Week three of ‘Novellas in November’ hosted by Bookish Beck and Cathy at 746 Books is all about books in translation. I’ve talked about a Danish SF one and two German novellas in previous posts. Now it’s time to turn to novellas written in French – which means an excuse to include the next Maigret from my pile, and a thriller from Sébastien Japrisot.
Rider on the Rain by Sébastien Japrisot
Translated by Linda Coverdale
The wonderful Gallic Books are gradually reprinting the work of Japrisot, who died in 2003. I’ve previously read two of his twisted thrillers from the 1960s, The Sleeping Car Murders (1964) and The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (1966), the former was slightly underwhelming, but the latter was superb! Where would my third Japrisot read fit between those two?
Rider on the Rain was first published in 1992, with Coverdale’s translation coming in 1999. However, the novel was adapted from Japrisot’s 1970 screenplay for the film Le passager de la pluie which starred Charles Bronson, and won a Golden Globe for best foreign language fillm that year.
It’s autumn in the small Riviera resort of Le Cap-des-Pins and its pouring with rain when the bus unexpectedly stops on the main street. A man in a raincoat with a red bag gets off and stares around in the rain. A young woman watches from a window opposite.
She is blonde, pretty, wearing a white turtle-neck sweater. White suits her. She is twenty-five years old. She has a sensible haircut, a sensible face, a sensible life, and doubtless, in her heart, dreams as crazy as everyone else’s, but she has never told them to anyone.
Mélancolie Mau, known as Mellie, is a housewife. Her husband, Tony, is an airline pilot, and often away on long-haul trips. Her mother, Juliette runs the amusement arcade on the beachfront, now shut out of season. Mellie is there to collect some cars from the miniature race-track to be repaired, before going on to her friend Nicole’s shop to collect a new dress. Then she drives home to her house in the hills above the village to get ready to go out. But her preparations are interrupted as one of her stockings has disappeared:
And a man is there, in front of her, with the missing stocking pulled over his face.
It is the man from the bus, and she fights back, but wakes up on the bathroom floor later, alone. When Tony calls from London, she urges him to come home quickly, but doesn’t tell him about the man. She loads Tony’s shotgun, and finding the man still lurking, shoots him and disposes of the body at a remote corner of the coast. Life carries on, but at a friend’s wedding, she encounters an American who starts to ask awkward questions about a man and a red bag. Harry Dobbs won’t leave her alone, and over the next days, she is forced into a tricky cat and mouse game.
As in The Lady… Mellie is played through the whole novel, never knowing what’s going on, but she is also resourceful and plucky and not a typical victim, and although a murderer (in self-defence of course!) the reader is on her side. Japrisot keeps us as much in the dark as her, carrying us along with each trick and turn in the plot, which is twisted indeed for a short novel.
Interestingly, Japrisot acknowledges the novel’s origins by presenting key two person conversations as screenplay script, (although I was unaware of those origins until I researched the novella further). As a device, this works well in this context, driving the story; having met the characters already, there is no need for more description.
This novella was super. I’d place it in the middle of the two I’ve read before, and I have two more on my shelves! I do love French noir. (9/10)
The Saint-Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon
Translated by Shaun Whiteside
In the 13th Maigret novel, first published in 1932, the Inspector is drawn to return to his home village by a mysterious note that turns up at the Police Judiciare in Paris, the local police in Moulins had thought it a joke, and passed it up the line.
I wish to inform you that a crime will be committed at the church of Saint-Fiacre during first mass on All Souls’ Day.
And thus he is drawn to be at the church in the village here he was born in good time to witness what would happen – and happen it does. The Countess of Saint-Fiacre takes communion and dies on the spot.
This particular Maigret novella is a particular delight for we get an insight into the man as a youth. His father was the Countess’ estate manager for thirty years. He recognises many of those still there, from Marie Tatin ‘the cross-eyed girl’ of his youth, whose inn he is staying at to the Countess herself. It’s the first time he has returned since the death of his father who is buried in the cemetery there. Oddly perhaps, it is a long time before anyone places Maigret, and they don’t question why a police inspector came all the way there from Paris. Instead he is drawn into a tangled web of intrigue and rivalry between the Countess’ wastrel son and her so-called secretary (= toy boy). The priest, the doctor and the current estate manager are all involved too, as is the altar-boy.
151 pages later, it’s the Countess’ funeral, and Maigret has worked it all out. He has observed and pushed and let things run their course. He can go back to Paris now.
I enjoyed this glimpse of the younger Maigret. This was a good one in the series. (8.5/10)
Source: Own copy. Penguin paperback, 151 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.