Friday, March 7, 2014

Review of Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon (1930, reprinted 2013, Penguin)

Detective Chief Inspector Maigret of the Parisian Flying Squad receives notice that the Pietr the Latvian, a notorious con artist is on his way to Paris.  He heads to the Gare du Nord to meet the train he is travelling on.  As the travellers disembark, Maigret thinks he’s spotted Pietr, but a commotion at a carriage reveals a man matching Pietr’s description shot dead in a toilet.  Maigret trails the first man to an upmarket hotel, where he has booked into a suite and is preparing to meet an American millionaire.  Meanwhile, an examination of the dead man’s possession points to a link to a coastal town.  Maigret travels there, identifying the dead man’s family, and spying a man who bears a strong resemblance to both the dead man and one resident in the hotel.  Returning to Paris, he steps up his observations on the hotel, hoping that the police presence will prompt who he believes is Pietr to make a mistake.  What it prompts is a second murder and a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Pietr the Latvian is the first book in Simenon’s famous series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Maigret, which ran for 75 novels and 28 short stories.  Maigret makes for an attractive lead character, with an assertive presence and tenacity in his pursuit of justice, pushing himself and prompting others into action and mistakes.  Simenon writes in a tight, all tell and no show fashion using a workmanlike prose, keeping the story moving at a fair clip, with little in the way of character development and no derivation from the essentials of the storyline.  Although the book is relatively short at 160 pages, quite a lot happens in its plot, which has enough feints and minor twists to keep the reader engaged, though its general arc is quite linear and telegraphed. And although the story was published in 1930, it does not feel too dated, other than Maigret trying to get warm by always stoking the stove in his room, partially because the story seems a little timeless and placeless.  Overall, an interesting and enjoyable start to the series.

2 comments:

Richard said...

Looks like that may be one of the new translations that has come out. How was that aspect of it?

Rob Kitchin said...

I think the translation was pretty good.