Nina's Reading Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Georges Simenon’

Maigret’s First Case

Posted by nliakos on October 7, 2018

by Georges Simenon (in English translation by Ros Schwartz, Penguin Classics 2016; originally published in French as La première enquête de Maigret in 1949)

This could be the first Maigret roman policier I have read in translation; or maybe not; if I had read another one, I don’t remember doing so. But I am pretty sure I have not read this one in any language. Jules Maigret is a twenty-something employee of the Saint-Georges district police station (secretary to the chief inspector), very young, totally inexperienced, in love with his nascent police career and full of ambition to rise in the ranks and eventually work at the Quai des Orfèvres (the police headquarters in Paris). The chief inspector assigns him his first case: a young flautist, walking down a fancy Paris street late one night, sees a young woman leaning out of a window and screaming for help, and hears a gunshot. What happened? Was anyone injured (other than the flautist, who tried to intervene and was beaten for his pains)?

Maigret sets to work, aided by the flautist, Justin Minard. His modus operandi is not very different from what would become his signature style later: immersion into the world where the crime was (or was not) committed, getting to know all the people involved, watching and waiting and taking notes and thinking. But at this stage of his life, he lacks confidence in himself and his gut feelings, and doors do not open for him, or people jump to do his bidding, as they will later. He even comes to suspect that the Chief Inspector, for whom he has enormous respect, does not wish the case to be resolved. . . .

It’s interested to read what is essentially a prequel to the other books. The story is set in a Paris where automobiles like the De Dion Bouton share the streets with horse-drawn carriages. Maigret is a slim young man, in contrast to his later heft. He has not been married long, but a youthful Mme. Maigret is as accommodating, understanding, and trusting as ever.

Favorite quote: “He hadn’t slept with his moustache net on and he had to straighten the tips with a hot curling iron.” Really, a moustache net? Who’d have thought?

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Two by Simenon

Posted by nliakos on September 17, 2018

Maigret au Picratt’s (English version: Maigret in Montmartre), 1950

Maigret en meublé (English version: Maigret Takes a Room/Maigret Rents a Room), 1951

(in Tout Simenon Vol. 5, Presses de la Cité 1988)

I was recently inspired to re-read Maigret au Picratt’s when I watched it on my local PBS station, starring Rowan Atkinson (aka Mr. Bean) as Maigret (likable, but not at all how one imagines Maigret while reading). I was pleased to find that it was in one of my four Tout Simenon volumes (it’s a 25-volume set, each of which has about ten novels and whodunits), so I immediately started to read. When I lived in France in the early 1970s,  I used to love reading Maigret mysteries, which for some reason were not difficult for me to understand (compared to the novels), and I read a lot of them. I guess there was a lot of repeated vocabulary from one to another. I don’t remember looking up words as I read, and all these years later, I can still read them without relying on a dictionary, but it was so easy to check a word on my phone (with a choice of monolingual and bilingual dictionaries!) that I sometimes opted to do that (mostly finding that the words meant what I had thought they did, thus demonstrating the effectiveness of Understanding Vocabulary in Context).

Maigret au Picratt’s follows Inspector Maigret as he investigates the murder of Arlette, a young stripper at a bar named Picratt’s. The night before she was killed, Arlette had gone to the neighborhood police station to report that she had overheard two men in Picratt’s talking about murdering a countess. They didn’t believe her until she herself was found strangled in her room. Maigret takes over the investigation from the long-suffering Inspector Lognon (who is used to ceding his authority to Maigret), but he is not fast enough to stop the killer from murdering the Countess von Farnheim in her apartment the following day. Then it’s all hands on deck to catch the killer before he strikes again. The countess was a drug addict, and the investigation takes Maigret into the seedy underground world of addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes,  and petty criminals. Maigret’s signature investigative style of immersing himself in the culture of the killer and victim is in evidence here, as well as in Maigret en meublé, which I also read because it followed immediately after Maigret au Picratt’s (both were written while Simenon was living in Connecticut, 1950-1955).

In this story, Inspector Janvier, one of the detectives who works very closely with Maigret, is shot while staking out a suspect in the Rue Lhomond, and Maigret becomes obsessed with finding the shooter. Since Madame Maigret is away from home, Maigret rents a furnished room in the building in front of which Janvier was shot, and he immerses himself in the life and people of the little street, chatting up the tenants and the young woman (la grosse fille, in the language of the day) who owns the building and knows more than she will reveal, the neighbors, the shopkeepers and the owner of the bar where he goes to eat and drink beer and white wine. (In doing so, Maigret absents himself from his other duties at the Police Judiciaire, other than checking in on the phone from time to time, but as always, his boss (le chef) seems okay with that.) Maigret becomes increasingly frustrated as his investigation turns up nothing, but eventually, he seems to figure out what must have happened, and then he sets about getting those involved to admit their guilt.

Written in the early 50s, these stories were probably set in the 40s. What strikes a modern reader is that in a time before cell phones, investigators on the street were very limited in their ability to communicate with their colleagues; if they were tailing a suspect, they would have to duck into a café or a bar to use a public telephone. To get from one place to another, they took taxis. Of course, there was no DNA evidence. There were no body cameras. But Maigret and his inspectors generally seem to respect the humanity of the people they are investigating and interviewing. I have no idea how accurate this depiction of the Paris police is!

Anyway, when I went to my local library recently, I checked the fiction and mystery shelves for Simenon’s books and was surprised to find only one Maigret mystery (Maigret’s First Case) and no novels. I checked it out, so soon I may be reading about Maigret in English. However, as usual, I borrowed more books than I can possibly read (four), and then I ordered Fear: Trump in the White House on my Kindle, so who knows if I will have a chance to get to it? 🙂

For a review of Pierre Assouline’s 1997 biography of Simenon, visit https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/97/08/10/reviews/970810.10bairlt.html. Hmmm. . . . not an admirable person. I much prefer Maigret!

For an interesting summary and discussion of Maigret en meublé on the website Maigret of the Month, try https://www.trussel.com/maig/mommeu.htm.

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