Monday, May 11, 2015

Cloak & Dagger #6

Un crime en Hollande, 1929

Aka Maigret in Holland, tr. Geoffrey Sainsbury, 1940

A Crime in Holland – Georges Simenon, tr. Sian Reynolds, 2014

After an evening party given in the Popinga home in honor of Professor Jean Duclos, who has come to lecture in Delfzijl, Conrad Popinga is killed by a pistol shot. Maigret is informally asked to visit the town and investigate the murder. The suspects abound: Duclos himself, who was holding the weapon immediately after the murder; Beetje Liewens, the 18-year-old mistress of Conrad, who returned to the Popinga house after her lover had taken her home; the grumpy farmer Liewens, who had caught his daughter with the victim and sternly disapproved; the naval cadet Cornelius Barens, who loves Beetje; Oosting, the old salt, whose cap was found in the bathroom Popinga; finally, Mrs. Popinga and her sister Any, who stayed home after the departure of the guests. Oosting's cap and a cigar butt at the scene of the crime fail to impress Maigret since he is convinced that the old sailor had no reason to kill Popinga.

Maigret goes after the culprit, but he must examine deeper human truths along the way, as part psychologist and part anthropologist. He contrasts his own culture (French, urban, Catholic) with that of the Protestant bourgeoisie in a small Dutch town. He realizes the behavior of the characters is profoundly influenced by a strict and austere environment against which some – like Conrad and Beetje – must rebel. Plus, he must contend with an unspoken attitude that doubts the social utility of denouncing and punishing the guilty if the guilty one belongs to the upper classes. Such a bad example for the lower classes, after all. As for comic relief, Maigret, the bull in the china shop, must deal with the delicate sensibilities of the Dutch police and Professor Duclos, who wants Maigret to do as the Dutch do when in Holland.

Fans count this one, the eighth Maigret novel, as one of the better early novels, written in the Depression era. Simenon’s powers lie in his economical style, his simple vocabulary, his way of setting scenes to evoke atmosphere, his probing of the psychology of his characters, and his awareness of and icy compassion for fallibility.

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