Return to Favourite Authors: Simenon and Rankin

Christmas is also about the comfort of favourite authors, who are not going to let you down, no matter what. I turned to two ‘reliables’, each of whom I discovered at a different stage in my life: Simenon in secondary school, Ian Rankin when I first moved to the UK.

maigretdeadmanGeorges Simenon: Maigret’s Dead Man (transl. David Coward)

Maigret is humouring a paranoid matriarch in his office, when a man calls his direct line, in great fear for his life. Not entirely convinced by the man’s confusing story, the good inspector does send one of his men over to the bar where the man claims to be calling from. Alas, too late, the bird has flown. He calls again from somewhere else, and as Maigret and the reader follow the man from bar to café to bar, we start to wonder just what kind of a set-up this is. Then the man is found dead. Who was he and what was he afraid of?

Maigret sets the investigation in motion from his sick-bed initially, so we get to see more of his fellow officers, the prosecuting judge and the other police force that is so typical of the intricate French system. We also get to see a lot more of the patient, protective and discreet Madame Maigret. Above all, however, we are privy to the musings and gut instinct of Maigret himself, although the author does not always play fair. He withholds vital pieces of information and springs them upon us during the interrogation of suspects. It’s more complex and longer than the usual Maigret novels (which are usually of novella size) and there are hints of Simenon’s darker non-Maigret novels in the atmosphere.

The recent TV adaptation makes the links between the Picardie farm murders and the hunted person much clearer from the start, but loses a little in the psychological depth of the Slovakian criminal gang and Maigret’s handling of them.

This is a new translation of the novel, in the highly covetable remastered Penguin Classics edition. It sounds quite modern, without being jarring, and is perhaps slightly less word-for-word faithful than the 1950s translation by Jean Stewart.

ratherbedevilIan Rankin: Rather Be the Devil

Rebus is getting restless in his retirement: merely walking the dog and worrying about his health, even being in a relationship with forensic scientist Deborah Quant, is not quite enough to occupy his time. He reopens a cold case and talks about it to a former police officer who had been investigating it a few years back. When that man is found dead, Rebus becomes convinced that the case is somehow linked to the very current criminal gang turf wars and money-laundering cases that Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox are investigating.

This is an entertaining read, with the usual tussles between Siobhan and her former boss, plenty of laconic humour, and an uneasy sort of truce with Ger Cafferty, Rebus’s former nemesis.  Fox also emerges as a more complete and haunted character than I had previously given him credit for. The case is reasonably tangled and then untangled. However, there is one major reservation I have. If you can ignore the way in which Rebus (and his colleagues too) seem to ignore proper procedure and commit all sorts of illegalities (such as impersonating a police officer, walking off with case files and photocopying them etc. – all the unlikely scenarios which annoyed me about TV series such as ‘Marcella’, for instance), you will enjoy it. It is a suspension of disbelief too far for me: fun enough for a one-off, but I don’t think it will be plausible to see Rebus in a next outing.

However, the writing is as sharp and economical as usual. It’s just enough amount of detail to really convey the landscape, society and characters populating Edinburgh and Glasgow. A master class in crime writing, just like Simenon.






19 thoughts on “Return to Favourite Authors: Simenon and Rankin”

  1. Read Rebus over Christmas holiday myself. I know what you mean about the trampling over procedure but am willing to suspend my disbelief as don’t want to see the end of John Rebus just yet!

  2. I haven’t read this Rebus yet, but I fear I do think the series will have to stop soon – the last couple have been getting more and more stretched, and it used to be the feeling of authenticity that I loved. I hope he brings Fox on and has him and Siobhan as lead characters soon… glad to hear it’s still just as well written though!

  3. There is something about returning to authors one loves, isn’t there, Marina Sofia? I’m glad you indulged yourself that way. You make an interesting point about the Rankin, actually. It’s never easy to pinpoint when a series should stop. But at some point, it has to do that. One wonders when that will happen for the Rebus series, or what form the series will take next if it keeps going. Still, glad you enjoyed this outing.

  4. I often turn to Maigret as a wind-down read between heavier books and can totally relate to the idea of him as a familiar and comforting presence. This is one I have yet to experience, but it does sound rather enticing – especially the nods towards Simenon’s darker romans durs. I’ll have to add it to my wishlist.

    1. Maigret is a great palate cleanser, isn’t he? The romans durs are a bit more unsettling. My personal favourite Maigret actor is French: Bruno Cremer – just so reassuring, with that compassionate twinkle in his eyes.

  5. I saw Rankin at an author event in November. He talked about this book, but also writing in general. He’s a really engaging and friendly writer to listen to, but I’m ashamed to say, I’ve never read any Rebus!!

  6. Maigret is an always reliable comfort read for me too, though I don’t have any of the newer translations. Mine are pretty much all old Penguins and I was interested in what you said about the newer version being less word for word. I’ve always found my old ones very readable – but then perhaps my reading mentality is stuck in 20th century writing style mode!

  7. I’ve enjoyed the Maigret books for so many years. When we first moved here, they helped me to improve my French enormously and I still turn to them when I want something a bit lighter to read. I’ve never actually read them in English and would be interested to see what the translations are like.

    1. I also read the Maigret books to improve my French and I always recommend them to learners. The language is still quite modern (except for some criminal jargon etc.). I’ve read very few of them in English, I have to admit.

  8. I love the old radio versions of Maigret that I found on ITunes – so atmospheric – and have been loath to read the books in case I lost that feeling….. but I did watch the recent tv adaptation. It was better than the first episode though I wanted more of a whiff of pastis

    1. I was not enamoured with the first episode, was so-so about this one – just doesn’t go far enough in either nostalgia or giving it a new twist. One or the other.

  9. I read my father’s collection of Maigrait stories while I was in secondary school and they became one of those faithful go-to books for many years afterwards too. For some reason I didn’t take to Rankin though

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