Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 21, 2019

Maigret (Maigret #19) by Georges Simenon, translated by Ros Schwartz

I often say that I don’t read crime fiction, but I do watch some of it on DVD in small doses.  I like Vera and Shetland, and Death in Paradise if I’m in the mood. And just recently the BBC series of Maigret, as played by Rowan (Mr Bean) Atkinson…

My TBR includes a couple of books by Simenon: the NYRB translation of Dirty Snow and in French Les inconnus dans la maison and Le passager du Polarlys.  But not anything from the Maigret series, which according to Wikipedia comprises 75 novels and 28 short stories.  (Enough to keep Rowan Atkinson and the rest of the cast busy for a very long time.) So when at the library I chanced upon No #19 Maigret, I thought, why not?  It’s short enough to read in an evening…

Maigret is not going to make a convert of me: it was mildly entertaining but it conforms to the detective fiction pattern I’d expected it to.  Which is why now, barely eight hours after I finished reading it, the details are fading, and there isn’t an idea or theme that’s memorable either:

The traditional elements of the detective story are: (1) the seemingly perfect crime; (2) the wrongly accused suspect at whom circumstantial evidence points; (3) the bungling of dim-witted police; (4) the greater powers of observation and superior mind of the detective; and (5) the startling and unexpected denouement, in which the detective reveals how the identity of the culprit was ascertained. Detective stories frequently operate on the principle that superficially convincing evidence is ultimately irrelevant. Usually it is also axiomatic that the clues from which a logical solution to the problem can be reached be fairly presented to the reader at exactly the same time that the sleuth receives them and that the sleuth deduce the solution to the puzzle from a logical interpretation of these clues. (Britannica.com)

In this novel there is a slight variation in that the wrongly accused suspect is also one of the dim-witted police.  But on p56 we learn that this was a standard gangland killing, and the challenge was to get #Insert gangster’s name finally to admit that this was the truth.  On p73 we learn that Maigret had no need to look over his shoulder.  He knew what was going on.

And so does the reader. The only interest for the reader is to discover how Maigret will get the admission that he needs when he’s no longer in the police force (because he’s retired).  The dim-witted policeman (of course) gets it wrong when he says that Maigret can’t use his ‘method’ in this case:

‘Usually, you get involved in people’s lives, you try to understand their thinking and you take as much interest in things that happened to them twenty years earlier in concrete clues.  Here, we faced with a bunch about whom we know pretty much everything.  They don’t even try to put us off the scent’. (p.103)

One thing I noticed: in the BBC TV series, Maigret’s wife is a significant character.  Maigret discusses matters with her, and he values her knowledge of human nature as a contribution to his thinking about the cases he solves.  Not so in the book.  (Or not this one, anyway).

Author: Georges Simenon
Title: Maigret (Maigret #19)
Publisher: Penguin Classics, 2015, first published 1934
ISBN:9780141397047
Source: Dandenong Library Service, Springvale Branch


Responses

  1. I love Maigret. I can’t believe you gave this one such an adverse review. And #19? All the Maigrets have names, this one I think is Maigret Returns. It’s an early one, Simenon only slowly developed Mrs Maigret as a character in her own right. By the time Maigret really does retire she is almost equal as they look for a cottage on the river in the country.
    Readers love Maigret because it’s all about character, not Sherlock Holmes clues and plot points, Maigret’s character, the villains’ characters, and the character of Paris and later of provincial cities too.

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    • Trust me, Bill, this edition is just called Maigret, and Goodreads tagged it #19 in the series. Some of the commentary there says that Simenon had ‘retired’ his character and didn’t really want to write this one, and that they think this is why it’s not so great and that there is a long gap between this one and the next one. I have no idea whether any of that is true or not.
      Conan Doyle tried to retire Sherlock Homes too, didn’t he? Maybe authors get tired of writing series?

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  2. Yeah, I remember reading a few of the short stories and finding them entirely, bafflingly unmemorable. There’s a very particular set of customers who seem to absolutely adore the Maigret books, and I’d love to know what they’re seeing that I’m not…

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    • Well, there is Paris, of course. I quite like Donna Leon’s detective novels but only because they’re set in Venice:)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love a good Maigret, though I’d be the first to admit the plots can be a little unmemorably occasionally. But I too read for the atmosphere and the characters and the setting. I know the new Penguins are fresh translations with different titles and I wonder if the new renditions have the charm of the ones I’m used to?

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    • I don’t know, I’ve got nothing to compare it with.
      The French title of this, as published in instalments in 1934, is Le Jour.

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      • Well, it’s early but not *that* early although Simenon did keep going for an awful long time. According to my checklist it was translated to English back in the day as Maigret Returns. But I don’t own it and I can’t say if I’ve read it so I’m not much help!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve never read a Maigret and probably won’t, but I remember enjoying the original series, way back in the 1960s was it? And I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Rowan Atkinson in the role. And, of course, the French setting makes it appealing.

    Did you see that a new series of Vera is starting?

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    • I was surprised too; I had no idea he could do serious roles:)
      Yes, Vera. That series, and Shetland are adapted from a series of books by Ann Cleves, but I’m not tempted to read them. I think I watch those TV shows for light entertainment but prefer something more satisfying to read.

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      • Oh absolutely. I always say I don’t read genre, but I do watch (some of) it.

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