In The Spotlight: Georges Simenon’s Maigret and the Yellow Dog

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Georges Simenon’s Inspector Jules Maigret has been a favourite of many crime fiction fans for decades. Maigret’s character, the well-drawn French setting and the plots have endeared the Maigret stories to readers all over the world. Not to include some of Simenon’s work in this feature would leave a gaping hole in it, so today, let’s take a closer look at Simenon’s Maigret and the Yellow Dog.

The story begins in the French seaside village of Concarneau, where prominent wine dealer Monsieur Mostaguen leaves the Admiral Hotel one night a bit the worse for wear with drink. He tries to light a cigar, but it’s a very windy night so he’s not able to do so. He makes his way to a nearby doorway where there’s a bit of shelter and tries again. Suddenly he falls over, badly wounded. Someone lurking in the house has shot him. Inspector Maigret is called in and he and his assistant Leroy soon begin to investigate. They take up temporary quarters at the Admiral, where they soon get to know the group of friends with whom Mostaguen spent a great deal of time: Dr. Michoux, newspaper editor Jean Servières, and Monsieur le Pommerat. On the very night they meet Maigret, though, the group is nearly poisoned; someone has tampered with a bottle of wine the group had ordered.

Rumours soon begin to spread that someone is targeting the town’s most prominent citizens, and hysteria soon begins to build. Then, some clues begin to emerge that the culprit is Léon LeGlérec, a big, burly stranger who’s been seen in the area. The mayor is particularly afraid that his town will get a bad reputation, especially when journalists from all over get word of the strange events in Concarneau. Then there’s another death. Now, Maigret and Leroy have to go up against not only a killer, but also constant pressure from the mayor and other town leaders to solve the case. There’s also the matter of the public furor; day by day, the town is getting more and more on edge as everyone begins to fear that there’s a madman at work in the area.

Each in a different way, Maigret and Leroy work to find out who is responsible for the crimes, and what the motive is. Leroy works with the physical evidence and laboratory results. That information proves to be very helpful in establishing how the crimes occurred. Maigret gets to know the group at the Admiral Hotel and learns much about their histories and backgrounds. He also befriends Emma, a waitress at the hotel who knows far more than she is saying. And then there’s the large yellow dog that seems to spend a lot of time at the hotel and that Maigret comes to believe is involved in the case somehow. Together, Maigret and Leroy use the different kinds of information they get to find out what’s behind the upsetting events in Concarneau. It turns out that the attack on Mostaguen, the other death, and some other strange occurrences all have to do with international smuggling, a love affair and revenge.

Simenon was well-known for his interesting characters, and we see that in this novel. Mostaguen, Michoux, Servières, and  le Pommerat all have layers and depths to them which are slowly revealed as the novel moves on. What’s very interesting, too, is that we learn about them mostly through what they say about each other. As Maigret spends time with the group, he gradually gets to know each of the members. Emma, too, turns out to have an interesting past and more than one secret. She’s a likeable character to whom life hasn’t been very kind, but she’s a strong, loyal person. When we find out the truth about this mystery, it’s hard not to have some compassion for Emma. And then there’s the mysterious Léon LeGlérec, an eccentric fisherman who’s recently come to Concarneau and who somehow seems to be involved in this mystery. Most of the people in the town assume he’s the cause of all the trouble and this adds to Maigret’s difficulty as he tries to figure out the truth of the matter. All of these characters are three-dimensional; however, because they’re all hiding things, we don’t get to see all of those dimensions at first. Discovering what these people are really like is part of what keeps the reader engaged.

There is also, of course, Maigret himself. He’s sharp-witted and observant, and not above using ruses to get the criminal to confess. He’s a solid judge of character and of course, he wants the criminal caught. And yet, he’s also compassionate and not overly judgemental. He’s not perfect, either. For instance, he finds the mayor officious and annoying, and isn’t at all at his best when he has to spend time with the man. Maigret’s a likeable character and it’s not hard to see why he’s won the fans he has.

Simenon addresses some larger issues in this novel, but at the same time, he doesn’t preach. For instance, there’s a sobering mob mentality in the town as the residents become more and more frightened. That hysteria nearly leads to tragedy, but we see this more at a personal level than at a larger level. In a way, that adds to the suspense. Simenon also addresses the role of women in the character of Emma. The circumstances of her life haven’t been easy, and as the novel moves on, it’s very clear that with one exception, she’s not really seen as a human with her own ambitions and her own will. By and large she’s learned to live with what life has given her, but we can see that her choices have been very limited by her gender. In fact, for much of the novel, Maigret is the only one who really notices her and guesses that she might have something of value to contribute to the case. Social class plays a role in this novel, too, and Simenon brings up the difference class makes in the way that some of the characters are seen. For example the attack on Mostaguen makes the news because he’s one of the town’s “better citizens.” LeGlérec is assumed to be guilty in part because he is not. Class is not the reason for the attack or for the other events, but it is woven through the story.

Finally, there’s the French seaside village setting. Simenon was well-known for his vivid portrayals of life in France (although he was Belgian himself), and this novel is no exception:

“Beyond the harbor, where boats were tugging at their moorings, Maigret found the mouth of the Saint-Jacques River. It was at the very edge of town, where houses thinned out and shipyards took over. Several half-finished vessels stood on the ways. Old boats lay rotting in the mud.

A stone bridge crossed the river where it emptied into the harbor…”

And it’s on that portrait of a French village and the people who live there that this novel focuses. One could call it a police procedural, since the police investigate and since they learn a lot of information from the evidence they find. It’s not quite a classic police procedural, though, as there is so much emphasis on the village and its inhabitants.

A solid example of Simenon’s eye for setting and characters, Maigret and the Yellow Dog is an interesting mystery with a believable but not obvious solution. But what’s your view?  Have you read Maigret and the Yellow Dog? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday 29 August/ Tuesday 30 August – Die a Little – Megan Abbott

Monday 5 September/Tuesday 6 September – The Investigation – Stanislaw Lem

Monday 12 September/Tuesday 13 September – Chile Death – Susan Wittig Albert


Filed under Georges Simenon, Maigret and the Yellow Dog

40 responses to “In The Spotlight: Georges Simenon’s Maigret and the Yellow Dog

  1. You’ve just reminded me how long it’s been since I worked my way through as many Simenon novels as I could find. Maybe it’s time to revisit Maigret. 🙂

  2. I loved this Maigret story with his wit and his investigations based on observations and knowing human nature.

    “A piece of advice , gentlemen! No jumping to conclusions. And no deductions, above all.”
    “What about the criminal?”
    He shrugged his broad shoulders and murmured: “Who knows?”

    • Norman – LOL! I loved that line, too! Thanks for adding that in. Simenon’s wit is at times more subtle than the wit of other writers, but it’s no less effective for that. In fact I sometimes think that sort of subtle wit works even better than more obvious humour. I’m very glad you brought that point up.

  3. Mack

    Hi Margot,
    Great In the Spotlight. I’ve only read two of the Maigret stories—one was The Yellow Dog— and was pleased to find that they have aged well and are still very readable. The other I read was The Bar on the Seine which I enjoyed almost as much as The Yellow Dog. I think part of the timelessness is the way Simenon develops his characters. And, as you point out, his descriptions are wonderful. I also enjoy the way Maigret works and the way he is able to deal with the mayor’s demands. Doesn’t he say at one point that his method is to do nothing?

    Not all the Maigret’s are in print in English and I would love to go through the whole series in order.

    • Mack – Thanks for the kind words. You know, that’s one thing I really do like about Simenon. His works have aged very well. I’d have to agree that Simenon’s characterisations are definitely timeless. I’d say that many of the themes he explores are, too. And of course, those descriptions are so well-done.
      Right you are, too, that he says that his method is to do nothing. That, as you can imagine, does not exactly endear him to the mayor, who wants instant answers. In fact, that whole dynamic, I think, adds much to the story. I know that translating all of an author’s works isn’t always feasible, but I do sometimes wonder how it is that some of these great novels are available in English and some aren’t. The same is true of Agatha Christie’s novels in other languages. Not all of them are available, for instance, in Spanish. Interesting phenomenon…

  4. Patti Abbott

    There are few writers I like as well as Simenon. And he wrote most of them in three weeks. Amazing.

    • Patti – I think that’s amazing, too. Such well-crafted stories with characters the reader really wants to know. That takes talent in and of itself, and to do such a thing in so little time – hard to conceive…

  5. I think the Yellow Dog was one of my first Simenons. I remember some scenes vividly. I’ve heard it said that Simenon and Elmore Leonard really did more to craft the lean, strong mimimalist prose we strive for today than Hemingway or Raymond Carver who usually get the credit. Hemingway’s prose isn’t really all that lean, and it turns out it was Carver’s New Yorker editor who “carved” the excess out of those minimalists masterpieces of his. Yes, Simenon is more than a detective novelist. And writing these in three weeks? A genius, definitely.

    • Anne – Whoever said that Simenon and Leonard were at the forefront of minimalism in fiction has a well-taken point. Simenon created such a vivid picture of the characters and the scenes with so few verbal brush strokes, and Leonard did the same. Not only does that (well, in my opinion anyway) make for a really engaging story, but also, it can make the story hang together better. I didn’t know that about Carver’s editor – thanks for sharing that.
      And you’re right – I would love to be able to write such a good story in three weeks….

  6. I haven’t read it but it sounds wonderful! Her description of the setting and the plot. The problem is, I have so many novels now to add to my TBR. Maybe I missed it or misread the section but why was the woman Emma not treated right because of her gender? Was it a cultural thing? Her job? Is this a modern novel or did it take place long ago?

    • Clarissa – I really do think you’d like the setting and the plot here. The original novel was published in French in 1931, which explains (or at least it does to me) a lot about the way Emma is treated. It is partly a matter of her job, too, since the issue of social class also comes up.

  7. Ah, that makes more sense. For some reason I got it in my mind that it was a modern mystery. Thanks for clarifying.

  8. I remember reading the two Maigret novels that my local library had when I was in my teens. I’m pretty sure neither of them was this one. Thanks you so much for the reminder.
    I suppose if I gave up sleeping I could read another few books each week 🙂

    • Sarah – LOL! I know what you mean. I often think that giving up sleep would be a good idea if I could. I would certainly get a lot more done! I’m glad you’ve had some experience reading some of Simenon’s work. It really is well-done I think.

  9. Margot: Both Simenon and Rex Stout wrote their books in about 3 weeks. I think their character’s voice must have been very close to their own to write so quickly and so well.

    • Bill – You know, you’ve got quite a well-taken point. I’m sure their voices and those of their characters probably do have a lot of similarities. That’s an interesting thing to ponder, too. Just how does the voice one uses affect the amount of time it takes to write a book? I’d guess the two are closely related as you suggest.

  10. kathy d.

    I really must read some books featuring Maigret and this sounds like a good place to start. Sounds like a good book, with character development and a good plot, plus the detective sounds laid-back and smart. And I had not heard before that Maigret used wit, which is another plus for me.
    I would add Dashiell Hammett as a forerunner of minimalist writing of crime fiction. Certainly, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man are written this way, and I believe his other books are as well.
    Unfortunately, women were seen as lesser in those days. I see that in the Rex Stout books from that period. I just have to read that quickly, and move on. Nero Wolfe didn’t trust women, which I hope was just Stout’s intentional writing of the character. Whatever, I just plunge in and read — and laugh.

    • Kathy – I’ve done the same thing with books from earlier eras. If the story is really well-written and the plot engaging. It’s one of the ways in which the era in which a book was written makes a big difference.
      You’ve got a point about Dashiell Hammett, too. He certainly didn’t waste a lot of prose, did he? And his books are, I think, the better for that.
      As for Georges Simenon, I recommend him. This particular novel is further along in the series, but like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series, the novels don’t really need to be read in a particular order to be enjoyed.

  11. I haven’t read this, but I love the title and wondered if there really was a dog involved. It sounds like a fascinating book. Thanks for bring another wonderful author to my attention. Margot, I look forward to your In The Spotlight feature each week because I know I’ll find something ‘new-to-me’ and interesting. Thanks so much.

    Thoughts in Progress
    Freelance Editing By Mason

    • Mason – How kind of you :-). This book really is worth a spot on the TBR. And yes, it features a dog. He’s a large yellow dog that spends a lot of at the Admiral Hotel where some of the important action in the novel takes place. All along Maigret thinks he has something to do with the case…and he does.

  12. I haven’t read Simenon for a long time…thanks for this reminder to revisit his books, Margot!

    • Elizabeth – Oh, my pleasure. The trouble is, there are so many great authors and so many fine books to remember… Simenon is, in my opinion, definitely worth a re-read.

  13. kathy d.

    My slogan: Read 24/7, give up sleep, errands, tasks, and definitely housework.
    I want a sign that says: Gone Reading (like Gone Fishing) and one that says Do Not Disturb, Reading in Progress, that I can put on my apartment doorknob.
    I am actually planning reading day vacations before summer ends, have not done enough virtual traveling (a good topic for a blog post).

    • Kathy – Oh, that’s such a great idea – “Gone Reading.” I have got to see if there is such a sign. I think it’s important to step back sometimes and do what Billy Joel recommends in Vienna: “Take the ‘phone off the hook and disappear for a while.” And what better place than in a book…
      And thanks for the idea for a blog post…

  14. Speaking of spare writing styles, I miss Robert B. Parker. He could say so much in so few words. I had to laugh when I read that Emma probably knew much more than she was saying. Isn’t there always a character in a mystery who knows more than he’s willing to say? What would we do without such a character?

    • Barbara – Right you are about characters who know more than they say. I think just about every good mystery has them. And sometimes what they know isn’t related to the crime, but they hide it anyway. Other times, it’s directly related, and part of the engagement for the reader, at least to me, is finding out what those characters know and whether it’s a real clue or a “red herring.”
      …and I miss Parker as well. He created interesting characters, solid stories and popular series without being too wordy.

  15. kathy d.

    And Parker was funny. His dialogue was crisp and full of wit. I ripped through many of his books in a row years ago and laughed my way through them.

  16. Great minds think alike: I reviewed Simenon’s RED LIGHTS for Patti’s Forgotten Books today. I’ve read a few dozen Maigrets and this is one of the better ones.

    • George – LOL – yes, they do think alike. I agree that this was one of the good ones. I think in general, though, that Simenon did a good job of consistently writing quality stuff. It’s not all equal, but there aren’t many “poor stepchildren,” so to speak.

  17. I’ve read and enjoyed many Maigret stories. Discovered them late in the day just a few years ago, but loved them instantly.

    Somehow I sem to have missed this one.

    I’m adding it to my TBR list. Thanks for a great review.

    • Yvette – Thanks for the kind words :-). I know what you mean about discovering a great author a little later in life. I’ve “found” authors in that way, myself. In my opinion, this one’s a fine example of Simenon’s work, and I hope you’ll enjoy it!

  18. Yes, this is a good one, but then I’d say that about pretty much all of them. Another favorite of mine is the Maigret short story collection MAIGRET’S PIPE. Wonderful stuff. Time for me to take out a Maigret novel and spend some enjoyable hours.

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