Maigret is one of those detectives who care less about doing their professional duty than serving some more general idea of justice. This is something the mayor of Concarneau, among others, can’t get his head around, but it’s especially obvious with the bit of subterfuge Maigret pulls at the end of The Yellow Dog. We often miss this in discussions of mystery fiction. The point isn’t so much to re-establish a sense of order that existed before the crime, but to right any deeper wrongs, to pick winners and losers through the exercise of moral judgment.
Enter the trio of immoral losers (including one nicely captured momma’s boy) who find themselves being hunted in The Yellow Dog. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for them. And once again Maigret is cast in the role of class avenger. It all makes for a satisfying read, even if it does come off a bit rushed at the end. Then again, these books all move at a pretty crazy pace. Simenon really seemed to believe in the Elmore Leonard axiom of leaving out all of the boring parts. To the point where a lot of connective tissue also goes missing even in the basic mechanics of his prose. I keep coming to places where it isn’t even clear who is speaking, or to whom.
One interesting note: When Concarneau first goes under siege a newspaper article describes the “deathly still” atmosphere as “reminiscent of towns in northern France during the war when the air-raid sirens sounded.” I was surprised to learn by this that air-raid sirens were such a ubiquitous feature of life in France during the First World War that their use could be so easily invoked. I didn’t think towns had such alarm systems widely in place. The bombing of Guernica is usually cited as the first sustained aerial bombing of a civilian target, and there was an air-raid siren that sounded in that attack, but that was in 1937, twenty years later.
Update, June 26 2021:
I’ve read that in 1917 there was an air-raid siren system planned to give citizens of London a five-minute warning before an attack, but I’m not sure if it was put into use, or if it was ever adopted in France at the time.