DVD Review: Maigret – Season 1

715HBVthprL._SL1500_

For French viewers, Bruno Cremer’s performance of Paris-based detective Maigret is the interpretation against which all others are judged. Owning the role in the way that Jeremy Brett and Joan Hickson did respectively with Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple, Cremer’s realisation of the pipe-smoking detective is the most authentic screen embodiment of Simenon’s fictitious sleuth.

Premiering a year before ITV’s Michael Gambon starring adaptation, the Cremer series remains a regular fixture on French TV thanks to constant repeats. Running for fourteen years, the producers originally intended to adapt the entirety of the Maigret canon (75 Maigret novels and 29 short stories). 54 feature-length episodes were filmed before plans were abandoned due to Cremer’s ill health.

cremer10
Best known to English-speaking audiences for his appearance in William Friedkin’s 1977 remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, Cremer appeared in more than fifty films. He worked with many of Europe’s most prominent directors, including Costa Gavras and Luchiano Visconti.

Already in his early 60s at the time of casting, Cremer had the unenviable task of following Jean Richard who had played the role on French television since 1965 and for an entire nation was Maigret despite being publicly derided by Georges Simenon.
Cremer’s core appeal was that he perfectly conveyed Maigret’s world-weariness, compassion, and humour.

Restoring credibility to a character that over the course of numerous adaptations been reduced to a hat wearing sleuth, Cremer’s fondness for the novels and determination to be true to the source material resulted in the most complex portrayal to date.

cremer8
Comprising the first six feature films, this DVD boxset is more faithful to Simenon’s material than ITV’s recent Rowan Atkinson starring version. Despite its age, the series remains a satisfyingly atmospheric recreation of Simenon’s world thankfully devoid of the ersatz Frenchness which has plagued other adaptations.

If you’ve discovered Maigret via Penguin’s issuing of newly translated editions this should be your next DVD boxset purchase.

Maigret – Season 1 is available to order from Amazon.

DVD Review: Maigret

91jcd9q4ll-_sl1500_

Sacré bleu, ITV’s over hyped adaptation of Simenon’s Maigret novels is très boring.

Ranking alongside Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Phillip Marlowe as one of the world’s best-known fictional detectives, Jules Maigret was created by the prolific Belgian writer Georges Simenon. First appearing in 1929’s Pietr the Latvian,75 novels featuring the pipe-smoking detective were published between 1931 and 1972.

maigret_itv

Staking a claim to inventing the police procedural, Simenon’s innovations also included an emphasis on the social, emotional, and psychological aspects of criminality. Transforming the genre, Simenon used its conventions to show what could push a person over the edge. Illustrating the authors belief in man’s fundamental irresponsibility the crimes featured in the Maigret novels are a response to a moment of crisis.

With Maigret Simenon didn’t just invent a new type of hero, he also created a distinct sub-genre. Standing apart from any fictional detective published up to that point, Maigret’s methods and raison d’être established the character as unlike anything published before. Equal parts secular priest and psychologist, biographers have suggested that the detective represents the person Simenon would like to have been while the criminal elements are literary representations of who he might have become had his life taken a very different turn.

i160317_112819_167901otexttrmrmmglpict000084997538o

One of the novels many innovations was its rejection of tired tropes exhausted by the puzzle school of crime fiction which focused on unmasking the killer and made little attempt to dramatise his emotional backstory. Written from a humanistic perspective, the Maigret novels seem less concerned with apprehending the assailant than discovering what had tipped an ordinary person over the edge and led to them committing horrific criminal acts. Emphasising his difference from other literary detectives Maigret’s compassionate approach to policing involved offering the perpetrators one last chance of redemption before the judicial process took over.

Famously written over several days, each of the novels is an economically told stark exploration of society’s disenfranchised and dispossessed. Deliberately using a restricted vocabulary, Simenon’s atmospheric descriptions bring alive a now vanished France. Widely read, according to the UNESCO Translation Index Simenon is the seventeenth most translated author.

A number of accomplished actors have played the pipe-smoking detective on screen and radio. For a generation, the Rupert Davies starring series is the definitive version. More recently Michael Gambon and Bruno Cremer have introduced successive generations of TV viewers to Simenon’s work.

Maigret

Following in the footsteps of some illustrious predecessors, Rowan Atkinson is the latest actor to play Maigret in a series which promised so much but ultimately failed to deliver. Simenon’s work seemed to be bullet-proof and was able to withstand a mercifully now forgotten production starring Richard Harris who seemed to be under the misapprehension he was playing the then Labour leader Michael Foot. This latest heavily promoted series reaches the screen as Penguin books is issuing newly translated editions of the books.

On paper, this series should have been a sure-fire winner. Expectations were high for the lavishly budgeted production. Initial optimism soon faded when critics realised ITV had delivered a misjudged adaptation which transforms two of the twentieth century’s most notable crime writer’s novels into a tortuous yawnfest.

Rowan Atkinson reportedly devoured the novels prior to playing the part. Physically he bears very little resemblance to the stocky detective in Simenon’s novels. Previously known as a comic actor his performance is too rigid and downplays the books’ humour. Lacking the passion of Bruno Cremer’s interpretation, Atkinson’s understated portrayal occasionally comes across as a one-note performance.

Expanded for the small screen, Simenon’s tightly-plotted novels rich with social detail have been transformed into ponderous and unfocused period police dramas devoid of anything resembling atmosphere.

A diversion to kill a few hours, even if the slow pace will make them feel like forever, Maigret is a misguided adaptation which does a great disservice to Simenon and his most famous fictional creation. Filled with a supporting cast unsure if they should play it straight or parody the material, it is an uneven series. Bland cinematography adds to the show’s many deficiencies. Avoid and buy the books instead.

Maigret is available to buy from Amazon.

Book Review: Pedigree by Georges Simenon (Trans by Robert Baldick)

Pedigree_1024x1024

Joycean novel recreates Simenon’s childhood.

Intended as the first volume of a trilogy, Pedigree stands apart from the rest of Simenon’s output. Borne out of a long-standing ambition to write an extraordinary novel and a response to a personal crisis, the prolific author’s magnum opus is a fictive redrafting of a memoir that has yet to be translated into English.

After an accident chopping wood Simenon experienced acute chest pains. Fearful that he might have broken a rib Simenon visited a radiologist in Fontenay-le-Comte. Misreading an X-ray the radiologist told Simenon that because his heart was enlarged he would be dead within two years.

For decades this misdiagnosis and the subsequent decision to write a memoir so that his son would about his lineage was an accepted part of Simenon’s mythology. Pierre Assouline’s biography claims that the spectre of death was lifted two weeks later when Simenon consulted several doctors who advised that the initial prognosis may have been due to wrongly positioned photographic equipment.

This reminder of mortality occurred during a period of renewed literary activity.

After an abortive attempt to retire Inspector Maigret Simenon sought to cement his literary reputation with a series of ‘roman durs’ (hard novels). Determined to transcend the confines of genre fiction the books written immediately after the publication of Maigret Returns were bleak studies of deviancy without the prospect of redemption.

Declining sales for the ‘roman durs’ forced Simenon to revive his most famous character. In the early days of World War II as the conflict spread to Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands he completed work on Maigret and the Spinster before being appointed “High Commissioner for Belgian refugees for the Département of Charente-Inférieure.”

Before the war Simenon had mentioned in correspondence his ambition to write a different form of novel. Contractually committed to writing three Maigret novels, he had to wait until the manuscripts had been delivered before commencing work on what was intended as his signature work. The recent misdiagnosis and France’s occupation may have preyed heavily on Simenon’s mind as he sat down to create a historical account of his family. Dedicated to his son Marc, the finished text was eventually published as Je me souviens. It remains one of the few Simenon books not translated into English.

After reading Je me souviens prior to publication André Gide advised Simenon to abandon the book and redraft all material as fiction. The revised text was published in 1948 and is an essential read to understand the biographical significance of themes prevalent throughout the ‘roman durs’ and Maigret novels.

Chronicling a family in the Belgian city of Liege during the years 1903 to 1918, Pedigree’s length, time taken to write, subject matter, and narrative structure marks it out as an atypical entry in the Simenon canon.

Simenon typically wrote in novel in seven to ten days. The writing of Pedigree represented an exorcism, possibly a painful one. In a break from his ritualised routine, it took him two years to finish the novel. A further five years would pass before it was published.

Confronting his feelings about people and a city that he had left behind in 1922 Simenon may have intended to finally purge himself from the influence of a life which continuously manifested itself through his novels.

In a repeat of the furore that greeted the publication of Je me souviens, Simenon was hit by several lawsuits from people who felt they had been libelled. Pedigree’s second edition removed offending passages and left blank spaces. The available version is sans the visibly noticeable blank spaces but has not restored the offending passages.

Simultaneously bildungsroman and a roman-fleuve, Pedigree largely corresponds with what is known about Simenon’s early life. The chronology of certain events have been rearranged while others are purely fictitious. While some characters remain relatively unchanged from their real-life counterparts others are composites, or inventions.

The absence of Simenon’s brother has provided scope for analysis by numerous biographers. Representations of Christian Simenon appear in several Maigret novels, most notably Pietr the Latvian. His exclusion is either revisionism as wish fulfillment, an acknowledgement of irreconcilable differences, or an attempt to avoid controversy concerning allegations that Christian collaborated with occupying forces during the war.

Demonstrating that Liege’s inhabitants, weather, and topography would appear repeatedly in transposed form throughout the Maigret novels Pedigree is also a portrait of influences and obsessions that remained with Simenon for the rest of his life.

Pedigree is published by NYRB.

Event Review: Noir is the Colour – Simenon and Monsieur Hire

Building on the success of an enlightening and rewarding launch event, Institut Francais‘s second programme of its Noir is the Colour festival was a screening of Patrice Leconte’s adaptation of Monsieur Hire’s Engagement followed by a free and frank discussion of the film and Simenon’s legacy chaired by biographers Pierre Assouline and Patrick Marnham.

One of the 20th century’s most prolific and widely read authors, French-speaking Belgian novelist George Simenon’s prodigious output consists of 193 novels under his own name, numerous short stories, and an estimated 200 books written under a variety of pseudonyms. Effortlessly crossing the divide between literary and mass-market genre fiction, he is best known by English speaking readers for the seventy five Maigret novels which are now being reissued by Penguin on a monthly basis in newly translated editions.

Writing professionally since fifteen, his talent for producing page upon page of concise prose at a rate that astounded his peers and would entertain millions of people across the globe was honed in the competitive worlds of a newspaper’s crime desk and the pulp fiction industry. Two years after arriving in Paris he embarked on a literary apprenticeship producing erotica, romances, crime and adventure novellas under a variety of pen names including Germain d’Antibes, Christian Brulls, Jacques Dersonne, Jean Dorsage, Luc Dorsan, Georges Gom Gut, Georges d’Isly, Georges-Marin, Jean du Perry, Plick et Plock, Georges Sim, Gaston Vialis, and Poum et Zette.

A master of publicity and subterfuge, in 1927 he signed a contract with entrepreneur Eugene Merle to write a novel whilst locked inside in a glass cage. An opportunity to publicly demonstrate his gift, giving fans a literal window into the creative process along with a chance to influence the book’s outcome. Conceived as a launch event for a newspaper, the terms of Simenon’s arrangement with Merle specified that he was to provide the publication with an exclusive book which would be serialized over several weeks. Members of the public were to vote on the book’s theme and its title. Paid a princely sum of 50,000 francs upon signing the contract with the promise of a further 50,000 once the completed manuscript was delivered, the attendant media interest boosted Simenon’s profile. Over the next few decades this incident became a core part of the mythology which had grown up around the author.

In the 1990s after reading about accounts of an author so confident in his industrious output that he turned the writing process into a public spectacle science fiction writer Harlan Ellison decided to repeat the experiment. X-Files creator and showrunner Chris Carter was enlisted to supply Ellison with a sealed envelope containing the story’s theme. As each page was completed it would be plucked from Ellison’s typewriter and placed in the store window for passers by to read. At the day’s end Ellison could bask in the glory of having a completed draft in his hands and feel satisfied at following in his literary hero’s footsteps. Some time afterwards he learnt that Simenon never got to write a story in that glass cage. Eugene Merle’s newspaper Paris-Matinal went into liquidation before the publicity stunt took place although under the terms of the contract Simenon kept the advance payment of 50,000 francs. The confusion about this incident’s occurrence (or lack of) grew, in part, because the author sensed a good publicity opportunity and when confronted with people who claimed to have witnessed him toiling away in that cage never corrected them.

A gigantic figure in the pantheon of 20th century European popular culture. Penguin’s exhaustive work in ensuring that only the finest translators bring his prose to a new generation of readers in the year in which long time fans will mourn the 25th anniversary of his passing brings the spotlight firmly back onto his unrivalled literary legacy. Compared by Paul Theroux to Albert Camus. Simenon’s admirers included Ian Fleming, Dashell Hammett, Somerset Maugham, and Henry Miller.

With a fresh edition appearing on the shelves of the nation’s booksellers each month new found converts to his intensely atmospheric paintings with words may become ever more curious about the man who gave life to Maigret. An enigma every bit as perplexing as those investigated by the pipe smoking detective, Georges Simenon’s life is shrouded by a sea of misdirection, inaccuracies, and falsehoods, some of his own creation. More than twenty volumes of memoirs contain either vague or contradictory information leaving the task of peeling away layers of a densely constructed public persona to diligent biographers.

Commercially successful and critically acclaimed, the Maigret novels raised the question of whether genre fiction could be treated as serious literature. Harbouring a yearning for “respectability” he wrote stand alone psychological novels alongside the steady stream of populist detective fiction. Melancholic and filled with the trademark Simenon immersive descriptions, these texts which he referred to as romans durs (hard novels) were existential angst ridden depictions of men confronted, and often corrupted, by greed and lust. Physical, spiritual, and emotional torment were constant companions of the doomed protagonists in these fatalistic fables.

Two years after Jules Maigret lit his first pipe his literary parent wrote Monsieur Hire’s Engagement , a gritty account of obsession and murder. Adapted for the big screen in 1947 by Julien Duvivier and released as Panique the film’s depiction of an angry mob hounding a man to his death struck a chord with a country coming to terms with all that had occurred during wartime occupation. In 1989 Simenon’s novella returned to the cinema courtesy of a claustrophobic re-imagining by Patrice Leconte.

Best known to UK audiences for The Girl on the Bridge and Man on the Train, Patrice Laconte had been making films for two decades by the time Monsieur Hire was released. Displaying a chameleon like ability to work within a variety of genres his craft demonstrated an understanding of the form along with a precise individual signature. Sympathetic to the material being filmed but never fawning, his style is based on an inherent ability to know when a sequence requires cynicism or compassion, sometimes setting these two oppositional approaches upon each other within a single scene.

Georges Simenon’s tale of obsession and isolation is in Laconte’s hands filtered through the prism of Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang with a tip of the hat to German Expressionism. A concise novella translates into an equally precise motion picture that with a running time of seventy seven minutes never outstays its welcome and yet still manages to make viewers feel as though they have experienced a myriad of emotions.

The body of a murdered young girl is found and the Inspector (André Wilms) assigned to the case is convinced he has found the guilty party after hearing reports of a man fleeing from the scene, seeking refuge in an apartment block. Statements from neighbours lead the investigating officer to Monsieur Hire (Michel Blanc).

A loner, uncomfortable in his own skin and deeply unpopular with his neighbours Hire spends each night gazing at Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire) who lives just across the courtyard. One evening she catches a glimpse of her stalker and soon the balance of power is shifted… Exploiting his affections, she makes him feel impotent and it is not long before Hire is completely under her spell.

Simenon’s tale of fatalistic flaws, compulsion, repulsion, and misanthropic star-crossed pessimists is merged with Laconte’s exploration of scopophilia, paranoia, and erotomania. Highly intelligent filmmaking that plays games with the audience’s passivity, making the viewer experience the sensation of being complicit in the dark deeds whilst sharing in the pain of the inevitable downward spiral that Alice and Hire are dragged into.

Newcomers to Simenon’s legacy may have initially been unsure about the film’s place within his significant body of work. With the audience concentrating on reading subtitles a live DVD commentary explaining key plot points and recurrent themes would not have been a viable option but Noir is the Colour had the perfect solution… As the lights rose two leading Simenologists took to the stage fielding questions from neophytes and purists. Simenon’s career and life away from the printed page was dissected with the precision of a master pathologist. Shining a light into every aspect of the public and private persona, the lack of consensus about the man is something biographers have wrestled with for decades.

An afternoon that for those who were lucky to attend was a curtain raiser to many months enjoying Penguins reissues and for some the beginning of a quest to discover who was the real Simenon.

Pierre Assouline and Patrick Marnham’s Simenon biographies are currently out of print but second hand copies can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Man-Who-Wasnt-Maigret/dp/0747508844/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1402436373&sr=8-1&keywords=Patrick+Marnham+simenon

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Simenon-A-Biography-Pierre-Assouline/dp/0701137274/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1402436336&sr=8-1&keywords=Pierre+Assouline+simenon

Monsieur Hire can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Monsieur-Hire-DVD-Michel-Blanc/dp/B000ETR71C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1402436445&sr=8-1&keywords=monsieur+hire

For more information about Noir is the Colour contact:

Institut français, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT

Info & booking: 020 7871 3515 – http://www.institut-francais.org.uk/

Event Review: Noir is the Colour – The Anglo-French Connection

The publication of Barry Forshaw’s sterling critical overview Euro Noir represents a significant acknowledgement that something remarkable is happening to crime fiction. Across mainland Europe murder is firmly on the agenda. In print, on TV, DVD, and in the cinemas the genre is undergoing a creative renaissance.

For decades commissioning editors remained resolute in their conviction that translated fiction was an unprofitable niche market with no possibility of crossing over into the mainstream. This long standing reluctance to issue significant amounts of English language versions of European texts was perplexing when confronted with data which reveals the phenomenal sales figures for George Simenon’s work.

Emboldened by the unexpected success of Scandinavian fiction publishers are now casting their nets wider, looking across the continent for new authors to introduce to the British market and finding a genre in rude health. Similarly, TV stations chasing the next breakout cult hit have looked at what Europe has to offer and been rewarded with a bounty of shows offering bold storytelling, dynamic characters, exciting locations, and layers of rich social commentary. Fans of European series have embraced Braquo, Inspector De Luca, and Spiral with the same passion already given to The Killing, The Bridge, and Wallander. BBC4’s foreign language slot is a permanent fixture in the broadcast landscape and it has been joined in the pursuit of excellent TV from the continent by Sky Arts, More 4, and FOX UK.

An exciting time for fans of Noir, the movement is continually being refreshed with intriguing variations; Nordic, Latin, Neo, Gallic, and Tartan. Recognizing the cultural significance of a renewed interest in European crime fiction Institut Francais has launched Noir is the Colour. a month long series of events celebrating France’s contribution to the genre.

An oasis of French culture based in the heart of central London, Institut Francais‘ raison d’etre is the promotion of Gallic cultural practices and the facilitation of a dialogue between our nations based on shared values. Initially founded in the early twentieth century to teach the French language it now exists as a space offering appreciation of and engagement with the arts and current affairs. Routinely presenting a cornucopia of varied and dynamic talks, seminars, screenings, and demonstrations the institution’s ever changing schedule never ceases to be anything less than intriguing and is frequently supremely enlightening.

The staging of Noir is the Colour is first and foremost an opportunity for fans of the genre to embrace their enthusiasm, meet fellow aficionados, quiz their favourite authors about a particular scene or plot point, and possibly forge new friendships. Not explicitly stated, in addition to celebrating the contemporary scene the festival must surely have been set up in part because of France’s unique relationship with the genre. It’s not every country that can lay claim to having its cultural DNA woven into a stylistic category. Possessing a harder, slightly more cynical edge to its Scandinavian counterpart, French crime fiction has never fallen out of vogue. Continually cool and dancing to its own unique beat, the Gallic approach to the genre is currently gaining new fans thanks to FOX UK’s screening of Braquo‘s third season. How did this nation become midwife to a genre that nearly two hundred years later continues to entertain people all over the world?

A combination of real life events and canny publishers catering to shifting public tastes placed France at the vanguard of an emerging literary movement and ensured its influence has remained constant. Long before Arsène Lupin battled Sherlock Holmes in the marketplace for the title of Europe’s most popular fictional sleuth an American born author with a taste for the macabre was midwife to an entirely new genre and made sure that no matter what iterations may materialize in the coming centuries it’s heart would always beat with Gallic blood coursing through its veins. Edgar Allan Poe’s Paris based Murders in the Rue Morgue invented the modern detective story and established France as the spiritual home of crime fiction. A grotesque story that played on then prevalent fears of urbanization, it was published as science was establishing its credentials and challenging religion’s supremacy. In C. Auguste Dupin Poe created a template for fictional sleuths that is still in use, scintillating and unconventional, prone to philosophizing and psychologizing but ultimately reliant on deductive reasoning.

Away from the printed page, the founding of the Gendarmerie and Sûreté represented trailblazing initiatives in approaches to policing necessitated by the new breeds of criminality that had begun to emerge as society moved away from a predominantly rural infrastructure and migrated towards the newly expanding cities. Transformations in law enforcement coupled with a rise in literacy led to an increase in interest about the men keeping the streets safe. Poe’s use of a city he had never visited as a backdrop for a trilogy of stories featuring Dupin was due to his having read press reports about the effectiveness of this new form of civic protection.

Despite some inaccuracies, including sassafras grass growing on the Seine’s banks, Murders in the Rue Morgue was a best-seller in America, France, and the UK. The near simultaneous transformation of the printed press into widely distributed mass media meant for the first time citizens had access to affordable newspapers and serial magazines. Frequently sensational, this new form of literature required a constant stream of salacious content to satisfy its readership and editors soon found that one way to please its audience and drive opponents out of business was with the inclusion of real-life and fictional tales of criminality and judicial process. An early beneficiary of France’s new found enthusiasm for accounts of wrongdoers being brought to justice was Eugène François Vidocq. After being made head of the Sûreté several volumes of ghost written memoirs were published, inspiring characters in Balzac’s novels Le Père Goriot and Le Député d’Arcis . Victor Hugo drew heavily from the public image of Vidocq, the former villain who became France’s most notorious police officer, whilst writing Les Miserables. Two archetypes, one fictional and the other based on a real-life public figure, the merging of Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Vidocq into Inspector Bucket the detective in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House represented a significant milestone in the history of crime fiction and ensured that as the generic template traversed the globe and evolved into different forms it would forever more have indelible French fingerprints.

To kick-start a month long critical appreciation of the genre in terms of its current and historical legacy Institut Francais opened the doors to its recently renovated reading room and invited the always entertaining author of Euro Noir to chair a discussion about the French approach to crime fiction. Readers of Barry Forshaw’s work or anybody who has seen him give a talk at another event will testify that his knowledge of the genre is without equal. Justly renowned for several benchmark texts including Nordic Noir, British Gothic Cinema, and British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia, his work is work is always filled with a mixture of appreciation, affection, and tempered criticism. In print and on stage he is a supreme communicator, pitching his discussion at precisely the right level. Seemingly acquainted with every major author working in the field at the moment, his warm and witty style of questioning backed up with an encyclopedic attention to detail means he gets fuller, more rounded replies from interviewees.

To explore the extent which British and French approaches to the genre may have taken slightly different paths, the speakers included Prix Goncourt winner Pierre Lemaitre, John Harvey recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for Sustained Excellence in Crime Writing, and Irish born translator Frank Wynne.

The term ‘Noir’ is rich with meanings, some culture specific. A conceptual category filled with associations, the connotations relating to crime fiction varies dependent on cultural context. Harvey first became acquainted with noir via double bill screenings of classics at a local repertory cinema and cites The Killers directed by Robert Siodmak and featuring Burt Lancaster as a personal favourite. Proving that he most definitely knows his onions, Harvey spoke about the importance of post War French intellectuals in defining the categories parameters.

Offering a live demonstration of the translator process Frank Wynn relayed Pierre Lemaitre’s comments. In mainland Europe the distinctions between crime and noir are not so clear cut. Defining Noir in the English literary sense to a French readership is fraught with obstacles. The term may have originated on the other side of the channel but it has very different meanings when applied to literature. Lemaitre conceded that the oft used French term Romans Noir cannot be confused with the Anglo conception of Noir. Despite some overlap they are related but ultimately separate approaches to crime fiction. Tipped by those in the know to be the next Stieg Larsson, Lemaitre offered an informed perspective on a literary scene about to ignite this side of the channel.

Educational but not polemical, the first Noir is the Colour event perfectly set the tone not only for the rest of the festival but also as an introduction into the world of contemporary French literature. On a warm summer evening against a backdrop of thousands of French texts in a beautifully restored library fans were given a rare opportunity to learn about where ideas for crime novels came from, how a translator approaches the material she or he is working with, writer’s perspectives on the inclusion of violence and when they feel it’s time to rein in the descriptions of physical assaults.

Several fans were heard expressing a wish for this to become an annual event, surely the ultimate compliment. As the literary marketplace becomes ever more cosmopolitan and new authors from the mainland are introduced into the crime sections of our friendly neighbourhood bookstores the need for a second festival grows. The best kept secret in the crime fiction scene, fans should not miss out on the opportunity to attend any of the remaining talks.

The latest titles from all the authors appearing at Noir is the Colour can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Euro-Noir-Essential-European-Essentials/dp/1843442450/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1402347983&sr=8-1&keywords=euro+noir

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ir%C3%A8ne-Verhoeven-Trilogy-Pierre-Lemaitre/dp/0857052888/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1402348018&sr=8-3&keywords=Pierre+Lemaitre

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Darkness-Resnick-12-John-Harvey/dp/0434022926/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1402348065&sr=8-1&keywords=John+Harvey

For more information about Noir is the Colour contact:

Institut français, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT

Info & booking: 020 7871 3515 – http://www.institut-francais.org.uk/

Book Reviews: The Late Monsieur Gallet, The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien, and The Carter of ‘La Providence’ by Georges Simenon

9780141393377

Discussion of Simenon’s remarkable productivity is frequently couched in terms of the seventy five Maigret novels and accompanying twenty eight short stories written over the course of forty one years. The twelve months following publication of Pietr the Latvian saw a further nine books issued, Simenon’s exceptional discipline and fecundity of creativity having been honed during a career in France’s pulp magazine industry. Estimates vary of the number books written before the creation of Maigret but conservative reckonings put the figure somewhere in the region of one hundred and eighty.

An impatient writer, Simenon frequently invented the plot whilst writing a novel. Perhaps as a consequence of the decision not to prepare a detailed storyline before sitting down at in front of his typewriter, despite an ever present editor’s deadline, the prose is clear and direct whilst paying homage to classic French literature. Publicly pronouncements stressed the importance of creating commercially successful fiction not literary masterpieces but fans may, with some credibility, argue he achieved both.

Despite having repeatedly proven he was able to deliver a book length manuscript on time, and often within incredibly short deadlines, the publisher was initially unconvinced about the Maigret novels. Suggesting that the books had limited to commercial appeal due to a lack of violence and an unromantic main protagonist, Arthème Fayard tried to coax Simenon into ditching them and returning to the fiction forms he was adept at churning out to order. Sales figures and critical response swiftly alerted the publishing house to the novels immediate viability and in subsequent decades the appreciation would magnify as international editions were issued and the production of numerous film and TV adaptations ingrained Maigret within popular culture alongside the other giants of detective fiction: Sherlock Holmes and Phillip Marlowe.

The first novel, Pietr the Latvian, established the hero, his modus operandi, story milieu, and distinctiveness of the author’s voice particularly in comparison to the then prevalent schools of crime fiction. With meticulous concision Simenon painted vivid pictures of a France still scarred from the wounds of World War I and soon to be engulfed by The Great Depression. In cultural terms although working in a different medium and bound by the constraints of genre his documentation of now lost French buildings and social practices places him firmly alongside that other recordist of environments, Eugène Atget. From the opulence of Parisienne hotel suites to less salubrious railway cafes, Simenon’s recounted civil minutiae with surgical precision, ensuring that then contemporaneous readers were able to appreciate his skill in placing Maigret within a fictional world that was a recognisably accurate reflection of the one in which they inhabited.

Equally focused on the quest to apprehend the suspect and understand his motivations, Maigret employed the then relatively fresh additions of forensic science and psychology to the criminologists arsenal, ensuring he was able to see the foe as a fully drawn human being with hopes, desires, and foibles instead of a statistic on a a crime sheet. By taking equal care with constructing the antagonists’ backstory and making some astute decisions as to the precise moments when this information is revealed, Simenon justifies his position as one of the key writers in twentieth century crime fiction.

Having spent much of the première instalment in this series trying to see beyond Pietr the Latvian’s false identity and discover the truth about a murky web of cross border gangland activity, The Late Monsieur Gallet sees Maigret investigate the death of a commercial traveller in a hotel room. A more intricate plot than its predecessor packed with melancholic despair and a forlorn cast of characters and places. The pipe smoking hero has to delve deep into the deceased’s past to discover what dark secrets could have led to him being murdered. Duplicitous lives are placed under the microscope by the Chief Inspector as he endeavours to peel away decades worth of ingrained falsehoods and determine how a seemingly impoverished man was able to finance an extremely generous life insurance policy.

9780141393452

His professional curiosity piqued after witnessing 30,000 Francs being parcelled up and posted, Maigret follows the sender from Brussels to Bremen. The trail goes cold when the suspect takes his own life. With just an empty suitcase, blood stained suit and forged identity papers to base an investigation on, The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien sees the Chief Inspector haunted by guilt throw himself in pursuit of the mystery of why such a large sum of money was sent in the mail. Back in Paris the theft of his personal luggage propels Maigret to break through layers of deceit and intrigue as he sifts through the testimony of a group bound together by a dark secret.

9780141393469

In The Carter of ‘La Providence‘ Maigret is dispatched to Dizy, Marne. A woman has been strangled, her identity unknown. A British lord arrives on his yacht and claims that the deceased was his wife. Traces of horse hair and tar are found on the corpse and suspicion falls on the crew of a barge that was parked nearby at the time of murder. Overflowing with descriptions of the 1930s French canal lifestyle, the book is an emotionally potent read and a window into a lost world.

The Late Monsieur Gallet, The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien, and The Carter of ‘La Providence’ can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Late-Monsieur-Gallet-Inspector/dp/0141393378/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_y

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Hanged-Man-Saint-Pholien-Inspector/dp/0141393459/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_z

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Carter-La-Providence-Inspector/dp/0141393467/ref=pd_sim_b_2

Book Review: Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simeon

Belgian writer Georges Simenon was perhaps that rarest of breeds; able to produce novels at the rate of one a month and yet maintaining literary credentials despite working within the confines of genre fiction. The precise number of works authored by Simenon is open to debate but is estimated to be in the region of 400 books under his own name and a variety of pseudonyms. Despite a prodigious output, biographical information about the author is frequently vague and contradictory. Conflicting accounts of Simeon’s life and the genesis of his most famous literary creation occur in all the main biographical texts and the twenty volume autobiography contains much which has been disputed by other sources.

Although regarded as one of the twentieth century’s most prolific writers, Simenon is largely remembered within the UK for the seventy-five novels featuring the laconic detective Inspector Jules Maigret. With a trench coat and ever-present pipe the detective frequently solved cases using intuition whilst literary counterparts (Sherlock Holmes) used precise deductive methodology. The popularity of Maigret has led to numerous film and TV adaptations including a  BBC production starring Rupert Davies which was highly praised by Simenon.

Written over a forty-one year period, the seventy-five Maigret novels have never been issued in the UK by a single publisher. Recognizing their status as modern classics Penguin have commissioned fresh translations, new cover art and will be releasing the books on a monthly basis in order of original publication.

First issued in 1931 Pietr the Latvian introduced the world to the terse detective in a case involving a hunt for an international criminal that has an audacious plan to unite Europe’s gangster fraternity. In this initial novel Simenon displayed the skills that would lead to him becoming both a bestselling author and highly regarded literary figure; an awareness of how to manipulate popular narrative forms coupled with subtle characterisations, and authentically sketched locations. A dark beginning to a franchise. The murder of Maigret’s colleague separates this book from other more cosy fare which was published at the same time and convinces the reader of the dangers Maigret must confront to solve the case.

Adroitly plotted, this is the perfect introduction to seventy-five months of regular doses of murder and pipe smoking.

Pietr the Latvian can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0141392738/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0MHW0XNAH03ACZ0AB8VW&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=430153987&pf_rd_i=468294