Events begin with the Detective Chief Inspector and Madame Maigret on their regular monthly visit to Doctor and Madame Pardon for dinner. In a chummy arrangement, the Pardons alternate with visits to the Maigrets. On this particular evening, the doctor’s enjoyment is being disturbed by desperate phone calls from the wife of a Polish tailor likely to die at home that very night of a terminal disease. Medical science can do no more to ease the man’s terrible pain and he refuses to go to hospital. Doctor Pardon says it is another one of those occasions when he wishes he did a different job, drawing a rare confession out of Maigret: “I too have often wished I’d chosen a different profession.”

It’s an unusual self-revelation by the dedicated sleuth, who muses further on how, over the course of his career, the Paris police have seen their powers gradually diminished in favour of the examining magistrates. He’s not sure if this is good or bad. “In any case, it’s never been our role to pass judgement. It’s up to the courts and the juries to decide if a man is guilty or not and to what extent he should be held responsible ... “

To distract his host from his worry, Maigret recalls the case of Adrien Josset, the managing director of a pharmaceutical concern who owed his advancement to an advantageous marriage. But with his beautiful wife now brutally murdered and Josset himself having an affair, he was naturally the prime suspect. Maigret, as always, resisted jumping to any hasty conclusions and assured Josset that he had no preconceived ideas about him. The suspect, puzzled at first by Maigret’s unusual line of questioning, realised that the detective’s probing was designed to understand who he was as a person.

The “Maigret” books often find our hero dissatisfied with his diminished operational independence at the Palais de Justice, where the examining magistrates make the real decisions. Comélieu in particular has often been the proverbial thorn in Maigret’s side. “Comélieu is not a bad man, but he has been called my friendly enemy, because we have clashed so often,” muses the Detective Chief Inspector.

It is a theme often found in the other novels as well but rarely given as extended a treatment as here. As the case develops under the controlling hand of the magistrate, all clues point to Josset's guilt yet Maigret is left unconvinced following his one interview with him. However, Josset is indeed found guilty at trial and executed, but years afterwards Maigret remains doubtful as to the true identity of the murderer.

These doubts are raised at the second dinner party, a fortnight later, when Maigret continues his story as Dr and Madame Pardon enjoy the reciprocal hospitality of the Maigrets in their home at 132 Boulevard Richard-Lenoir. We don’t often see so much of Maigret outside his criminal milieu, and Simenon opens the story with Madame Pardon’s rice pudding and ends it with Madame Maigret’s coq au vin, giving the book a neat symmetry.

Maigret’s Secret” was also published in a previous translation as Maigret Has Doubts”. Penguin Books’ current one-a-month reissues of all 75 novels have new translations, and we’ve already commented on how we trust that these latest translations are better than the previous ones we read years ago.

This brings us to a small point we haven’t raised yet with the Penguin reissues. Looking at the old editions of Simenon on our bookcases, we note that many of them conclude with a line giving the place and time they were written. For instance, Maigret and the Burglar’s Wife” concludes Shadow Rock Farm, Lakeville, Connecticut, May 8, 1951.” “Maigret’s Memoirs” concludes “Meung-sur-Loire, Sept. 27, 1950.” “The Patience of Maigret” and “Maigret and the Madwoman” were both written in Epalinges, Switzerland, in 1965 and 1970 respectively. Other Simenons we own were written by the peripatetic Belgian in La Rochelle, France; in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California; in Coral Sands, Bradenton Beach, Florida; and other locations.

Now, consider this fine description of the Parisian weather in Maigret’s Secret”, and then wonder where it was written: It was six thirty in the evening, and when the rain started it did not obscure the sun, already red above the rooftops. The sky remained ablaze, the windows shimmering with reflected light, and only a single pearl-grey cloud, slightly darker at the centre and glowing at its edges, floated over the streeets, as light as a balloon. ... The raindrops were more transparent, as if more liquid, than usual, and when the shower began they made big black circles in the dust of the pavement as they landed one by one.”

Perhaps it’s just us, but couldn’t it be said that such a description is the more impressive if it were imaginatively written in, say, sunny Florida or California, rather than in Paris or France from direct observation at the time?

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