A new translation of Georges Simenon's gripping novel set in an insular fishing community, book eight in the new Penguin Maigret series.
It was indeed a photograph, a picture of a woman. But the face was completely hidden, scribbled all over in red ink. Someone had tried to obliterate the head, someone very angry. The pen had bitten into the paper. There were so many criss-crossed lines that not a single square millimetre had been left visible. On the other hand, below the head, the torso had not been touched. A pair of large breasts. A light-coloured silk dress, very tight and very low cut.
Sailors don't talk much to other men, especially not to policemen. But after Captain Fallut's body is found floating near his trawler, they all mention the Evil Eye when they speak of the Ocean's voyage.
Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels in new translations. This novel has been published in a previous translation as The Sailors' Rendezvous.
'Compelling, remorseless, brilliant.' - John Gray
'One of the greatest writers of the twentieth century . . . Simenon was unequalled at making us look inside, though the ability was masked by his brilliance at absorbing us obsessively in his stories.' - The Guardian
'A supreme writer . . . unforgettable vividness.' - The Independent
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Georges Simenon (1903–1989) was born in Liège, Belgium. Best known in Britain as the author of the Maigret books, his prolific output of more than four hundred novels and short stories have made him a household name in continental Europe.
David Coward is a translator from French, whose translations include works by authors such as Alexandre Dumas, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, and the Marquis de Sade.
THE GRAND BANKS CAFÉTranslated by David Coward
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in French as Au Rendez-Vous des Terre-Neuvas by Fayard 1931
This translation first published 2014
Copyright 1931 by Georges Simenon Limited
Translation copyright © David Coward, 2014
GEORGES SIMENON ® Simenon.tm
MAIGRET ® Georges Simenon Limited
Cover photograph (detail) © Harry Gruyaert/Magnum Photos
Front cover design by Alceu Chiesorin Nunes
All rights reserved
The moral rights of the author and translator have been asserted
About the Author
1. The Glass Eater
2. The Tan-Coloured Shoes
3. The Headless Photograph
4. The Mark of Rage
5. Adèle and Friend
6. The Three Innocents
7. Like a Family
8. The Drunken Sailor
9. Two Men on Deck
10. What Happened on the Third Day
11. The Océan Sails
EXTRA: Chapter 1 from A Man’s HeadABOUT THE AUTHOR
Georges Simenon was born on 12 February 1903 in Liège, Belgium, and died in 1989 in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he had lived for the latter part of his life. Between 1931 and 1972 he published seventy-five novels and twenty-eight short stories featuring Inspector Maigret.
Simenon always resisted identifying himself with his famous literary character, but acknowledged that they shared an important characteristic:
My motto, to the extent that I have one, has been noted often enough, and I’ve always conformed to it. It’s the one I’ve given to old Maigret, who resembles me in certain points ... ‘understand and judge not’.
Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels.
PENGUIN CLASSICSTHE GRAND BANKS CAFÉ
‘I love reading Simenon. He makes me think of Chekhov’
— William Faulkner
‘A truly wonderful writer ... marvellously readable – lucid, simple, absolutely in tune with the world he creates’
— Muriel Spark
‘Few writers have ever conveyed with such a sure touch, the bleakness of human life’
— A. N. Wilson
‘One of the greatest writers of the twentieth century ... Simenon was unequalled at making us look inside, though the ability was masked by his brilliance at absorbing us obsessively in his stories’
‘A novelist who entered his fictional world as if he were part of it’
— Peter Ackroyd
‘The greatest of all, the most genuine novelist we have had in literature’
— André Gide
‘Superb ... The most addictive of writers ... A unique teller of tales’
‘The mysteries of the human personality are revealed in all their disconcerting complexity’
— Anita Brookner
‘A writer who, more than any other crime novelist, combined a high literary reputation with popular appeal’
— P. D. James
‘A supreme writer ... Unforgettable vividness’
‘Compelling, remorseless, brilliant’
— John Gray
‘Extraordinary masterpieces of the twentieth century’
— John Banville
1. The Glass Eater
... that he’s the finest young man around here there ever was, and that all this could well be the death of his mother. He’s all she’s got. I am absolutely sure that he’s innocent: everybody here is. But the sailors I’ve talked to reckon he’ll be found guilty because civilian courts never understand anything to do with the sea.
Do everything you can, old friend, just as if you were doing it for me. I see from the papers that you’ve become something very important in the Police Judiciaire, and ...
It was a June morning. The windows of the flat on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir were wide open. Madame Maigret was finishing packing large wicker trunks, and Maigret, who was not wearing a collar, was reading aloud.
‘Who’s it from?’
‘Jorissen. We were at school together. He’s a primary-school teacher now in Quimper. Listen, are you still set on passing our week’s holiday in Alsace?’
She stared at him, not understanding. The question was so unexpected. For the past twenty years they’d always spent their holidays with family, and always in the same village in eastern France.
‘What if we went to stay by the sea instead?’
He read out parts of the letter again, in a half whisper:
... you are better placed than I am to get accurate information. Very briefly, Pierre Le Clinche, aged twenty, a former pupil of mine, sailed three months ago on the Océan, a Fécamp trawler which was going fishing for cod off Newfoundland. The boat docked back in port yesterday. Hours later, the body of the captain was found floating in the harbour, and all the signs point to foul play. Pierre Le Clinche is the man who’s been arrested.
‘We’ll be able to take it just as easy at Fécamp as anywhere else!’ said Maigret, holding out no great hopes.
Objections were raised. In Alsace, Madame Maigret was with her family and helped with making jam and plum brandy. The thought of staying in a hotel by the seaside with a lot of other people from Paris filled her with dread.
‘What would I do all day?’
In the end, she packed her sewing and her crocheting.
‘Just don’t expect me to go swimming! I thought I’d better warn you in advance.’
They had arrived at the Hôtel de la Plage at five. Once there, Madame Maigret had set about rearranging the room to her liking. Then they’d had dinner.
Later, Maigret, now alone, pushed open the frosted-glass door of a harbour-front café, the Grand Banks Café.
It was located opposite the berth where the trawler the Océan was tied up, just by a line of railway trucks. Acetylene lamps hung from the rigging, and in their raw light a number of figures were busily unloading cod, which they passed from hand to hand and piled into the trucks after the fish had been weighed.
There were ten of them at work, men and women, dirty, their clothes torn and stiff with salt. By the weighing scales stood a well-turned-out young man, with a boater over one ear and a notebook in his hand, in which he recorded the weighed catch.
A rank, stomach-churning smell, which distance did nothing to lessen, seeped into the bar, where the heat made it even more oppressive.
Maigret sat down in a free corner, on the bench seat. He was surrounded by noise and activity. There were men standing, men sitting, glasses on the marble-topped tables. All were sailors.
‘What’ll it be?’
The serving girl went off. The landlord came up to him:
‘I’ve got another room next door, you know. For tourists. This lot make such a din in here!’ He winked. ‘Well, after three months at sea, it’s understandable.’
‘Are these the crew of the Océan?’
‘Most of them. The other boats aren’t back yet. You mustn’t pay any attention. Some of them have been drunk for three days. Are you staying put? ... I bet you’re a painter, right? We get them in now and again. They do sketches. There, see? Over the counter? One of them drew me, head and shoulders.’
But the inspector offered so little encouragement to his chatter that the landlord gave up and went away.
‘A copper two-sou bit! Who’s got a copper two-sou bit?’ shouted a sailor no taller than a sixteen-year-old youth and as thin.
His head was old, his face was lopsided, and he was missing a few teeth. Drink made his eyes bright, and a three-day stubble had spread over his jaws.
Someone tossed him a coin. He bent it almost double with his fingers, then put it between his teeth and snapped it in two.
‘Who’s wants to have a go next?’
He strutted around. He sensed that everyone was looking at him and was ready to do anything to remain the centre of attention.
As a puffy-faced mechanic produced a coin, he stepped in:
‘Half a mo’. This is what you got to do as well.’
He picked up an empty glass, took a large bite out of it and chewed the broken pieces with a show of relish worthy of a gourmet.
‘Ha ha!’ he smirked. ‘You’re all welcome to give it a try ... Fill me up again, Léon!’
He looked round the bar boastfully until his eyes came to rest on Maigret. His eyebrows came together in a deep frown.
For a moment he seemed nonplussed. Then he started to move forwards. He had to lean on a table to steady himself because he was so drunk.
‘You here for me?’ he blustered.
‘Take it easy, Louis boy!’
‘Still on about that business with the wallet? Listen, boys. You didn’t believe me just now when I told you about my run-ins with the Rue de Lappe boys. Well, here’s a top-notch cop who’s come out of his way to see yours truly ... Will it be all right if I have another little drink?’
All eyes were now on Maigret.
‘Sit yourself down here, Louis boy, and stop playing the fool!’
‘You paying? No, that would be the day! ... Is it all right with you, boys, if the chief inspector buys me a drink? ... Make it brandy, Léon, a large one!’
‘Were you on the Océan?’
The change in Louis was instant. His face darkened so much that it seemed as if he had suddenly sobered up. He shifted his position on the bench seat, backing off suspiciously.
‘What if I was?’
‘Nothing ... Cheers ... Been drunk long?’
‘We been celebrating for three days. Ever since we landed. I gave my pay to Léon. Nine hundred francs, give or take. Here until it runs out ... How much have I got left, Léon, you old crook?’
‘Well, not enough for you to go on buying rounds until tomorrow! About fifty francs. Isn’t it a stupid shame, inspector! Tomorrow he’ll be skint and he’ll have to sign as a stoker on the first boat that’ll have him. It’s the same story every time. Mark you, I don’t encourage them to drink! The very opposite!’
‘Shut your mouth!’
The others had lost their high spirits. They talked in whispers and kept looking round at the table where the inspector was sitting.
‘Are all these men from the Océan?’
‘All save the big fellow in the cap, who’s a pilot, and the one with ginger hair. He’s a ship’s carpenter.’
‘Tell me what happened.’
‘I got nothing to say.’
‘Watch your step, Louis! Don’t forget the wallet business, which ended up with you doing your glass-eating number behind bars.’
‘All I’d get is three months, and anyway I could do with a rest. But if you want, why not just lock me up right now?’
‘Were you working in the engine room?’
‘Sure! As usual! I was second fireman.’
‘Did you see much of the captain?’
‘Maybe twice in all.’
‘And the wireless operator?’
‘Léon! Same again.’
Louis gave a contemptuous laugh.
‘I could be drunk as a lord and still I wouldn’t tell you anything I didn’t want to say. But since you’re here, you could offer to buy the boys a round. After the lousy trip like the one we just been on!’
A sailor, not yet twenty, approached shiftily and tugged Louis’ sleeve. They both started talking in Breton.
‘What did he say?’
‘He said it’s time I went to bed.’
‘A friend of yours?’
Louis shrugged, and just as the young sailor was about to take his glass off him, he downed it in one defiant gulp.
The Breton had thick eyebrows and wavy hair.
‘Sit down with us,’ said Maigret.
But without replying the sailor moved to another table, where he sat staring unblinkingly at both of them.
The atmosphere was heavy and sour. The sounds of tourists playing dominoes came from the next room, which was lighter and cleaner.
‘Catch much cod?’ asked Maigret who pursued his line of thought with the single-mindedness of a mechanical drill.
‘It was no good. When we landed, it was half rotten!’
‘Not enough salt! ... Or too much! ... It was off! There’ll not be a third of the crew who’ll go out on her again next week.’
‘Is the Océan going out again?’
‘By God, yes! Otherwise what’s the point of boats with engines? Sailboats go out the once, from February to October. But these trawlers can fit in two trips to the Grand Banks.’
‘Are you going back on her?’
Louis spat on the floor and gave a weary shrug.
‘I’d just as well be banged up at Fresnes ... You must be joking!’
‘And the captain?’
‘I got nothing to say!’
He had lit the stump of a cigar he’d found lying about. Suddenly he retched, made a rush for the door and could be seen throwing up on the kerb, where the Breton joined him.
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