Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Maigret's Christmas" by Georges Simenon

Short Story Wednesday is on the first day of December, so I am featuring a story by Georges Simenon with a Christmas theme.

On Christmas morning two women who live in Maigret's neighborhood come to Maigret's house to report an odd event. One woman is older, Mademoiselle Doncoeur, who does fine needlework; the other woman, Madame Martin, is younger, about 30. Madame Martin lives with her husband and his niece, who is recovering from an injury to her leg, and cannot get out of bed. The niece, about eight years old, has reported that Father Christmas visited her in the middle of the night and left a doll for her. She saw him looking for something under the floorboards of her room, and assumed he was trying to get to the room of a boy who lives in the apartment below. Mademoiselle Doncoeur had insisted that they tell Maigret about this, even though neither of them had met him before. Madame Martin was reluctant to report the incident to Maigret.

Thus starts Maigret's investigation of this case, done entirely from his home, with the help of men at the police station via phone calls. 

I have not read a lot of Maigret stories (full length or otherwise) recently, so I don't know much about Maigret's relationship with his wife. In both the stories I read recently, she features prominently, more so in this one. "Maigret's Christmas" is a lovely story. It ends on a sad note, but is not dark or depressing at all. I enjoyed getting to see more of Maigret's wife and their relationship in this story.

I read this story in Maigret's Christmas, a collection of stories by Georges Simenon. "Maigret's Christmas" is the first story in the book, and is lengthy for a short story, 60 pages in my edition. The story was first published in France in 1951. 

I have started the next story, which is also about 60 pages, "Seven Small Crosses in a Notebook". I have read two chapters out of five and will finish it soon. 

I have also read the last story in the book, "Maigret in Retirement", which was 105 pages long. I read that one about a week ago, and reviewed it here.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Novellas in November: Three French Novellas

 In November I have read three translated novellas by French authors. All were very good reads. Two of the authors were new to me, Jean-Patrick Manchette and Pascal Garnier. I have read books by Georges Simenon before, but only one in recent years. 

Three to Kill by Jean-Patrick Manchette was a very strange tale. A corporate salesman, Georges Gerfaut, married with two children, is attacked by two hit men on his way home, but they do not succeed in killing him. He suspects that they want to kill him because he saw a car crash on the side of the road and they want to shut him up. He goes into hiding and plots his revenge on the men and their boss. This story, published in 1976, sounds simple but is actually very complex. 

After Gerfaut escapes from the two men, he ends up living with an old man named Ragusa who lives in the woods simply, in a Portuguese logging camp. Ragusa has some medical experience with the military and patches Gerfaut up. Gerfaut stays with him for a few months, building up his strength. When Ragusa dies of a bad cold, Gerfaut leaves to pursue his plan of taking revenge. 

I liked that this story was different and unexpected; I had no clue how it would end. Music and reading is mentioned a lot, which I always find a plus. A lot of plot was covered in its 132 pages.

The Front Seat Passenger by Pascal Garnier was another strange and different story. One night, after returning from a visit with his father, Fabien discovers that his wife has been killed in a car crash. She was the front seat passenger, in a car with a man, who also died in the crash. Fabien and his wife did not have a loving, happy marriage at the time of her death, but Fabien had no idea she was seeing someone else. He becomes obsessed with the wife of the man who died with his wife, and begins stalking her. The plot goes in directions I never expected. 

I cannot say much more about this one without revealing too much of the story. I liked it a lot and will find more by this author, who died in March 2010 at aged sixty. It was about 130 pages and published in 1997. 

Maigret in Retirement by George Simenon was also published as Maigret Gets Angry. Per Goodreads, it was first published in 1947, and was the 26th book out of 75 in the Maigret series. I came upon this story in Maigret's Christmas and it was about 105 pages in that edition, but it has been published separately. I enjoyed this one very much also. 

Two years after Maigret's retirement, a wealthy widow requests that Maigret come to her village to investigate the death of her granddaughter, which has been assumed to be suicide. Reluctantly, Maigret does this and discovers a dysfunctional family, full of people who dislike each other. His investigation reveals deeply buried secrets that the family has been hiding, and a family that seems to be bound together more by greed than love. 

The story is beautifully written, and the depiction of the French countryside is nicely done. And I love Maigret's relationship with his wife.

Three more novellas for the Novellas in November 2021 reading event. The host blogs are 746 Books and Bookish Beck.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Novellas in November: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

This is a classic science fiction novella about a man who discovers how to turn himself invisible and decides to do it, thinking that his invisibility will give him an advantage over people. In reality, he discovers that it makes his life both uncomfortable and problematic.

It is difficult to describe my reaction to reading The Invisible Man. For one thing, I had seen the 1933 film adaptation at least once before, thus I had that story in my mind when reading the book. That film differs from the book significantly. Had I come to the book with no preconceived notions, that might have made a difference. Secondly, the story is very brief, about 155 pages in the edition I read. Thus I find it hard to tell about the story without revealing too much. 

Once I got about half way into the story, I realized that it was much simpler and more focused than the movie version. A stranger comes to the Coach and Horses in Iping and seeks a room and a sitting room where he can set up a lab to work in. He is bundled up in a strange way, only his nose can be seen, and he seems peculiar and cantankerous. As he has arrived in the winter when they have few guests, the husband and wife who run the place are glad of the money, until they find out how disruptive his presence can be. Even then, they put up with him for months because he continues to pay his bills. 

Eventually the stranger runs out of money and gets thrown out of his room. He resists, and in the course of an altercation he removes his clothes and they realize that he is invisible. They try to keep him there, but he escapes. And the reader begins to realize that the invisible man is not just a man in trouble, looking for a solution to his strange state, but that he has no concern for others, for their safety or their feelings. He is quite willing to endanger or harm people to get what he wants. 

The rest of the story is concerned with revealing how the invisible man got that way, how it has affected him, and his plans for his future. He serendipitously runs into an old friend from medical school and enlists his help.

Personally, I found this book to be a disappointment, but I cannot describe the things that led to that opinion without telling more than I want to reveal about the story. I was interested while reading it and I thought the writing was fine, but I wanted a more exciting or meaningful story, and it did not impress me in that way. The book is a classic and definitely worth reading but it was not a story I cared much for. However, I want to stress that many readers have enjoyed the story much more than I did.

The story is told in third person, and I think this reader might have had some sympathy for the main character it it had been in first person and told in a more personal way. 

I think this book is more about issues but somehow that did not work for me. Kate at crossexaminingcrime wrote an excellent in-depth review of the book, discussing the various ideas that can be found in this work. Please see her review.

A few days after I read the book we watched the 1933 film adaptation of The Invisible Man again. It was directed by James Whale, and Claude Rains made his American film debut as the invisible man. Gloria Stuart played the love interest, a role that does not exist in the book. I can understand why it was decided to provide more of a backstory for the invisible man in the film. The early part of the book is condensed quite a bit in the film, and that is also understandable. The filmmakers used groundbreaking special effects in making a story in which the main character is never seen. 

I read this for Classics Week in the Novellas in November 2021 reading event. The host blogs are 746 Books and Bookish Beck.


Publisher:   Race Point Publishing, 2017 (original pub. 1897)
Length:       155 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Settings:     UK
Genre:        Science fiction
Source:       Purchased in 2020.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Stories by Andrea Camilleri

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been reading short stories from Montalbano's First Case and Other Stories by Andrea Camilleri. The first story is Montalbano's First Case, actually a novella. There are twenty other short stories in the book. The book has an excellent Preface by Camilleri, where he discusses his writing and some of the short stories in this book. 

So far I have read 

  • "Fifty Pairs of Hobnailed Boots"
  • "Fellow Traveler"
  • "Dress Rehearsal"
  • "Amore"
  • "The Artist's Touch"

All of the short stories I read were good reads, and there was variety from story to story, but the last story I read, "The Artist's Touch," is my favorite so far.

It is a story of a meticulously planned suicide. Alberto Larussa, well known for artistic jewelry pieces that he created, had been confined to a wheelchair for the last three decades. He electrocuted himself while strapped into his wheelchair. Larussa was a friend of Montalbano's but Montalbano is not involved in the investigation to prove if it is suicide or not. He begins to believe that the suicide was staged but must make his inquiries outside of normal police channels. 

All of the stories in the book are translated from Italian by Stephen Sartarelli.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Novellas in November: Montalbano's First Case by Andrea Camilleri

Andrea Camilleri’s very popular police procedural series about Inspector Salvo Montalbano is set in a fictional town on the Italian coast, called Vigàta. It consists of 28 novels, all of which were written in Italian and have been translated into English.

Montalbano's First Case is a prequel to the Inspector Montalbano series. In this short novel, Montalbano gets his first assignment in Vigàta, after spending his time in an apprenticeship as a deputy inspector in Mascalippa. 

The story begins with Montalbano's concerns about being stuck in Mascalippa for his new assignment. He just doesn't like the mountainous area he is living in. His boss realizes this and facilitates his assignment to Vigàta, which is a seaside town, the type of terrain that Montalbano wants to live in. Montalbano then goes in advance to check out the town in advance, not announcing himself as the new Chief Inspector. But the word gets around. He finds a good restaurant immediately.

The first case Montalbano takes on is not a murder case, but more of a case of attempted murder. He sees a very young girl hiding a gun in her handbag and takes her in for questioning. He follows up on what she was planning to do with the gun and her motivation. During the investigation, the reader learns more about Montalbano's views on crime and punishment.

I have only read the first two books in the series, but this one seemed to have a much slower pace than the full-length novels. But that was a good thing, I enjoyed it a lot. It also seemed less serious, with more humor. This novella was an introduction to some of Montalbano's quirks and characteristics, that might not be so obvious in the full length novels. I usually don't like prequels to mystery series but this one was very good. 

I read this novella in a book of short stories, titled Montalbano's First Case and Other Stories. I have now read a few of the shorter stories and I highly recommend that book. All of the stories in the book are translated by Stephen Sartarelli.

This is the third novella I have reviewed for the Novellas in November 2021 reading event. It fits in the "Literature in Translation" theme. The host blogs are 746 Books and Bookish Beck

Friday, November 19, 2021

Novellas in November: Carte Blanche by Carlo Lucarelli

Carte Blanche is a novella by Carlo Lucarelli, translated from Italian, the first in a trilogy. The setting is April 1945 in Italy. 

The story starts shortly before the end of World War II, in the final days of the Fascist regime in Italy. The protagonist is a policeman in the regular police, Commissario De Luca, who only recently transferred from another police group that worked under the direction of Mussolini. He just wants to solve crimes without having political interference, but that seems impossible in Italy during the war.

De Luca's first assignment in the regular police is to find who is responsible for the murder of a member of the Fascist party, Vittorio Rehinard. This investigation brings him into the world of the rich and privileged. After a day or two of investigation, De Luca begins to understand that no one in a position of power in the police or the government cares whether the killer is caught. He cares, though, and he continues to pursue the investigation.

From the description on the Europa edition that I read:

Carte Blanche, the first installment in Carlo Lucarelli's "De Luca Trilogy," is much more than a first-rate crime story. It is also an investigation into the workings of justice in a state that is crumbling under the weight of profound historic change.


My thoughts:

  • The Preface by the author is fantastic, explaining his inspiration for writing the story. He followed this story up with two more short novels featuring Comissario De Luca, The Damned Season and Via Delle Oche.
  • I nearly always enjoy crime fiction set around the time of World War II, but I have not read many books set in Italy during that time. Thus I learned about new aspects of World War II.
  • The story is fast-paced and never boring. The tension is maintained throughout. De Luca is  sometimes perplexed and concerned about his future and the future of the country, but he isn't going to give up on the investigation. 
  • At times I was a bit confused about the different factions in Italy, and the many characters and whose side they were on, but that was a minor distraction.

I read this for the "Literature in Translation" Week in the Novellas in November 2021 reading event. The event celebrates the short novel, or novella. The host blogs are 746 Books and Bookish Beck


Publisher:    Europa Editions, 2006 (orig. pub. 1990)
Translator:  Michael Reynolds
Length:       93 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:        De Luca Trilogy, #1
Setting:       Italy
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:       Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2010.