How success and letdown combine for Simenon’s doctor-detective
SIMENON SIMENON. LE RECUEIL“LE PETIT DOCTEUR” A SES HAUTS ET SES BAS.
Comment succès et échec s'entremêlent pour le docteur-détective de Simenon
SIMENON SIMENON. LA SERIE DEL "PETIT DOCTOR" CON I SUOI ALTI E BASSI
Come successi flop per il dottor-detective di Simenon
In The Little Doctor collection’s tenth story, The Disappearance of the Admiral, Simenon throws lots of curve balls. For example, right off the bat, Dollent’s car, Tin Lizzie, breaks down on his way to find a missing person plus, once he’s at the crime scene, he discovers the anonymous letter challenging him to investigate the case is just someone’s stingy way to avoid paying for his efforts.
A resident of a tiny village way off in Provence far from Marsilly, old “Admiral” Fignol has vanished. (He’s not an admiral at all; he’s a former ship’s cook who always wears a naval officer’s hat.) Last observed taking his customary daily stroll, halfway down the village’s 300-yard single main street, Fignol suddenly disappears. All the witnesses sing the same song at first, but many are eager to confide in Dollent about what really goes on in the village. As he pieces their various secrets together, the plot thickens: A burglar steals Fignol’s meager belongings right after his disappearance, but they quickly show up, floating down the river. Fignol gets exposed as a petty thief. A strange letter, handwritten by the missing man and postmarked in the village, gets delivered. Fignol’s niece vanishes without a trace until the doctor detects the sweet smell of chloroform…. Despite this bewildering confusion, Dollent solves the case brilliantly, and there is a happy outcome: dirt poor Fignol becomes a millionaire!
Distinctly unlike the preceding nine stories, in the end Dollent himself gets nothing positive for his work. Although many benefit from his investigation, nobody appreciates what he has done. No one admires his cleverness. Indeed, they considered him no more than a pain. The village throws a party to celebrate what has turned into good fortune for the previously unlucky Fignol, but they don’t invite Dollent to attend. The local cop gets credit for the solution although all he did was scoff while observing Dollent at work. Lamenting that Maigret’s Inspector Lucas isn’t around (for surely he would appreciate the triumph) the doctor-detective is denied his usually achieved “inner joy and public acclaim.” So, he returns to Marsilly with nothing―except a damn good suntan. Depressed Dollent won’t even confide in Anna, his loyal supporter if grumpy critic, about what took place.
On the other hand, Simenon does ensure that his “Little Doctor” character holds true to form in many personal aspects. He abandons his medical practice to take on the case. Pastis and white wine sustain him while investigating. His aggressive self is ever present when quizzing witnesses and suspects. He feels jealous and alone “among so many lovers.” He is the only one capable of interpreting seemingly meaningless observations like a broken radio and an outdated poster as the valuable clues they really are.
Oddly enough in final analysis, instead of continuing the Maigret-like style on display in the collection so far, Simenon gives us a portrait and story that reads more like one of his romans durs. It will be interesting to see if the final three tales follow this trend or not.
David P Simmons
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