The Carter of La Providence by Georges Simenon
Translated by David Coward
I’m so enjoying treating myself to a Maigret when I need a palate cleanser between reading longer books. This one in its new translation by David Coward, is the fourth of Penguin’s new editions, second according to Trussel.com, the site which is my Maigret bible, which also tells me that it was previously published as: Lock 14 in the noughties, Maigret meets a Milord in the 1960s, and The Crime at Lock 14 in the 1930s (Lock 14 being the title of the first chapter). Once again the new Penguin editions revert to a translation of the original title which is a good thing. Indeed, I found I had a copy of Lock 14(trans R.Baldick). Why do they change book titles?
The novel is set on the banks of the river Marne, near Dizy on the outskirts of Épernay in the heart of the champagne region. A woman’s body is discovered in the stables by the café at Lock 14.
It was obvious that the woman belonged to a class where people were more likely to ride in expensive motor-cars and travel by sleeper than walk.
… Her earrings were real pearls worth about 15,000 frances.
… Her fair was brown, waved and cut very short at the nape of the neck and temples.
… The face, contorted by the effects of strangulation, must have been unusually pretty.
No doubt a bit of a tease. (p7)
The lock on the river is two miles outside the town so only easily accessible by barge/boat. The owner of the Cafe de la Marine or the lock-keeper knew everyone who had passed through on the river the previous day. Who was the woman? Who killed her?
It’s a difficult case for Inspector Maigret, effectively a ‘locked’ room mystery (geddit!). However, things start to clarify – and get more complex – with the arrival of a yacht, the Southern Cross, owned by Englishman Sir Walter Lampson, and his assortment of crew and other guests on board. He identifies the woman as his wife. She may have been his wife, but he doesn’t know much about her former life; neither does anyone else it seems. Maigret surmises there must be a link with the barge La Providence – a traditional horse-drawn barge. It was the only barge moored nearby the night she died. The old carter, Jean, is not a talkative sort, more at home with his horses than humans. Lampson’s friend Willy Marco will also end up drowned in the lock – maybe he saw something. The bluff Englishman, a retired Colonel, now a seasonal traipser between homes on his yacht, is difficult to read, despite Maigret speaking English fairly well. As the boats cannot be held indefinitely, they carry on their journeys along the river – they can’t go anywhere else after all.
Maigret will be forced to ride km after km up and down the towpath on a borrowed bicycle, chasing after the yacht and the barge over the next days as he picks at the problem and works it all out with the help of Inspector Lucas looking things up for him. The image of Maigret, whom we are always reminded as having a large physical presence riding 50km on a bicycle in his overcoat and puffing on his pipe, is quite amusing!
What got me in this Maigret story was the weather. It is raining for almost the entire novel, at other times damp and foggy, making the canal/river seem so dull, but Simenon captures the life of the itinerant bargees well (he had explored the French waterways on his own boat). It takes the arrival of the colourful English Milord to liven things up, however, as we’ll discover, some of those regulars may have had a colourful past themselves. What Simenon does well in this story is to capture the essence of the privileged life of Lampson and his friends – but it’s clear too that it hasn’t necessarily made them happy! The mystery isn’t a difficult one, but the atmosphere and the characterisation make up for that.
I’ve read some criticism of Coward’s translation (notably in an Amazon review by ‘Lucas’) who much prefers Baldick’s one. Sadly, I disposed of my old copy when I got the new one, so can’t now compare. Coward apparently sometimes goes for ease of reading rather than lexical accuracy, adding in words or using more modern expressions. I can’t comment on that, but I still enjoyed The Carter of La Providence a lot though. (8/10)
Source: via PFD – Thank you. BUY at Amazon UK (affiliate link)
Night at the Crossroads by Georges Simenon
Translated by Linda Coverdale
This case for Inspector Maigret opens after seventeen hours of interrogation of a suspect in a murder case. Maigret is completely knackered yet the one-eyed Carl Andersen, a Dane, is as cool as a cucumber, denying all knowledge or involvement in the switching of cars between the two households at the Three Widows Crossroads and the very dead body of Isaac Goldberg, a diamond merchant from Antwerp being found in his neighbour’s car in Andersen’s garage. They have to let him go. It’s the next morning before Maigret leaves…
Maigret went home to his apartment in Boulevard Richard-Lenoir.
‘You look tired!’ was all his wife said in welcome.
‘Pack a bag with a suit and a spare pair of shoes.’
‘Will you be away long?’
There was a ragout in the oven. The bedroom window was open and the bed unmade, to air out the sheets. Madame Maigret hadn’t had time yet to comb out her hair, still set in lumpy little pin curls.
He kissed her. As he left, she remarked, ‘You’re opening the door with your right hand…’
That was unlike him; he always opened it with his left hand. And Madame Maigret wasn’t shy about being superstitious.
‘What is it? A gang?’
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘Are you going far?’
‘I don’t know yet.’
‘You’ll be careful, won’t you?’
But he was already going downstairs and hardly turned around at all to wave to her. Out on the boulevard, he hailed a taxi.
‘Gare d’Orsay… Wait … How much to drive to Arpajon? … Three hundred francs, with the return trip? … Let’s go!’
Reading the books in the latest edition order, this is the second appearance of Madame Maigret and she knows what’s what alright!
Maigret arrives at the lonely crossroads and gets to know the denizens of the three dwellings there: Andersen and his ‘sister’ Else who is rather strange – sort of wanton and repressed at the same time (she reminded me of Marin in The Miniaturist); the annoying M. Michonnet the insurance agent and his awful wife; and M. Oscar who runs the busy garage and is always trying to tempt Maigret in for a drink. For a crossroads in the middle of nowhere, it turns out to be a remarkably busy intersection – and Maigret and Inspector Lucas have their work cut out to solve the mystery…
La Nuit du carrefour was originally the seventh Maigret novel, published in April 1931, so we’re still in Simenon’s first year of writing Maigret. Again, it was quite cosmopolitan, having Danes, Belgians and an Italian in its cast of characters alongside all the French. None of them are quite as innocent as they’d have you believe which made it all the more fun, and Maigret is forced to become a man of action in the end. I enjoyed this one in its fine new translation a lot and can imagine it working well on the screen – with the garage and the cars playing a large part, it has more of a gangster feel than any of the previous Maigret stories.
Source: Own Copy. BUY at Amazon UK (affiliate link)