Friday, February 12, 2016

Georges Simenon, Storm in the Channel (1938)

Simenon, Georges. "Tempête sur la Manche." Police-Film, 20 May 1938.
______. "Tempête sur la Manche." Les nouvelles enquêtes de Maigret. Paris: Gallimard, 1944.
______. "Storm in the Channel." Translated by Jean Stewart. Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, December 1978. Vol. 72, #6. pp 110-140
______. "Storm in the Channel." Translated by Jean Stewart. Maigretʻs Pipe: Complete Maigret Short Stories Vol 2. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1977.
______. "Storm over the Channel." Great French Detective Stories, ed. T.J. Hale. London: Bodley Head, 1983.
______. "Storm in the Channel." Translated by Jean Stewart. Academy Mystery Novellas: Vol. 2: Police Procedurals. eds. Martin H. Greenberg & Bill Pronzini. Chicago: Academy Chicago Press, 1985.

Rating:     6/10

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In this novelette, a recently retired Inspector Jules Maigret is on holiday in Dieppe with his wife when a fierce rain storm hits. Stranded in an inexpensive boarding house discovered by his thrifty wife, Maigret knows not what to do with himself, but, as often seems the norm for vacationing retired police inspectors, a murder takes place. The local police inspector arrives at the inn to announce that one of the maids, Jeanne Fénard, was shot dead in a nearby alley, and of course the guests are all suspect. As we expect, Maigret reluctantly helps out and eventually betters the local inspector, albeit modestly, in discovering the identity and motive of the killer.

"Storm in the Channel" is a mid-range mystery. Though the deduction, brief and simple, is interesting, the treatment of the material is a little awkward. Unlike Ed McBain's "The Empty Hours," the story is designed in such a way that we have little sympathy for either victim or killer. The tone is light and humourous, focusing largely on the whimsical characters, from the restless Maigret and his fussy wife, to the comical innkeeper Mademoiselle Otard. In fact, the comedy nearly trumps the mystery, so that the reader is distracted from delving too deeply in the story's underlying implications, specifically in the treatment of victim Jeanne Fénard.

Though her appearance in the story is brief, it is made clear in the last pages of the novelette that Fénard is a bad person--so late, in fact, that it comes across as an afterthought. She is introduced as a twenty-something single mother of a four year-old, and later revealed as an embittered man-hating woman opportunist. The reader is expected to accept this off-hand, a shake of the head and a "tsk-tsk," and otherwise revel in the story's comedic antics. However, if the reader takes a moment to consider the implication of this opportunist, we should instead be steeped with sympathy for her.

Offering up a bit of a spoiler here, Personally, I applaud Jeanne Fénard's opportunistic ways in light of the fact that she has been taken advantage of by a careless money-grubbing man and left to raise a child on her own in a small French town in the 1930s. Opportunities for work and social contact for a woman in this predicament, in the bowels of 1938, and particularly in a small town where one's unfortunate circumstances are judged and advertised, I would hope she was opportunistic, and as a result am saddened by her death. Had she succeeded in filching money from the guilty party she would at least have a chance to begin anew in an anonymous town and offer a future for her child. Moreover, nowhere does anyone seem interested in the detail of that four year-old, now motherless, who comes across as a detail less crystallized than the newspaper Maigret occupies his time with.

Simenon chose humour over tragedy and yet the social circumstances cannot be removed from the text. Unfortunately, though it is not a bad story and mostly enjoyable, it left me feeling inappropriately awkward.

On an entirely different note. The recording of the publication history of the Simenon's "Storm in the Channel" is fraught with errors and inconsistencies. The original publication date is usually given as either 1938 or 1944, which is easy to explain since the story was first published in the periodical Police-Film (earlier known as Police-Roman, which published a single crime story per issue) in 1938, and first collected by Gallimard in 1944, which is likely the version translators have been using as their source document.

The inconsistencies lie in the translations into English. It seems clear to me that the first translation, by Jean Stewart, was first published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, in the December 1978 issue. Confusion was generated by a copyright notation that appears in that issue of ©1965. The copyright page of the Martin H. Greenberg/Bill Pronzini-edited anthology, Academy Mystery Novallas 2: Police Procedurals, states: "First Publication in the U.S.; Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, 1966." This last is clearly an error, one of at least two (of four entries) on that single copyright page. (Though he might have excelled at getting anthologies printed and out to the general public, Mr. Greenberg's publication data gathering left much to be desired.) The fact that the translation had a copyright date years before the first publication is not unusual, particularly for a work of its awkward length that is difficult to place in a magazine. There was only one Maigret story published in EQMM in 1966: "Inspector Maigret Deduces" ("Jeumont, 51 minutes d'arrêt," 1944), in the November 1966 issue, which has a translation copyright date of 1961.


Rick Robinson said...

Perhaps you read the story on a gloomy day, and it affected your opinion/reaction. I think you go a bit too far with your consideration of the characters beyond the bounds of the story.

Casual Debris said...

My consideration is within the bounds of the text; I don't go beyond the information as provided by the author. Perhaps you simply disagree.

Rick Robinson said...

Yes, that seems likely. I think we can both agree that the Maigret books are well worth reading.

Casual Debris said...

I'm not familiar enough with the Maigret books to claim they are worth reading. Any particular title you would recommend?

Todd Mason said...

I will say that that looks like an impressive issue of EQMM, even if the novella is not so superb.

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