Georges Simenon (1903 – 1989) is a Belgian writer best known for his 75 book Maigret crime series.
One of my regular bookshop customers has been pre-ordering these books every quarter year in anticipation of the next batch of translated copies since 2014. Crime is not my usual genre, but I’ve been quietly curious all this time.
Maigret’s Mistake is number 43 in the series – just over half way through, which is an odd place to start, I know, but on Sunday night I was in the mood for something quick and easy and something French. Tick, tick, tick.
Wikipedia says of Maigret that he
is described as a large, broad shouldered man, he is gruff, but patient and fair. Recurring characters in the series include Maigret’s wife Louise (usually referred to simply as Madame Maigret) and in particular “The Faithful Four”, a group consisting of his four loyal police colleagues (Sgt./Inspector Lucas, Janvier, Lapointe and Torrence).
Maigret’s Mistake introduced me to Madame Maigret, Lucas, Janvier and Lapointe – perhaps Torrence was on holidays? It was obvious, though, that they were all used to Maigret’s particular way of working and mulling over a crime – giving him the space and time to think things through.
I’m not sure if this story is typical of all the Maigret books, but it seemed to me that the point of the book was not so much the crime (working out who did the deed was not very hard), but Maigret himself. Everything hinged on his thoughts, his way of proceeding through the clues and investigations, his opinions and deliberations and even, his fame (every bartender, every taxi driver, every cafe owner seemed to know who he was). Part of the interest in this book was Maigret’s struggle to deal with another character (Gouin) that was as equally well-known and infamous as he.
Everything I’ve now read about Simenon suggests that the character of Gouin, the distinguished sexually active surgeon in this book, could have been modelled on Simenon’s own sex life. It turns out he was very active and enjoyed a very healthy libido. Curiously, though, Maigret himself, seems to be a very modest man, devoted to his stay at home, ever patient wife.
This particular Maigret also allowed me to get a real feel for the weather of Paris.
Because it was by observing people in the street that she knew what the weather was like outside. They were all walking quickly that morning, many wearing scarves, and they had a characteristic way of stamping their feet on the pavement to warm themselves.. She had seen several wiping their noses.
Meanwhile, it was still raining on this world of stone, brick and concrete through which wove dark figures and umbrellas.
It was still grey, the river was a nasty colour, and people were walking as quickly as the day before, especially those crossing the windswept Pont Saint-Michel, the men raising their arms to hold on to their hats, the women lowering theirs to keep their skirts in place.
Penguin Books are gradually translating all of the Maigret books with translators David Bellos, Anthea Bell, and Ros Schwartz.
I cannot imagine ever reading my way through all 75 books, but if another one were to come my way, I wouldn’t object.
Have you read any Maigret books (in French or in translation) or seen the ITV series?
- 23. Signe Picpus (1944)
- 30. Maigret’s First Case (1948)
- A Maigret Christmas (1951) | short stories
- 43. Maigret’s Mistake (1953)
- 44. Maigret Goes to School (1953)
- 46. Maigret and the Minister (1955)
- 60. Maigret and the Tramp (1962)
- 61. Maigret’s Anger (1962)
- 62. Maigret and the Ghost (1963)
- 70. Maigret and the Killer (1969)
Title: Maigret's Mistake Author: Georges Simenon Translator: Howard Curtis ISBN: 9780241279847 Imprint: Penguin Classics Published: 17 July 2017 (originally published 1953) Format: Paperback Pages: 176