But these opening events are short and just set the scene. Maigret doesn’t even get the lie-in he deserves and is awoken within hours, because another inspector, Lognon, has been shot in the stomach and just below the shoulder on the pavement of Avenue Junot in Paris’ 18th arondissement. Lognon is clinging to life, having lost almost half his blood and having had an emergency transfusion and three hours of surgery. He is unconscious. For the police, one case is barely over and another is just beginning.

"Maigret and the Ghost" is number 62 in Penguin Books’ chronological one-a-month reissue of the 75 "Maigret" novels, and we have occasionally met Lognon before, most notably in "Maigret, Lognon and the Gangsters", the 39th in the series. We know, then, that he has a reputation for misfortune and has become embittered, being referred to by his colleagues as Inspector Hard-Done-By.

Lognon is one of 20 plainclothes officers whose office is in the Montmartre town hall in the 18th, and he is desperate to win promotion to the Police Judiciaire at the Quai des Orfevres, where Maigret is head of the Crime Squad. Lognon has failed the entry exam four times because of careless mistakes, when in fact he is an outstanding police officer, a sort of bloodhound who, once on a trail, won’t give up. Maigret prefers to think of him as Inspector Luckless.

Lately, he has been secretive at work for at least a fortnight, behaving mysteriously; it’s not unusual for him to work on a case for weeks without telling his colleagues what it’s all about. He’s constantly looking for the big break that will secure his elevation.

When the dedicated detective is shot down and the first person appears on the scene, it sounds as if Lognon uttered the word "ghost" before passing out. To his colleagues' amazement, it soon emerges that he has spent the past ten nights in the fourth-floor room of a beautiful young woman who has now quickly disappeared after the shooting. Could the short and scrawny Lognon, who is afflicted with a disabled and demanding wife at home, have suddenly become a Don Juan and got involved extra-maritally with the 25-year-old, well-groomed Marinette Augier, a beautician in a salon on Avenue Matignon?

While the injured man lies in a coma in hospital, Maigret must retread those secretive last days, but where to start when you’re not sure what you are looking for? It is only after Maigret encounters the strange lifestyle of suave art collector Norris Jonker and his glamorous wife Mirella, who live opposite Augier’s, that he begins to wonder if the hapless Lognon was simply on surveillance. Perhaps, unbeknownst to his colleagues, he may finally have been on to something big, in the murky world of art-collecting and forgery.

"Maigret and the Ghost" was originally published in French in 1964 as "Maigret et le fantome". It was published in English in 1976 as "Maigret and the Apparition". The 75 Penguin Books reissues are all new translations, and the latest translator, Ros Schwartz, must have faced an immediate decision in whether to change the title from " ... Apparition" to " ... Ghost".

Some things were changing in 1964. The Police Judiciaire now has its own ballistics expert, a job that previously went to a civilian expert. And the hospital is stamping down on smoking, as Maigret discovers when he goes to fire up his trusty pipe. Then there is the familiarity: Maigret likes to stop for his usual beer and aperitifs, plus Simenon’s fascination, as always, with prostitutes and the female form (" ... one of the woman’s breasts emerging from the folds of her robe ... ": it’s just a statue!).

Madame Maigret is dependable as ever: "He didn’t call her by her first name, nor she by him. They didn’t call one another ’darling’. What would be the point, since they felt almost like one and the same person?"

Will the great man discover whether Lognon did indeed utter the mysterious word "ghost", and why? At first, Maigret stumbles and overlooks things. This is no ordinary investigation, he thinks. It is as if, because it involves Lognon, it has taken on a less professional character. From the start, Maigret hasn’t handled the case with his usual clear-headedness.

Here in Simenon’s typically short, 150-page thriller, our hero must work fast to uncover the truth before someone else gets seriously hurt. Finally, the facts tumble out one after the other as Simenon races to his denouement. Sometimes, we feel, he wrote too fast as his novels burst out of him and onto the page, but anyone who doubts Simenon’s abilities should try the gripping and masterful Chapter 5, where Maigret’s encounter with the Jonkers crackles with tension and subtle undercurrents.

Will the lights in Maigret’s office again go on until goodness-knows-what hour? Will Lognon recover? Read on.

#
Georges Simenon at work


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