GEORGES SIMENON – The Bar on the Seine. Inspector Jules Maigret #11. Penguin, US, softcover, 2007; translated by David Watson. First published in 1931 as La Guinguette a deux sous (The Tuppenny Bar). First British edition: Routledge, hardcover, 1940, as The Guinguette by the Seine. First US edition: Combined with The Flemish Shop as Maigret to the Rescue (Harcourt, hardcover, 1941). Other reprint titles include Spot by the Seine, Maigret and the Tavern by the Seine, and The Two-Penny Bar (2015). TV adaptations: (1) “The Wedding Guest.” Season 3, episode 4 (15 October 1962) of Maigret (UK), starring Rupert Davies; and (2) “La guinguette à deux sous.” Season 1 Episode 27 (11 October 1975) of Les enquêtes du commissaire Maigret, starring Jean Richard.

   This early short Inspector Maigret has a strangely surreal atmosphere to it, heightened by this, the second paragraph:

   There are days like this, when ordinary life seems heightened, when the people walking down the street, the trams and cars all seem to exist in a fairy tale.

   And the beginning of Maigret’s involvement in the case begins in an odd way, with an interview with a prisoner who is to be executed the next day, in which he tells Maigret of a murder he and a friend saw committed, an incident which they used to blackmail the killer for several years before losing track of him.

   He will say no more. The only clue that Maigret has to work on is the killer is one of the regulars at a little bar called the guinguette a deux sous. Not until Maigret overhears a man buying something to wear to a mock wedding and mentioning the bar in passing does he have a foothold in the case.

   Somehow getting himself involved with the wedding party, Maigret travels along with them to the place on the Seine where a group of friends congregate for fishing and fun every weekend. One of them is a killer, but who? Maigret watches and listens carefully, then suddenly and unexpectedly a shot rings out. One of the merrymakers is dead, another is standing over him with gun in hand. The latter then manages to make his escape.

   For a short novel — only 154 small pages in the Penguin edition — the story is a complex one, as various liaisons between the husbands and wives gradually come to light. More blackmail is involved, based on the latter activity, and it requires some good police work as well as Maigret’s instincts and intuition to bring the case to a solid but very noirish conclusion.

   Good detective work, a leading character with some character, and a noirish conclusion. What more could you want in a mystery novel?