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Mystery Monday – The Misty Harbour

The Misty Harbour by Georges Simenon

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Nothing like an early Maigret mystery. Le port des brumes was written in 1931 and published in 1932. This translation Linda Coverdale, however, is one of the many re-translations that Penguin commissioned a couple of years ago. The goal, I think, was to better capture the spareness of Simenon’s prose.

The atmosphere is persuasive, with trains, fog, smoke from Maigret’s pipe, and stuffy rooms. The novel opens with Maigret escorting an amnesiac back to his native town. He’d been identified by his maid from a picture published in the papers. When they arrive at Ouistreham (in the Normandy region in northwestern France), Maigret tries to figure out the background as to why the amnesiac suffered a gunshot wound to his head, which, although patched up skillfully, robbed him of his memory and speech.

Once the victim is left at home he is killed with a dose of strychnine in his pitcher of water. The Inspector investigates. Simenon brilliantly describes closed community of seamen who work and drink around the lock, who live according to the tides, an exclusive order not loquacious with outsiders. They stick together in wary silence. The quality, too, face Maigret in silence. The victim and his maid Julie have only one advocate for the truth to come out, Maigret.

The plotting is rather uneven, but reader finishes the book rather regretting leaving the atmosphere behind. These Depression-era Maigret novels are strong novels, marked by sober, precise writing. And don’t forget the existentialism before existentialism was cool in the Fifites. I’m not a totally objective observer because I like novels set in the Thirties but I think these novels do not age, thanks to the lean style of Simenon. Still, there are period artifacts: pitch pine, coal tar, alarm clocks, a peasant’s cart, the bistouille (black coffee with moonshine) in glasses, pale firefly gaslights, fuggy taverns, and people smoking anyplace and drinking anytime they like.



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