer but he left them for thirty year what follows is his story of reading them. The first part of the story is pre world war one father and son in a the city og Ghent  just getting by making ends meet painting small fresco in churches around the town , a one point the son takes a job in gelatine factory , remind me of the time we see David Copperfield an artist in the making in the bottle factory another dangerous job .Now unlike Dickens in Urbaine case the war sends his life in another direction the most of the book is the grandfathers notebooks of his war experiences , very much like most war accounts of the tome we have a real feel of Mud , the trenches , rats and death in the air all around them. A break comes when he is sent to Liverpool to recover and paints the sea and places round Wallasey (I found an ironic connection to Hitler , here who many years earlier was in the same city painting ) The last part is post war a love story.

As soon as my health and the weather permitted I went out searching .Maud was right:in St James Street I found the church of St Vincent de Paul. My heart was pounding as I entered its damp , sparsely decorated interior. On the dingy walls to the left, there was no sign of any murals my father might have worked on. On the right , I found the stations of the cross on panels .there happened to be men at work in the church , whitewashing walls. They couldn’t recall any frescos under the whitewash.

Urbain tries to find a fresco his father did in Liverpool was he recovers

Now the book is littered with pictures the start that inspired father and son , the buildings of Ghent . Then in the war years the only picture we see is the one of Urbaine in his uniform at the end of the war a man with that thousand yard stare of someone who has seen death in the eye. This is slightly like Sebald , even in the last part of the book there is a quote from Vertigo .  The nearest english novel would be Siegfried  Sassoon cycle of books The Sherston trilogy , which follows a mans pre war and post war and war-time journey like this novel does . Hertmans manages to capture the madness brutality and darkness of the first world war.  I enjoyed this book it is destined to be a modern classic.

Maigret’s dead man by Geroges Simenon

Maigret's Dead Man

Maigret’s Dead man by Geroges Simenon

Belgian fiction

Original title – Maigret et son Mort

Translator – David Coward

Source – review copy

I got an email from the folks that deal with all things Maigret and Simenon in the uk as if I want a copy of this one of the latest from the penguin series Maigret books , they are slowly month by month doing new translations of all the novels in the series which runs to 75 novels and a few short stories collection. This particular book was the latest to be adapted for tv in the new series starring Rowan Atkinson as the latest actor to become Jules Maigret.

“Hello ?….Who is on the line ?..”

Normally the officer on the police switchboard did not put through ay but the most urgent calls.

“I’m sorry sir…it’s a man. He won’t give his name but is very insistent.says he must absolutely talk to you … He swears it’s a matter of life and death…

“And he wants to speak to me personally ?”

“Yes.. shall I put him through?”

Maigret heard a voice saying anxiously ;

“Hello? .. is that you ?

“Detective chief inspector Maigret,yes..”

“I’m sorry about this..My name wouldn’t mean anything to you.. you don’t know me,but you used to know my wife Nina.. HELLO? .. I’ve got to tell you something might happen that…

The call that sets on the trail to find out who the Dead man of the title is and what his secret was !

I read the book before watching the adaptation . Well first point I now have Atkinson in my head as Maigret having previously had him in the form of Micheal Gambon. This book wasn’t part of the Gambon series and is actually one of the hefty novels I have read from Simenon coming in at over 220 pages long for his books , I always see him as an evening read. This also has a clever dual plotline the first plot sees Maigret getting a number of calls from a man who wants to meet him but when they arrange to meet he isn’t there Maigret traces his calls and tries to find out who this man is especially when his body turns up and no-one turns up . The man is middle-aged normal , not a typical criminal type. Then he is told to forget this to help in solving a number of crimes happening in the country that due to a lead has led the gang causing them back to Paris. Maigret is like a bulldog thou and can’t drop this first item to fetch the second but as by chance the man is discovered and his life is revealed . But as the other crime unfolds it is maybe a one in a million chance but it has happened this ordinary guy has led them into a break in the second crime and to the gang carrying out the violent crimes a gang from  outside France but lead by a man in a fur coat . Who is he a criminal mastermind or is his fur Fake ?

It wasn’t a winning slip he had found that morning but a train ticket.

If such had not been his habit ..if he hadn’t seen the man from whose pocket it had dropped.. If the name Goderville had not instantly made him think of the massacres perpetrated by the Picardy gang.. if his feelings had not been written on his face ..

“Poor Albert !” sighed Maigret

That one point the two plots touch just a mere second that leads to the capture of the gang and the death of poor albert as Maigret calls him.

 

I enjoyed this it has more twists than other Maigret books I have read and the clever use of two plot lines that like two ever decreasing orbits end up colliding an exploding. A chance find leads to a violent crime a Man with no real luck runs out of luck just as he has found the clue he wanted to give the Great Maigret a man he admired so much especially as his wife had once had a chance meeting with Jules. So a sad cafe and a couple with no child lead to a threesome of rough czech criminals and a woman with a child that maybe shouldn’t be having one. At this part I felt he was drifting more into his other novel style of the roman durs he wrote that Penguin is also republishing those psychological novels about the human spirit and mind. This is a great choice for the second Atkinson show it has taken him in a different direction to the Gambon which were lighthearted at times and also very nostalgia lead where as THe new one seems much darker and more on Maigret but also those around him his deputies like Janvier who play major part in the book seem more to the fore now.I must admit I wasn’t to pleased when rowan Atkinson got the part but he has managed to win me over with a performance that is very straight not a hint of the man who with a twitch of his nose can have you bent over in laughter.

Did you watch or read this Maigret this christmas ?

 

The swordfish by Hugo Claus

 

 

Image result for the swordfish hugo claus

The swordfish by Hugo Claus

Belgian fiction

original title -De zwaardvis

Translator – Ruth levitt

Source – personnel copy

One of the things I hope with buying cheap secondhand books from Amazon was to revisit some writers from the blog whom I really enjoyed and Hugo Claus was one such writer his novel the wonder which was reviewed in the first year of the blog and has been one I have often but in my top ten favourite books since then. He was one of the best known Flemish writers in his time he wrote both Novels , poems novellas and Plays. He featured on a collection of stamps of great Flemish writers. This novella was a special for the  yearly Boekenweekgeschenk which happens every year in Flemish bookshops a writer is chosen to writer a work of 96 pages in length.Here is a list of the writers and books they wrote for this week .

Martin would have preferred to ascend the hills like Clint Eastwood, the hero of the boys at school, with large, sure strides, hands stroking the revolvers at his hips. But that would be heresy with a cross on your shoulders. The wish belonged to an earlier time, before he knew anything about Jesus and before Miss Dora has given him the book that he was reading furtively , in secrecy of his room, and almost knew by heart.

Miss dora his private tutor has twisted martins mind.

This short novella is actually one of those novellas that feel like an epic novel. It follows four characters in a fiction village a mother and son Martin and Silbylle ,their father Gerard has disappeared at the start of the book, although the book is told in a non chronological order so we find out what happened to Gerard. Then there is willy the headmaster of the school whom has concerns for the son Marttin as he isn’t in the school and is being taught by a private tutor provide by the state due to his religious belief . Into this add a vet richard an alcoholic  who has a dark past. Martin the boy is in love with american culture Clint east wood and fish especially the swordfish . All this leads senseless crime in the village of Zavelgam.A summer is full of strange comings and going .

Martin holds the splinter of wood up in front of him, leans forward, buzzes and zooms past the sheep who jump out of his way. His lance, his sword is not sharp enough,not long enough, but it doesn’t matter. He can be smaller than a real swordfish in the same way that jesus can be a fish.It is a metal flair.

Martin is still a child in many ways .

 

Now Hugo Claus was given a theme of books and film tp writer this novella about and came up with this brilliant novella of a village told from four points of view that show how lies, religion and childhood views can effect a few people. Richard a man who abuse woman and drinks. Then there is martin he is lead down the wrong path by his private tutor and is confused in the world. His other has a secret to how the father and husband disappeared. Then there is the schoolmaster maybe the most levelheaded in the village. A mad 96 pages that seem much more. I have also purchased Claus classic novel The sorrows of Belgium.

Have you read a book by Hugo Claus ?

 

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