This month, we enter the Schengen area in Europe, through Belgium. Categorized as a developed country, Belgium is known for its medieval towns, Renaissance architecture and for housing the headquarters of the European Union and NATO. It also has the unfortunate distinction of being known as the ‘battlefield of Europe’, a reputation strengthened by both the World Wars. The country has a unique setting of being divided into French, Dutch and German speaking regions. This has resulted in a complex system of governance, made up of six different governments. The culture is also a fusion of Flemish, French and German cultures. The name Belgium reminds most of us its famous beer, chocolates and waffles. Some of us mystery lovers might also reminded of Hercule Poirot, the famous protagonist from Agatha Christie’s novels.
Belgian literature comprises of literature from all the 3 main languages of its provinces. As the website everyculture.com says, ‘Sometimes it is denied that there is a Belgian literature, with only Flemish and Walloon or French and Dutch writers who happen to be Belgian citizens’. Of late, there is an increase in the number of writers in English as well. Thrillers and mysteries is a favorite genre.
Books from Belgium almost immediately brings to mind, the world famous Tintin comics, which i was very tempted to choose for my reading. In the end, I decided to go with another world famous mystery novelist namely, Georges Simenon, a prolific author with more than 500 novels to his credit. However, I had a tough time fishing for a Detective Maigret novel set in Belgium, as the setting of most of the novels is Paris.Hence, I was very happy when I found The Dancer at the Gui-Moulin, almost on the verge of giving up. Nothing like a whodunit to lighten the mood at the end of the day 🙂
The Dancer at the Gui-Moulin is set in Liege, the city the author grew up in. The story starts off as a minor offence attempted by two teenagers, who have lost their way and are headed towards darkness. While Delfosse is reveling in the shadow of this rich father, Chabot has to work to earn a living. Things quickly spiral out of control, when they encounter a dead body at the Gui-Moulin, a shady bar they frequent for the cheap drinks and the opportunity to meet the beautiful, albeit tired dancer Adele , ‘a woman who had long been expecting disaster to strike’.
The case is investigated by Inspector Delvigne, who seems to look up to anything Parisian. The politeness of the Belgian police, as described in the novel, really surprised me. Things are very different here in India. I do not want to give away too much of the story and destroy a would-be reader’s pleasure. However I will say that, the way the story unravels is unique. I could not see the surprise in the middle coming or guess the ending, which isn’t something I can say for too many whodunits. Although, in the end, as Inspector Maigret himself puts it, ‘its a banal case’. I am sure I can find better Georges Simenon mysteries, if I go looking for them. This book was ideal for a light reading from Belgium.
Other Choices from Belgium:
Castle Keep – William Eastlake
Will a platoon of American soldiers be able to defend an ancient Belgian castle against German attack?
Rear Entrance – David Barun Kumar Thomas
4 Indians in Brussels, struggling for a visa to UK.