Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin: Georges Simenon

When I was younger I read a number of Maigret novels and also some standalone novels by Georges Simenon, but it has been many, many years. I have had several of his books on my TBR pile for years, and now I hope to get back to reading his books.

I chose The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin to start with because it is set in Belgium and I had been looking for a book for that country for the European Reading Challenge. The setting is Liège, Belgium, which was the author's home town. However, it may not have been the best one to read as my reintroduction to the Maigret series. Detective Chief Inspector Maigret does not show up in the first part of the book, and I don't think that is typical. 

As the story begins, two teenage boys are drinking at a nightclub, the Gai-Moulin. They are planning to steal some money from the cash register after the place closes. In the dark, they stumble over a body on the floor and leave quickly without completing their mission. They soon become entangled with the police, who are trying to figure out why the dead body was found in a park in a laundry basket.

At first I was having problems getting into the plot and figuring out who all the characters were and how they were related. It turned out that the police were as mystified as I was. Then the story got more interesting as the twists in the plot pulled me in. 

The book is bleak, although the mood and the pace does pick up toward the end. The writing is spare, and depends a good deal on dialogue. Reading this book has encouraged me to read more by Simenon. It turns out that four of the novels I have were published in the same year as this one, 1931. 


The following comments on books by Simenon are from an article titled "How Georges Simenon reinvented the detective novel with Maigret" at the Penguin website. The article is brief and interesting.

Though he also wrote more than 100 psychological novels he referred to as ‘romans durs’ (hard stories), Simenon is best known for his books featuring Detective Chief Inspector Jules Maigret, published between 1931 and 1973. Penguin has published new translations of all 75 Maigrets over the last six years, at a rate of one per month. (Previous translations were of mixed quality, sometimes even changing the endings.) 


Other reviews at:



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Publisher: Penguin Classics, 2014 (orig. pub. 1931)
Length: 153 pages
Format: Trade paperback
Setting:  Liège, Belgium
Genre:   Mystery, Police Procedural
Source:  Purchased in 2020.
Translated by Siân Reynolds



Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Last December I went to a mini book sale before Christmas and one of the books I found was a collection of short stories by Tom Hanks, Uncommon Type. Per the jacket copy: "The stories are linked by one thing: in each of them, a typewriter plays a part, sometimes minor, sometimes central."


I read the first five stories in the collection, but I will focus on the first one, "Three Exhausting Weeks."

In this story, Anna and the unnamed narrator start up a relationship. He is a pretty laid back guy, with no plans for the future but enough money to support himself, and she is a major Type A personality who never takes a moment to rest or relax. They have known each other since high school.

She wants to change his life, which drove me crazy immediately but did not bother him too much. So for three weeks she manages his life, orders him around, and changes his diet. 

This is definitely not a "they lived happily ever after" story, but there was no sad ending either. It was a lot of fun, if a bit unrealistic. 


The remaining four stories I read were all good also. A couple of them were more serious and sometimes sad. I will be finishing up the collection in the next few months.


These are the stories in the collection:

  • Three Exhausting Weeks
  • Christmas Eve 1953
  • A Junket in the City of Light
  • Our Town Today with Hank Fiset–An Elephant in the Pressroom
  • Welcome to Mars
  • A Month On Green Street
  • Alan Bean Plus Four
  • Our Town Today with Hank Fiset–At Loose in The Big Apple
  • Who’s Who?
  • A Special Weekend
  • These Are the Meditations of My Heart
  • Our Town Today with Hank Fiset–Back from Back in Time
  • The Past Is Important to Us
  • Stay with Us
  • Go See Costas
  • Our Town Today with Hank Fiset–Your Evangelista, Esperanza
  • Steve Wong Is Perfect



Friday, February 19, 2021

Mrs. McGinty's Dead: Agatha Christie

As the book opens, Poirot has just finished a meal at a lovely restaurant. He walks home, thinking about food he likes, meals he likes and meals he does not like. 

"Alas," murmured Poirot to his moustaches, "that one can only eat three times a day..."

For afternoon tea was a meal to which he had never become acclimatised. "If one partakes of the five o'clock, one does not," he explained, "approach the dinner with the proper quality of expectant gastric juices. And the dinner, let us remember, is the supreme meal of the day!"

Not for him, either, the mid-morning coffee. No, chocolate and croissants for breakfast, Déjeneur at twelvethirty if possible but certainly not later than one o'clock, and finally the climax: Le Diner!

These were the peak periods of Hercule Poirot's day. Always a man who had taken his stomach seriously, he was reaping his reward in old age. Eating was now not only a physical pleasure, it was also an intellectual research. 

When Poirot arrives home, George (his valet) tells him someone is waiting to see him.  George conveys through his tone of voice some characteristics of the person arriving.

As he opened the door with his latchkey and stepped into the square, white lobby, his manservant, George, stepped softly to meet him.

"Good evening, sir. There is a - gentleman waiting to see you."

He relieved Poirot deftly of his overcoat.

"Indeed?" Poirot was aware of that very slight pause before the word gentleman. As a social snob, George was an expert.

In this case it is Superintendent Spence. A few years earlier, Spence and Poirot had worked together on a case. The Superintendent explains the reason for his visit. He asks Poirot to investigate the case of a man who has been convicted of murder and will be hanged for the crime very soon. Spence was the one who supplied the evidence for the trial, but he doubts that the convicted man was guilty.

Thus Poirot is present and involved in the investigation from the beginning in this novel. 


MY THOUGHTS:

I enjoy reading about Hercule Poirot's quirks. Especially his extreme fastidiousness, as related to his dress and his surroundings. His horror of dirt and disorder.  This book is the perfect setting for displaying those eccentricities.

To investigate the crime, which took place in the village of Broadhinny, Poirot is required to stay in a very substandard country house that takes paying guests. The home is owned by Major Summerhayes and his wife Maureen. Maureen is a haphazard housekeeper, disorganized, and cannot cook well at all. This drives Poirot to distraction.

This was the second book that I had read that also featured Ariadne Oliver, the mystery author. She visits the town of Broadhinny at the same time Poirot is there, to work on a theatrical adaptation of one of her books with Robin Upward. He insists on the main character being young and athletic and having a sex interest, none of which suit the protagonist of Mrs. Oliver's books. And Mrs. Oliver is of course very willing to help Poirot out with his investigation.

All in all, this was a fun read. I find many of the Poirot novels humorous. With the presence of Ariadne Oliver and the unappealing living situation that Poirot has to deal with in this novel, there are many opportunities for humor here. 


We watched the Poirot adaptation with David Suchet recently. The plot and number of characters was pared down quite a bit, but the story was still entertaining. David Suchet was wonderful as usual, and Zoë Wanamaker is very good in the role of Ariadne Oliver.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Berkley Books, 2000. Orig. pub. 1952.
Length:     229 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Hercule Poirot
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    Purchased in 2021.


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Tales of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov


Today I am highlighting Tales of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov. There are six books of stories about the Black Widowers and this is the first, published in 1974. 

I have only read the first two stories in this book, and so far these two are less crime related, and more about morality or ethics. I enjoyed both of them. The Special Note and the Introduction by Asimov at the beginning of the book was very funny. Each story has an Afterword by Asimov explaining any changes to the story since original publication, and those are entertaining also.


This excerpt from an article by William I. Lengeman III, at Criminal Element gives an overview of how Asimov came up with the Black Widowers stories:

Asimov was a member of the Sherlock Holmes fan organization, the Baker Street Irregulars, and the Wolfe Pack, a fan group convened to sing the praises of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. But it’s his membership in another group, the Trap Door Spiders, that led to the creation of some of his most popular mystery stories. The Spiders, like their fictional counterparts, the Black Widowers, were an all-male group that convened regularly to eat, drink, discuss, debate and whatnot. Like Asimov, a number of the members of the Spiders were popular science fiction authors, including such notables as L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter and L. Ron Hubbard (in his pre-messianic incarnation).

The Black Widowers were six men from the upper strata of society. Much like the Spiders they would met every now and then for dinner—typically with a single guest on hand—and ended up solving some manner of puzzle presented to them by that guest. 

Here is a list of the stories in the book. When there are two titles for a  story, the first title is the one used in the book, the second is the one used when published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

  • “The Acquisitive Chuckle” aka “The Chuckle”
  • “Ph as in Phony” aka “The Phony Ph.D.”
  • “Truth to Tell” aka “The Man Who Never Told a Lie”
  • “Go, Little Book!” aka “The Matchbook Collector”
  • “Early Sunday Morning” aka “The Biological Clock”
  • “The Obvious Factor”
  • “The Pointing Finger”
  • “Miss What?” aka “A Warning to Miss Earth?”
  • “The Lullaby of Broadway”
  • “Yankee Doodle Went To Town”
  • “The Curious Omission”
  • “Out of Sight” aka “The Six Suspects”


The remaining books are:

More Tales of the Black Widowers (1976)

Casebook of the Black Widowers (1980)

Banquets of the Black Widowers (1984)

Puzzles of the Black Widowers (1990)

The Return of the Black Widowers (2003)


Friday, February 12, 2021

Murder in the Place of Anubis: Lynda S. Robinson

This is the first book in a historical mystery series set in the ancient Egypt of the boy king Tutankhamun. The story begins with the discovery of the body of a murdered man in the sacred Place of Anubis, where the dead are embalmed and prepared for their journey to the afterlife. The dead man is Hormin, scribe of records and tithes in the office of the vizier. Hormin had many enemies, including members of his family. Due to the importance of the man and the desecration of a sacred place, the King requests that Lord Meren investigate and find the murderer.


The mystery part of the plot is fairly standard, but I found Lord Meren a believable investigator. He sends his adopted son Kysen to the village of the tombmakers to get more information; Kysen is very reluctant to go because his real father, who abused him and sold him into slavery, lives there with his other sons. 

I came to this book with little knowledge of ancient Egypt and the reign of Tutankhamun. My husband and I visited the “Treasures of Tutankhamun” exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1978, and we still have several books on Tutankhamun and the discovery of the tomb. This book added to my sense of what life may have been like back then, and emphasized the importance of religious beliefs and customs at that time.

One common complaint about historical fiction is that the author crams in too much information about life at the time in a way that it distracts from the story. This author did not do that at all. Many details are included (clothing, being dressed by servants, furniture, food) but they fit in with the story. 

For me, the draw of this book was the picture of life in ancient Egypt, plus I liked the main characters. Meren has his faults and a good bit of trauma in his early life, but he is a loving father (he also has three adult daughters) and grandfather. Based on reviews I have read, I think later books will be even more enjoyable (and I already have two of them). 


Also see:



 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Walker and Company, 1994
Length:      190 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Lord Meren #1
Setting:      Ancient Egypt
Genre:        Historical Mystery
Source:      This was originally my husband's book.


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Detective Stories, chosen by Philip Pullman


This week I finished reading all of the short stories from Detective Stories: Chosen by Philip Pullman. I did not realize that I had already discussed three stories from this book here on the blog. I have found this book a treasure trove of stories by authors I had read or heard of but had not sampled their short stories. There were a few stories I did not care for at all but that is fairly common when reading short story anthologies. After all, each of us has different tastes in stories.

This book of short stories is aimed at introducing younger readers (9-11 years old) to mystery stories. Many of them are not detective stories, despite the title. I enjoyed many of the stories; most of them were originally written for adult readers. Some were published before 1960, and most of the rest were published between 1961-1980.


Of the final six stories in the book, this was my favorite:

"The Newdick Helicopter" by Leslie Charteris

This story stars the Saint, Simon Templar. It originally appeared in Empire News on October 15, 1933, as "The Inventions of Oscar Newdick." Later it was published in these collections: Boodle, Stories of the Saint; The Fantastic Saint; and The Saint Intervenes.

In this story, a con man has relieved the Saint's friend, Monty Hayward, of a good bit of money. After Monty complains to Simon Templar, and gives him the details, the Saint goes off to see what he can do about it. He cleverly solves the problem in a very intriguing way. 


Other stories from this book that have featured on the blog are:

"The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb" by Agatha Christie

"Butch Minds the Baby" by Damon Runyon

"The Cross of Lorraine" by Isaac Asimov