Original language: French
Original title: The Saint-Fiacre affair
Translation: Javier Albiñana
Year of publication: 1932
Valuation: Between recommendable and okay
Interesting mid-century crime novel, set in contemporary and rural France. From the description of the environment, however, if it were not for certain specific details, it would seem that we are moving in a much more backward environment.
A Paris police station receives a brief note warning that on the day of the dead a crime will be committed during the first morning mass in the Saint-Fiacre chapel. Although almost no one takes him seriously, Commissioner Maigret decides to attend the meeting, more than anything because the village in question is the one from his childhood. Warning, spoil the first chapter! (Can this be considered a disembowelment?): The crime, indeed, occurs without anyone being able to do anything. From here, the commissioner will try to clarify what happened and who is the author of the note received, undoubtedly convinced that he will also be the murderer.
From here we accompany the commissioner in his adventures: a plethora of well-crafted characters parade before our eyes, almost always portrayed objectively and towards whom, at first, it is difficult to feel sympathy: such is the way of the author of infecting ourselves with Maigret’s discomfort in his own village. He feels a kind of not very defined boredom or disgust for the village and its inhabitants, reflected in his attitude towards the villagers. As time goes by, he will also remember people from his youth as he crosses paths with her, without it seeming like anyone recognizes him. Time does not pass the same for everyone.
As for the general plot, it is a proverbial story of ruined nobility, corrupt children, heartless lovers, parishioners who were not what they seemed, secondary characters with secrets… all this watered down with a very good setting, in which Simenon manages to make us feel like we were really on a rainy, humid fall day.
Almost for the end, Simenon reserves the best: the scene where everyone involved celebrates dinner before the day of the funeral is anthological. With several references to Walter Scott, perhaps Simenon felt indebted to the British when he wrote that chapter.
Instead of being that common place where the detective gathers all the suspects and lists the reasons for each one until he finds the murderer, the leading voice is led by another character: the commissioner limits himself to listening. Not everything develops as one might think at first, and surprises pop up everywhere: stupid characters are revealed to be intelligent, antagonists are revealed to be normal, ordinary guys, and an exceptional witness is the figure of the commissioner: just like Indiana Jones in that movie. , once the book is finished we realize that the supposed central figure and protagonist of the narrative, a character as archetypal of the crime novel as the detective (or commissioner in this case) is totally superfluous: he has only served as a witness. , has not done anything aimed at solving the crime. He only appears in this novel to act as a witness. And, in fact, if we put it more precisely, there has not even been a crime: the guilty party has not committed any crime, he cannot be imprisoned. I don’t know if after this adventure they would take away vacation days from the commissioner.
A subsequent reflection on the novel leaves us with a couple of loose ends and some behavior that is difficult to explain, but I don’t want to be left with that bitter aftertaste: the dinner scene I referred to before makes the book worth a rereading. , that’s how good it is.
Other novels by Simenon at the ULAD here.