Still, we can always catch up. Two of the best places to find Simenon, or order him, in Budapest are the bookshops Bestsellers at number 11 Oktober 6 utca in District V and Libra at Kölcsey utca 2 in District VIII, both of which concentrate on English-language stock. Although we have read and collected many Maigrets in a haphazard fashion over the decades, we are sorely tempted to go the whole hog with Maigrets 1-41 and do the thing properly. All 75 will have covers from Magnum Photos’ esteemed archive and are all newly translated from the French, making for a nice paperback set.

The reissue series will also bring all the English Maigrets under the one publishing house, which is apparently the first time this will have happened. One thing that puzzled us when we woke from our slumber was why it was necessary to translate them all again, which is a major selling point for Penguin. After all, we have been happily reading Simenon in English since swapping from the junior library to the adult library at the age of about 10 years old in 1960 in Swindon, Wiltshire, more than half a century ago.

We have a score or so old Maigrets on The Budapest Times bookshelves, with earlier translations. A couple of them are now among Penguin’s 42-49, and when we compared the old and the new translations (we like to spend time doing such things), we found quite noticeable differences between the two. But which is the better? We were in some doubt until Howard Curtis, the new translator of Maigret and the Headless Corpse” (number 47) contacted us to point out that the previous translator, Eileen Ellenbogen in 1967, at least judging from the examples we gave in our article, had been not so much inaccurate as guilty of rewriting.

Ellenbogen, Curtis informed us, had both added phrases to Simenon’s text – what! How dare she, we ask? – and omitted some – only a slightly lesser sin. We fully trust Curtis’ explanation and are now absolutely happy to enjoy Penguin’s new versions, “by some of the world’s best translators”. But what to do with our old Simenons gathered over the years, now that we no longer trust them?

Georges Simenon was a Belgian, a native of Liege born in 1903, who went to live in Paris in his 20s and made himself a famous author. He is remembered as being tremendously prolific, and his output of 60 to 80 pages per day, when he was in the groove, produced nearly 200 novels, over 150 novellas, several autobiographical works, numerous articles, and scores of pulp novels. These latter were written under more than two dozen pseudonyms until he got the confidence to use his own name.

Altogether, something like 550 million copies of his works have been printed in many languages (we’re not sure who was counting), and there have been numerous cinema, television and radio adaptations. (By the by, so far we have not summoned up the nerve to watch Rowan Atkinson play the great man in the latest TV adaptation. For us, Michael Gambon nailed it in the 1990s, and we hope that one day the Rupert Davies 1960s ones will finally make it to DVD.)

Simenon is best known for the 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring Detective Chief Inspector Jules Maigret of the Police Judiciaire at the Quai des Orfevres on the Isle de la Cité in Paris. The first novel in the series, Pietr-le-Letton” (Pietr the Latvian), was serialised in 1930 and published as a book in 1931. The last one, “Maigret et Monsieur Charles” (Maigret and Monsieur Charles) was published in 1972. Here at The Budapest Times we have long recognised that Simenon’s rapid-fire writing produced both great reads and some real clunkers (or were they just badly translated?). For us, this is part of the fascination of reading him: will it be a good one or a bit creaky?

“Maigret Enjoys Himself”, then, is the ninth we have read in the reissue series, namely numbers 42-50. This one was first published as “Maigret s’amuse” in 1957 and Simenon approaches it from an unusual angle. Maigret is run-down after years of chasing baddies without a real holiday from work, and both his doctor and wife have finally persuaded him to take a break.

At first, he stares out of the window of his flat in the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, observing the mundane daily goings-on – trucks reversing out of a yard, people going into a bistro – that normally he is too busy to notice. Mrs Maigret’s rituals also are something that he has usually tended to overlook when crime is on his mind – making the bed, cooking, cleaning; nothing exciting – but now he looks on with new interest.

Simenon builds up these minutiae slowly, and before you know it he has sucked you into Maigret’s world, even without a criminal in sight. Next, the Maigrets have a few problems in trying to book somewhere to go away, so Maigret comes up with the novel idea of a holiday in Paris, visiting parts of the city where he and his wife rarely venture.

Mrs Maigret and the doctor are wary, suspecting that as soon as a big case comes up, the temptation will be too much and he will hotfoot it back to the Police Judiciaire to take charge. But Maigret promises he won’t. And indeed, when a doctor’s wife is found dead and naked in a closet, he sticks to his pledge. Just like everyone else in Paris, he follows the police progress in the newspapers and on the radio.

This is Simenon’s odd angle and this is how we readers follow it too, not from the police perspective but helped along by Maigret’s skill at reading between the lines, his deductive ability and his anticipation of what his colleagues at headquarters will do next.

Of course, he can’t totally resist getting involved, but restricts himself to a couple of anonymous notes to Inspector Janvier, who is standing in for him, and a phone call to a newspaper reporter in which he disguises his voice, to help them along when the investigation bogs down.

It makes for a situation that is a little too contrived at times. But . . . a dead woman naked in a closet and the main suspects are two doctors, one of them her husband and the other his locum. Throw in a surreptitious lover or two, Maigret sniffing around from afar, and how can you not follow Simenon to the very end, to find out whodunnit?

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