Regular readers will know that The Budapest Times has read the last 15 or so of Penguin’s monthly reissues of the 75 “Maigret” novels, which began in November 2013. However, a problem cropped up while we were approaching the half-way mark while reading this latest one, the 55th in the series and published just this May 2018. Our copy has vanished, presumed stolen. So we have done the logical thing and enlisted Detective Chief Inspector Jules Maigret himself to apply his considerable investigative powers to The Case of the Missing Book.

First, as we related to Maigret, the facts leading up to this shocking apparent crime. Your correspondent was innocently attending a diplomatic function at the Residence in Budapest of an ambassador of a South American country. It was a fine spring evening and the event was being attended by a few dozen guests in the garden courtyard. Wine and beef sandwiches were being offered, recorded music was being played and there was no reason to suspect that foul play might be afoot. But, in retrospect, it is when least expected that such deeds occur.

Your writer set down his cheap white linen bag on a low wall. It contained the brand-new paperback “Maigret in Court”, an old British passport used to show Budapest public transport officials that the bearer is now so old he is entitled to free travel, and a comb for his grey locks. Admittedly, it wasn’t the safest place to leave the bag lying around, but then, it was never suspected that anyone among the presumably distinguished assemblage would be so low as to snaffle such an unprepossessing-looking item.

Maigret, of course, is more used to handling brutal murders but, as we guessed he would be, was offended to learn he had become indirectly involved in a crime himself. His initial inquiries naturally centred on the possibility that the bag had been merely taken away by accident. Inquiries were made of as many guests as possible but nobody seemed to have it. Nobody has brought it back, apologetically.

It would seem a reasonable deduction that whoever took the bag presumably only looked at its contents later. Most of the guests only spoke English as a second language, or not at all, and the chances are that the haul would have been a major disappointment, and quickly tossed away somewhere, with nil care for the feelings of the owner. But Simenon is regarded for his uncomplicated prose and straightforward vocabulary, so perhaps the thief might have had enough English to delve in a bit, got hooked and read on.

At least, we feel if would have been better if they had, rather than just thoughtlessly disposing of the lot. The book and comb can be replaced at some cost but the passport, while expired, is a sentimental loss, containing as it did a record of 10 years world travel.

Concluding that a miscreant is on the loose, Maigret has given instructions to his colleagues at the Police Judiciaire. Janvier has been dispatched to Liszt Ferenc International Airport to watch out for suspicious South Americans or diplomatic types fleeing the country. Lucas and Lapointe have been sent to watch the railway stations, particularly Nyugati and Keleti, and Torrence has the task of checking taxi-drivers to see if anyone remembers conveying someone carrying a white linen bag from the Residence.

If a suspect is found, woe betide them because Maigret, as we well know, is a master of interrogation, and can keep up the questioning for hours and hours until they crack and confess.

We meanwhile, have ordered a replacement copy from Libra bookshop in District VIII, where they specialise in English-language books and usually have a few “Maigret” Penguin reissues in stock. But it will take two or three weeks to arrive, by which time the next one, number 56, will probably have come first, upsetting our chronology a little.

Also, we have been left in some suspense by the loss of “Maigret in Court”, which was first released as “Maigret aux assises” in 1959. In a razzle-dazzle opening by Simenon, Maigret had received an anonymous tip-off to assist him in his investigation of the double murder of a woman and young child. Gaston Meurant already stands accused in court but Maigret is unconvinced of his guilt. What will happen? In another two weeks or so, we’ll find out.

Please send any anonymous tip-offs about the stolen book to the Detective Chief Inspector at the Police Judiciaire.

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