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The Bar on the Seine (Penguin Mysteries)by Georges Simenon
Synopses & Reviews
The Penguin relaunch of Georges Simenons incomparable books continues with four new Inspector Maigret novels
We saw a door opening ahead of us. There was a car parked by the roadside. This guy came out pushing another guy in front of him. No, not pushing. Imagine you're carrying a shop dummy and trying to make it look like it's your friend walking next to you. He put him in the car and got into the driver's seat . . . The guy drove all over the place. He seemed to be looking for something, but seemed to keep losing his way. In the end, we realized what he'd been looking for.
A series of chance encounters sends Inspector Maigret down yet another winding path of murder and mystery. While visiting a criminal in his cell, the young convict tells Maigret of a man who'd been spotted dumping a body in a Parisian canal some years ago. On an unexpected trip to a popular inn, Maigret finds himself in the very place the suspected killer was last seen, and the Inspector is pulled deeper into the web of blackmail and deceit.
"I recently reread a number of acclaimed novels by early crime writers — among them Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Ross Macdonald — that I first read decades ago, and I was surprised to find how often I was disappointed. Alas, the books we loved in our youth, like the sweet young things we dallied with, often have not aged well. Our memories play tricks on us, our expectations... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) have changed, and sometimes we have been misled by movies that vastly improved on the original material — the film versions of 'The Maltese Falcon' and 'Double Indemnity' are examples. Nostalgia is the sweetest of drugs, but it will cloud our minds, distort our memories and lead us into error if we let it. It was thus with some reluctance that I turned to these newly reissued Inspector Maigret novels by Georges Simenon, who in his lifetime (1903-89) wrote 75 Maigret mysteries, won international acclaim and numbered among his admirers such diverse figures as Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Andre Gide and Henry Miller. Could he really be that good? Yes, he could be, and is. These two, at least — 'The Bar on the Seine' (1931) and 'The Hotel Majestic' (1942) — are solid police procedurals, but beyond that they are charming and sometimes magical evocations of a Paris now long vanished. Simenon was interested in crime and criminals, but he was just as interested in lovers, relationship, bars, food, wine, merrymaking and all the sweet madness of life. His Inspector Maigret, middle-aged and stocky, forever puffing on his pipe, prone to drink too much and seemingly lethargic, is unlike any other detective I've encountered. If he suspects a fellow of murder, he's less likely to arrest the guy than to join him for a few shots of Pernod in some dingy bar. But he always gets his man. At the start of 'The Bar on the Seine,' a condemned killer tells Maigret that a man who committed a murder frequents an obscure bar on a distant bank of the river. Maigret seeks out the ramshackle place and finds a mock wedding in progress, with most people in costume and feeling no pain. 'The first person he met was a woman dressed all in white, who almost ran into him. She was wearing orange blossom in her hair. She was being chased by a young man in a swimming-costume.' The woman is the 'bride' in the wedding and she is also, the inspector realizes, the same woman he'd seen earlier that day leaving a cheap hotel with a man other than her husband. He learns that a group of perhaps 20 friends meet at this bar every weekend to eat, drink, dance, swim and sometimes pursue affairs. The party lasts into the next day. There are Chinese lanterns, a player piano, boats and picnics. It's a long, luminous scene, filled with laughter, sunlight and abandon, that captures the poignancy of humankind's endless pursuit of pleasure. At the end, a man is shot dead — by his wife's lover, who insists it was an accident. For the rest of the novel, Maigret examines these people's lives, romances and financial affairs until finally justice is done. There are many nice moments along the way, such as this very French snapshot of a minor character: 'She wasn't especially beautiful. But she had a seductive quality, particularly in her mourning dress which, rather than making her look sad, made her look even more alluring. She was curvy, vivacious; she would have made an excellent mistress.' The other novel also turns on an affair of the heart. The wife of an American businessman, staying in a suite in the Hotel Majestic on the Champs-Elysees, is found dead in the basement of the hotel. Simenon vividly contrasts life in the dark, crowded basement, filled with bustling cooks and waiters, with the luxury upstairs. It develops that the American is having an affair with his son's governess and that his dead wife was French, a former dancehall girl who had a history with one of the cooks. However, Maigret cannot believe this rather simple fellow is a killer, and there are more suspicious characters about. Here, too, Simenon offers many fine touches. When he notes that one man's nose 'was set so crookedly, that one always seemed to be seeing him in profile,' I suspected homage to Picasso. Although the novel was published in 1942, there is no mention of the Nazi occupation — this is an earlier, happier Paris when murders were still manageable. Are these novels dated? A bit in the physical details — women wear girdles, not all homes have telephones, everyone smokes constantly — but not in the writing. More than anything else, they are dated by their minimal violence. Guns are rarely used, and a punch in the nose is as shocking as a shootout today. It happens that Hammett introduced his hard-drinking, two-fisted, cop-baiting Sam Spade at about the time the first of these novels appeared, and I wondered what Maigret would have done if he'd confronted that bellicose American. Bought him a Pernod, probably, puffed on a pipe and listened to his story. Wry, understated, humanistic, these Maigret books are as timeless as Paris itself." Reviewed by Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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One of the worlds most successful crime writers, Georges Simenon has thrilled mystery lovers around the world since 1931 with his matchless creation Inspector Maigret. In The Bar on the Seine, Maigret must visit a prisoner he arrested and bear the news that his reprieve has been refused and he will be executed at dawn. But when the condemned man tells Maigret a story, his investigations lead him to the Guinguette a Deux Sous, a bar by the River Seine, and into the seamy underside of bourgeois Parisian life.
About the Author
Georges Simenon (1903Â–1989) is one of the most widely read and published novelists of all time. He wrote more than two hundred books under his own nameÂ—including seventy-five Maigret novelsÂ—and more than two hundred under a series of pseudonyms.
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