Putting aside Simenon’s devious plot for a moment, one of the pleasures of the “Maigret” books is their location, almost always Paris. Admirers of the splendid city will find their memories of visits revived as Maigret, in an earlier time, makes his remorseless way round the avenues, boulevards and rues in pursuit of the quarry who’s out there somewhere.

In “Maigret and the Saturday Caller”, among the incidental asides we find brief mention of a fight at Place Pigalle, a knife attack outside a dance hall on Boulevard Rochechouart and a corpse pulled from the Seine at the bridge at Saint-Cloud. An old woman has thrown herself out of a window in Boulevard Barbes. There is a flea market in Saint-Ouen, mention of cafés in Rue des Abbesses and on Place du Tertre, a brasserie in Place Blanche and – inevitably for the libidinous Simenon – a “hot pillow” hotel in Rue Lepic.

# Belgian author Georges Simenon

As always, there is the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, where the Maigrets live, and the Brasserie Dauphin, which sends up sustenance when the inspectors at the Police Judiciaire on the Ile de la Cité are involved in one of their long, long interrogations.

The protagonist here, Léonard Planchon, is a house painter and decorator who lives in Rue Tholozé, in the bohemian Montmartre. During his “confession” to Maigret he says:

“It [Rue Tholozé] runs off Rue Lepic, just opposite the Moulin de la Galette [a windmill and associated businesses near the top of Montmartre]. It’s a cul de sac, with steps at the end. I live just at the bottom of the steps, a small house with a courtyard. It’s handy for ladders and materials.”

We haven’t mentioned yet that not only is Planchon’s promiscuous wife Renée having an affair with his virile foreman, Roger Prou, the latter has moved in to the Planchons’ apartment, to the bedroom in fact, and for two years they have been tormenting the cuckold by making him sleep on a cot in the dining room. The reason the pathetic Planchon puts up with it and hasn’t killed them yet is his concern for his seven-year-old daughter Isabelle, after he pays for his crime.

On a quiet Sunday, Maigret and Madame Maigret go by Métro for a walk in Montmartre so that the Detective Chief Inspector can get a sense of the scene. “They came out at Place Blanche Métro station and began walking slowly up Rue Lepic, where the shutters of all the shops were closed. Where it meets Rue des Abbesses, Rue Lepic makes a long dog-leg. Rue Tholozé by contrast climbs up straight ahead to rejoin it at the Moulin de la Galette.”

About half-way along is the purple-painted facade of a dance hall, the Bal des Copains, with a sign that will light up at night. Here, nine years earlier, the lonely Planchon, a man with a harelip, had met Renée by chance, because the place was crowded and a harassed waiter had sat the young woman at his table.

Continuing our vicarious visit to early 1960s Paris, the Maigrets walk on up the street, a little out of breath from the slope. Between the five- and six-storey buildings, there are still a few smaller houses dating from when Montmartre was a village outside the city limits.

“Much more than the Place du Tertre, now a tourist trap, this other square, Place des Abbesses, with its Métro station, its own playhouse – the Atelier, looking like a toy theatre or a stage set – its shops and its bistros, was to Maigret’s eyes the real Montmartre, the people’s Montmartre, and he remembered that when he had first come across it, on a chilly but sunlit spring morning shortly after arriving in Paris, he had thought he had walked into a Utrillo painting.”

It's a pleasure, then, to follow the inspector through Montmartre as he patiently questions Parisian prostitutes, bartenders and others as the plot develops. Waiting for his bus in Place du Chatelet, he finds enough room on the rear platform to continue smoking his pipe, another reminder of how Paris used to be.

A further change: the Maigrets have recently acquired a television, which is still novel for them and stops them going out so much. “In the past, on Saturday evenings, they would both go to the cinema, not so much for the film itself as to be out together. Arm in arm, they would head for Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle, feeling comfortable with each other. There was no need to say anything.”

Of the 75 “Maigrets”, 19 were published in the 1930s, 13 in the 1940s, 22 in the 1950s, 16 in the 1960s and five in the 1970s. “Maigret and the Saturday Caller” appeared in its original French version, “Maigret et le client du samedi”, in 1962. It is the 59th of the ongoing monthly chronological reissue of all 75 by Penguin Books. All are newly translated, and when the reissues conclude in January 2020, the entire series will be under the imprint of a single publisher, Penguin, for the first time. Some omnibuses, perhaps?

Sian Reynolds’ 2018 translation of “Maigret and the Saturday Caller” contains this sentence: “This time Maigret did not miss his television programme, although it was a police drama that made him grumble out loud all evening.” The Budapest Times has an earlier edition of “Maigret and the Saturday Caller”, published by Book Club Associates in London in 1975 and translated from the French by Tony White. His version of the same sentence is: “He did not miss his television this time, although there was a thriller on which made him grumble all evening.” Which translation to trust: “police drama” or “thriller”? It’s obvious, surely, that it would have been an inaccurate police drama that would have been more likely to drive Maigret to distraction than any common-or-garden “thriller”. Both translations of this book vary similarly throughout, and we have come to trust Penguin (but have not summoned up the resolve to toss the older ones in the bin, where it seems they belong).

Meanhwile, there is that odd plot to think about. Planchon had been to the Police Judiciaire on several Saturdays to confess his murderous intention to Maigret, but always lost his nerve in the waiting room and left. Finally, he follows Maigret home (on another Saturday, hence the title) and tells his intention to the Chief Inspector, whose thoughts are more on dinner and TV after a hard day.

Still in love with his wife and afraid of losing his daughter, Planchon spends his spare time getting tipsy in local bars, thinking of ways out of his dilemma. One plan is to hide the two bodies in concrete.

Maigret soothes him, makes him promise to keep in touch daily, and begins to keep an eye on the little house on Rue Tholozé. Then Planchon disappears. Maigret, already investigating the minor sub-plot of jewel robberies in the city’s grand hotels and battling an incipient flu, keeps digging into a crime that may not have happened. It could well be one of Simenon’s best.


Loading Conversation

RELATED POSTS
The news that made headlines

The Brief History of the Week

Geschrieben von BT

Presenting in one concise package the week’s most important and fascinating national stories,…

ComiX Coffee in District V

Inmates running the asylum?

Geschrieben von Attila Leitner

Briton Ben Innes became the very definition of cool on Tuesday. In case you missed this, the…

Protests, no apologies as government-teachers dispute widens

Fight of the roundtables

Geschrieben von BT

The civil public education platform representing the teachers’ movement, which calls itself an…