It had been a stange and terrible voyage for the crew of the French fishing trawler Océan. Now the ship's captain himself was dead - strangled, his body dumped into the harbor at the fishing port of Fécamp. The police arrested the ship's radio operator, a young man on bad terms with the captain - but his friends and relatives refused to believe that he was the killer. One of those friends appealed to another old friend, Chief Detective Inspector Jules Maigret to get involved. And so Maigret decided to go to Fécamp for his annual vacation and ask a few questions. He quickly discovered that there were some very dark secrets hidden away on that last voyage of the Océan - and that the key to unlocking those secrets was hidden among the crew members who could be found between voyages at a small waterfront bar called The Grand Banks Café. That's the title of the 1931 bleak but gripping story about Maigret from author Georges Simenon. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the complete review by clicking here.
Maigret goes to Fécamp and discovers that many members of the Océan's crew spend their time (and money) when in port at the seedy little bar called the Grand Banks Café. He discovers that the men are very unwilling to talk about their last voyage. The trawler had an incredible run of bad luck, they say – and the captain appears to have been largely to blame. His behavior was most peculiar for the entire journey. Meanwhile, bad things kept happening. There were accidents – one of them fatal. And the fish they had caught was beginning to go bad even before they could bring it back to port. It was a terrible trip. Perhaps the ship – or the captain himself – was under some curse, the evil eye? Better not to talk about it. And so, when the captain was murdered, and the young radio operator who had quarreled with him was arrested, the rest of the crew members were surprised – but resigned.
Maigret begins his own investigation (with the help and approval of the local police). As he digs his way through the evidence he uncovers, he begins to realize that this voyage of the Océan was very different from its usual fishing trips. And he would need to break through the silence of the crew and the others connected with the case before he would be able to determine the truth about what really happened on board the trawler – and why.
Georges Simenon was an amazingly prolific writer, credited with some 450 novels and short stories, including about 75 featuring Maigret. In 1931 alone, he wrote ten novels about Maigret, including The Grand Banks Café. These early books tend to be quite dark in tone, but they are fascinating stories, Penguin has been republishing Simenon's Maigret books, many in new and very good translations; the one for The Grand Banks Café is credited to David Coward. It is quite short, fewer than 150 pages, but it is a powerful story, told by a master storyteller, and I recommend it heartily.