There are also 28 short stories about Maigret floating around out there somewhere, mostly written in the 1930s and 1940s, if you can find them. Some are on the internet. And there were actually four proto-Maigrets – as Maigret scholars refer to them – written before 1931: "Train de nuit" (Night Train), "La Jeune Fille aux perles" (The Girl with the Pearls), "La Femme rousse" (The Redhead) and "La Maison de l'inquiétude" (The House of Anxiety). These aren't included in the canon.

Between 1924 and 1931, when he turned 28, Simenon published approximately 190 pulp novels under at least 17 noms de plume ("Train de nuit" and "La Jeune Fille aux perles" are by "Christian Brulls" and the other two Maigret prototypes are by "Georges Sim"). In the succeeding 40-plus years that remained of his career, he wrote some 192 more novels under his own name -- a mix of "Maigret"s and what he referred to as ''hard novels'' -- as well as about 20 autobiographical volumes. (This excludes hundreds of articles and stories, as well as film scripts and plays.)

Detective Chief Inspector Jules Maigret of the Police Judiciaire in Paris, who made Simenon rich and famous, ranks only after Sherlock Holmes as the world's best-known fictional detective. Beware, for the various figures surrounding Simenon tend to be rubbery, depending on where you look, but generally his books were translated into some 100 languages and his sales are estimated as nearing a billion (or could it be more?). Easier to count are the more than 50 films that have been made from them, along with hundreds of television episodes.

There was nothing commonplace about the life of Georges Joseph Christian Simenon, a man apart who was prolific in everything in life. Apart from writing the more than 350 books, the crime writer and Maigret inventor boasted of having sex with 10,000 women in the 61 years since his 13th birthday* (actually wives, mistresses, pick-ups and a lot of prostitutes). He lived in 33 different homes, beginning in Liège, Belgium, where he was born on February 13, 1903 and ending in Lausanne on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, where he died in his sleep on September 4, 1989.

In between he lived in Paris, on a canal boat and in a white house on the edge of Lakeville, Connecticut. Wherever it was, his working methods did not vary. The writing process for Simenon was painful and stressful, like an intense period of purgation His books were all composed in the same intense mood, as if he were gripped by a fever.

The Catholic boy who was taught at a Jesuit school likened the experience of preparation in an interview with The New York Times as putting himself into an "état de grâce", a Catholic concept of being without sin. "To me," he explained, "a ‘state of grace' means being free to receive any message. To be completely receptive, you must be full of emptiness."

He would then have a medical check-up to ensure he was unlikely to succumb to illness in the next two weeks. His children were also examined. If he or they fell ill during the course of a book the spell was broken and it would have to be discarded.

Once handed a clean bill of health, Simenon would take a calendar and mark off eight days for composition and three for correction. He would arrange four dozen freshly sharpened pencils on his desk, each to be discarded when the point wore down.

He said: "I am an artisan. I need to work with my hands. I would like to carve my novel in a piece of wood." Once he began, nothing was to interrupt the flow as he scribbled feverishly, swigging down glasses of red wine.

Later in his life he would hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign, purloined from New York's Plaza Hotel, on the doorknob of his study each day to remind people that he was "with novel".

Simenon would always begin his work in the same way, writing down the names of the characters, their ages and their families on the back of a manila envelope. "It is almost a geometrical problem," he said, "I have such a man, such a woman, in such surroundings. What can happen to them to oblige them to go to their limit? That's the question."

He would then walk around the room clutching the envelope, repeating the name of his chief protagonist until the first chapter arrived in his head. There was no careful outline – everything poured out, chapter after chapter, until the resolution, without a day's break. In that time, he would not see anyone or answer the phone.

Only on completion could Simenon relax and resurface but, given his prodigious output, these periods were scarce and he soon returned once again to his secluded writing room. Finally, Simenon's books were relatively short – the "Maigret"s clock in at round 170 pages – as he wrote them to be hopefully read in one sitting, like a play.

He also kept his choice of words down to around 2000, so that no one would have to consult a dictionary, disrupting the flow. We like to keep a lookout for exceptions, and in "Maigret and the Nahour Case" he allows himself a little indulgence with "pernicketiness" (and, possibly, "rigmarole"?).

"Maigret and the Nahour Case" was first published in French as "Maigret et l'affaire Nahour" in 1966. It is number 65 in Penguin Books' monthly reissue of all 75 books in chronological order and with new translations. The project began in 2013 and number 65 brings us to March 2019.

Here at The Budapest Times we have read a fair bit of Simenon on and off over the decades, and "Maigret and the Nahour Case" finds him in prime form. The plot, characters, atmosphere, pacing and dialogue are as good as Simenon gets, and that can be very good.

Being so productive, he tended to veer way off beam occasionally and turn in a clunker (for us, the non-Maigret "The Stowaway" and "Mr Hire's Engagement" spring immediately to mind), but not here. This one is taut and terrific. For a whodunnit, there isn't much of a twist at the end, but couldn't it be said that this is a Simenon twist in itself, not to have a big twist at the end?

*One Simenon biographer relates a story, surely apocryphal, where the writer was staying in a hotel room and heard shoes being brushed out in the corridor. It was a maid, and Simenon, feeling frisky, as always, went out and had his way with her even as she continued to brush, then simply returned to his room.


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