Review: Pietr the Latvian, 1930 (Inspector Maigret #1) by Georges Simenon (Trans: David Bellos)

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

This entry is my first contribution to the meme Crimes of the Century hosted at Past Offences. This month the year under review is #1930.

Penguin Classics, 2013. Format: Paperback. First published in serial as Pietr-le-Letton, in Ric et Rac, 1930. This translation first published in 2013 by David Bellos. ISBN: 978 0 141 30271 8. 176 pages.

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707Synopsis: Inevitably Maigret was a hostile presence in the Majestic. He constituted a kind of foreign body that the hotel’s atmosphere could not assimilate. Not that he looked like a cartoon policeman. He didn’t have a moustache and he didn’t wear heavy boots. His clothes were well cut and made of fairly light worsted. He shaved every day and looked after his hands. But his frame was proletarian. He was a big, bony man. His firm muscles filled out his jacket and quickly pulled all his trousers out of shape. He had a way of imposing himself just by standing there. His assertive presence had often irked many of his own colleagues.

My take: Pietr the Latvian, Maigret’s first novel, has also been published in English as The Strange Case of Peter the Lett, The Case of Peter the Lett and Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett.. This novel was the one with which Simenon made the transition from his popular novels, written under pseudonyms, towards those he was aspiring to write. For what it’s known his main publisher at that time, Arthème Fayard, doubting of its public acceptance, published it initially by instalments from the 19 of July to the 11 of October 1930, in his weekly magazine ‘Ric et Rac’, before its publication in book format. Even then Pietr the Latvian was the fifth Maigret book to be published a year later in May 1931.

Detective Chief Inspector Maigret of the Flying Squad has just received a notification from the International Criminal Police Commission, reporting that Pietr the Latvian was seen on a train bound to Paris. This communication is followed by a brief description of the said individual. Maigret awaits the arrival of the train, the Étoile du Nord, at the Gare du Nord. Where a man who fits with the description, gets off the train. At that very moment, a railway employee begins to run desperately. A man has appeared dead in one of the carriages. His body also matches the description received. ‘Maigret strode off without saying a word. He left the station and hailed a cab. Hôtel Majestic!’ 

I can imagine the impact caused by this novel and its main character on the conventional minds of his era. I certainly believe that his novels are unparalleled. Pietr the Latvian may have some aspects which need to be improved. Though, if only for this paragraph, it’s well worth its reading:

It would be an exaggeration to say that in most criminal inquires cordial relations arise between the police and the person they are trying to corner into confession. All the same, they almost always become close to some degree (unless the suspect is just a glowering brute). That must be because for weeks and sometimes months on end the police and the suspect do nothing but think about each other.

Both sides have high stakes in the game. When they sit down to match, they do so in circumstances that are dramatic enough to strip away the veneer of polite indifference that passes for human relations in everyday life.

There have been cases of detectives who’d taken a lot of trouble to put a criminal behind bars growing fond of the culprit, to the extent of visiting him in prison and offering emotional support up to the moment of execution.

Highly recommended. I’m off to read soon the following instalments in the series

My rating: A (I loved it)

Other reviews:.Fast-paced, with a great deal of conversation — and liberal use of ellipses, to rush things along even more — Pietr the Latvian has a rough feel, but nevertheless carries readers along nicely. It’s a good, fun read, nicely (if occasionally breathlessly) paced, and even if it has the tossed-off feel of a book written in a mad rush (as many of Simenon’s books were …), it still impresses with its style and flair. (The Complete Review)

This is a compact novel whose brevity is packed with enough plot and psychological content to enable the reader to see the qualities that will influence so many crime writers to come. I have a copy of the second in the series, THE LATE MONSIEUR GALLET, on my bookshelf and am eager to read it – not least because Penguin appear to have designed the series so that each novel will be interpreted by a different translator. This is just another reason why this series should enable its readers to enjoy the essence of Simenon’s writing and of Maigret himself. Don’t miss out on this chance to read this revitalised classic crime series. A must. ( Euro Crime)

 With all that in mind, it’s worth mentioning that this will not be the only Inspector Maigret novel I shall read. I look forward to reading other translators’ rendering of Simenon’s work and to follow the life and times of one of the twentieth-century’s most beloved fictional detectives. (Mystery File)

Up until now, I’ve associated this kind of ‘Eurocrime’ feel with novels written after the collapse of communism in 1989, such as Henning Mankell’s The Dogs of Riga and Arne Dahl’s more recent Opcop/Europol series, which thematise the rise of organised crime across European borders, and the need for coordinated pan-European policing. But now I can see that these constitute just one phase of the ‘European crime novel’, and a late-ish one at that. Simenon’s Maigret debut was already on the case in 1930, and that means others from that time and beyond are likely to address similar themes. (Mrs. Peabody Investigates)

Often in the Maigret novels a point comes when the Inspector realizes – or, rather, acknowledges – that, however the case ends, “justice” is the least likely outcome. Here he not only suspects that Mortimer-Levingstone and his “aristocratic grandeur” are beyond the reach of the police, but also that his suspicions about Pietr are too intuitive to translate into an arrest. ( a review by Andrew Walser)

Simenon writes in a tight, all tell and no show fashion using a workmanlike prose, keeping the story moving at a fair clip, with little in the way of character development and no derivation from the essentials of the storyline.  Although the book is relatively short at 160 pages, quite a lot happens in its plot, which has enough feints and minor twists to keep the reader engaged, though its general arc is quite linear and telegraphed. And although the story was published in 1930, it does not feel too dated, other than Maigret trying to get warm by always stoking the stove in his room, partially because the story seems a little timeless and placeless.  Overall, an interesting and enjoyable start to the series. (The View from the Blue House)

Penguin Classics publicity page

Penguin Random House publicity page

Georges Simenon Website


Maigret of the Month: July, 2004

Tout Simenon


Pietr, el Letón de Georges Simenon

Sinopsis: Inevitablemente Maigret era una presencia hostil en el Majestic. Constituía una especie de cuerpo extraño que el ambiente del hotel no podía asimilar. No es que pareciera un policía de dibujos animados. No tenía un bigote y no llevaba botas pesadas. Sus ropas estaban bien cortadas y hechas de un hilo bastante ligero. Se afeitaba todos los días y cuidaba su manicura. Pero su estructura era proletaria. Era un hombre de huesos grandes. Sus firmes músculos llenaban su chaqueta y rápidamente dejaban sin forma a todos sus pantalones. Tenía una manera de imponerse, simplemente estando allí. Su firme presencia iiritaba a menudo a muchos de sus propios compañeros. (Mi traducción libre)

Mi opinión: Pietr, el letón, la primera novela de Maigret, también se ha publicado en Inglés como El extraño caso de Pedro el Letón, El caso de Pedro el Leton y Maigret y el enigmático Letón. Esta novela fue con la que Simenon hizo la transición de sus novelas populares, escritas con seudónimos, hacia aquellas que aspiraba a escribir. Por lo que se sabe su principal editor en ese momento, Arthème Fayard, dudando de su aceptación por el público, la publicó inicialmente por entregas del 19 de julio al 11 de octubre, de 1930, en su revista semanal “Ric et Rac”, antes de su publicación en forma de libro.  Incluso entonces Pietr. el letón fue el quinto libro de Maigret en ser publicado un año después, en mayo de 1931.

El inspector jefe Maigret de la brigada móvil acaba de recibir una notificación de la Comisión Internacional de la Policía Criminal, informando de que Pietr el letón fue visto en un tren con destino a París. Esta comunicación es seguida por una breve descripción de dicho individuo. Maigret espera la llegada del tren, el Étoile du Nord, en la estación del Norte. Cuando un hombre que encaja con la descripción, se baja del tren. En ese mismo momento, un empleado del ferrocarril comienza a correr desesperadamente. Un hombre ha aparecido muerto en uno de los vagones. Su cuerpo también coincide con la descripción recibida. “Maigret dejó plantado a todo el mundo, salió de la estación y llamó un taxi. —¡Al Majestic!

Puedo imaginar el impacto causado por esta novela y su personaje principal en las mentes convencionales de la época. Ciertamente creo que sus novelas no tienen parangón. Pietr, el letón puede tener algunos aspectos que necesitan ser mejorados. Sin embargo, aunque sólo sea por este párrafo, vale la pena su lectura: :

Sería exagerado decir que en la mayoría de las investigaciones criminales surgen relaciones cordiales entre la policía y la persona a la que están tratando de arrinconar para obtener su confesión. De todos modos, casi siempre se establece alguna estrecha relación en cierto grado (a menos que el sospechoso sea sólo un animal de mirada amenzadora). Eso debe ser porque durante semanas y a veces meses enteros el policía y el sospechoso no hacen más que pensar el uno en el otro.

Ambas partes tienen grandes riesgos en juego. Cuando se sientan para enfrentarse, lo hacen en circunstancias que son lo suficientemente dramáticas como  para quitar el barniz de educada indiferencia que se hace pasar por relaciones humanas en la vida cotidiana.

Se han dado casos de detectives que se habían tomado muchas molestias para poner a un criminal entre rejas que terminan cogiendo cariño al culpable, hasta el extremo de visitarle en la cárcel y ofrecerle su apoyo emocional hasta el momento de la ejecución.

Muy recomendable. Voy a leer pronto las siguientes entregas de la serie

Mi valoración: A (Me encantó)


Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) by Ian Rankin winner of the RBA International Prize for Crime Writing

I’ve just realized that the winner of this year RBA International Prize, Perros Salvajes by Ian Rankin, is Rebus # 20th, originally published  as Even Dogs in the Wild. See my review here. I don’t know really why I didn’t noticed it. I just wonder if any novel not yet translated into Spanish by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to give an example, will be the winner next year. 

I understand that the competition rules were changed recently to read: quote El carácter inédito, en lengua castellana, de la obra unquote.(The unpublished nature, in the Spanish-Castilian language, of the work).  Bases de la convocatoria 2016 (pdf).

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