The Grand Banks Cafe by Georges Simenon
Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)
After three months at sea, a trawler returns to its home port of Fécamp in northern France. Shortly after the return, the captain, Octave Fallut, is found dead by strangulation in one of the harbor basins. The wireless operator of the trawler, Pierre Le Clinche, barely twenty years old, is the person of interest since he was seen prowling around the boat on the day of the killing.
An old friend of Chief Inspector Maigret, Jorissen, a teacher at Quimper, writes an appeal to Maigret to establish the innocence of the young telegrapher. Once in Fécamp, Maigret settles in at the Grand Banks Café, a hangout of sailors. Once again, we have Maigret trying to crack open a closed society in order to figure out events and feelings that lead up to a murder. Slowly Maigret uncovers unreasoning lust and vengeful anger that caused the murder.
Like many of the early, Depression-era, Maigret novels, this one has a heavy atmosphere. Somber but not as depressing as Maigret and the Yellow Dog (also written in 1931). There are various women characters, with Madame Maigret and the widow Bernard providing stability and domesticity, Le Clinche’s fiancé Marie Léonnec providing loyalty and forgiveness, and Adèle Noirhomme for idiot lust and chaos. Maigret is true to himself. He listens to conversations, taking in the atmosphere of the harbor and its denizens. He is part anthropologist and part psychologist as he bores into the complexity of relationships and interior struggles.
Maigret also delves into the heart of France during the period between the wars. His focus is on his own people, people who toil to get little. This is the France of small shops, cafés on every street corner, and artisans (such as rope makers) whose day you’d have thought passed long before 1930.
Simenon loved the sea so his stories set near locks, on barges and in small fishing ports are worth reading. He’s great with atmosphere, which is also a tribute to the translator. David Coward has also translated Alexandre Dumas, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, and the Marquis de Sade. It was a good idea for Penguin to commission new translations of these classic mysteries.