I knew, from the moment I decided to write up every book I read in this blog, that there would be some books where I didn’t have much to say. That’s okay, I thought, I can do a short entry, or I can cover two or three books in a post. These are two books I enjoyed, though I wouldn’t way either of them is particularly special.
First up is I and My True Love by Helen MacInnes. I like Helen MacInnes. I enjoyed her books when I was first into a spy novel jag back in the 1970s, and I am enjoying them again now since I rediscovered them a few years ago. They are substantial paperbacks, around 400 pages in most cases, yet I find them a very quick read. There are quite a few I’ve got through in just a day. They are colourful, usually stuffed with local colour, romantic in mood, cleverly constructed, marred if anything by an unthinking prejudice against anything on the political left. If you encounter anyone in her novels who sympathises with the left they are either a fool or evil. In the main they are a pleasant enough way to pass a few hours.
Most of her books were spy stories in one for or another. Brave men and resourceful women coming together in a desperate battle with Nazis in the early novels, communists in the later ones. The hero and heroine are always attractive, and having overcome the odds they get together at the end. But one or two of her novels dispensed with the spy plot and just told a straightforward romance. This one sits oddly in between. It tells of an unhappily married Washington wife who meets up again with the foreign diplomat that she had an affair with ten years before, and the book is basically about if and how they can get together. Except that the husband is something in American intelligence, the foreign lover is from Czechoslovakia, and someone has been leaking secrets to the Czechs. In fact the spy story aspect is downplayed so that you hardly notice it for most of the novel, as if MacInnes hadn’t quite decided what sort of novel she was writing. And unusually, indeed uniquely among those of her books I’ve read, it all ends unhappily.
The book has its interest, but it is undemanding and far from being one of her best.
The other recently read novel is Maigret by Georges Simenon. We’ve been reading the Maigret novels in sequence, and this represents a strange hiatus in the canon.
The first Maigret novel, Pietr the Latvian appeared in 1931. The 18th novel, Lock No.1, appeared two years later in 1933. In that novel, Maigret announced that he was retiring. The following year, 1934, there was a solitary Maigret novel, this one, just called Maigret. This was the first time that the name of the character had appeared in the title, though many of the later novels would take the form, Maigret and … What is interesting is that this is the last Maigret novel for nearly a decade, the next one, Cecile is Dead, appeared in 1942 during the German occupation (a time when Simenon’s behaviour was questionable at best).
Maigret is living in retirement in the country when his nephew, a rather incompetent police inspector, is arrested for murder. Maigret returns to Paris to investigate. To be honest, this is far from being one of the better Maigret novels. Without the resources of the Quai des Orfevres, the story mostly proceeds by luck rather than detection. And we know who the baddy is from quite early on, so the only real tension is how the pieces are going to fall out to allow Maigret to get his man.
There is a real sense that Simenon, like Conan Doyle before him, had had enough of his creation. I suspect he wanted it to end with Lock No.1, though even that novel feels like he was running out of steam. There is something almost inert about this novel, maybe it was a contractual obligation because it certainly has none of the sharpness or the invention of the earlier novels. It is going to be interesting to see whether, after a lay-off of eight years and with the intervention of a war, Simenon is able to rekindle his interest. There are, after all, another 55 novels to come.