It’s not just because of politicians’ tendency to forget who elected them and to start serving themselves. Belgian author Georges Simenon gives us a short but tantalising glimpse into Maigret’s past. “Was this case going to be like the other political case Maigret had been obliged to handle and which had ended with him being sent to Lucon in disgrace?”

Whatever that was all about, it is now old history and “this case” is another matter. It begins when a desperate government minister needs someone experienced and discreet to conduct an unofficial investigation into the theft of an engineering report from his office.

Maigret is the man. He is immediately on his guard when his wife tells him that the minister phoned him at home from a public phone, and he should go to the minister’s home late in the evening.

On several occasions over the course of Maigret’s career, a statesman, deputy, senator or some high-up figure has requested his services but always through the usual channels. Each time he had been called in to see the chief, and each time the conversation had begun: “I’m sorry, Maigret, I’m putting you in charge of a case you’re not going to like.” And, invariably, they had indeed been rather unpleasant experiences.

And so it will prove again. The missing report, the Calame Report, was written years earlier by an engineering consultant and correctly predicted the collapse of a sanatorium that killed 128 children. But the report was buried and never made public. Now it has suddenly turned up. If it were to actually come out in the newspapers, the resultant scrutiny would be a serious threat to the government.

“Maigret and the Minister” was first published in 1955 and has also been known as “Maigret and the Calame Report”. It is book 46 of the monthly reissues of the 75 Maigret novels by Penguin Classics, an enterprise that will take more than six years.

Simenon, who was born in Liege, Belgium, in 1903 and died in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1989, is regarded as one of the most addictive and best-selling European authors of the last century. His work consists of 391 titles, both novels and short stories, and his translations into more than 50 languages have brought him sales of some 800 million books (give or take a few) worldwide.

Maigret is his most popular creation. This one starts off with a whizz-bang first chapter that would draw anybody in, then tracks the inspector as he unwillingly but doggedly delves into the unsavoury world of political shenanigans. Concentration is needed by the reader as the plot brings in a plethora of characters and locations around Paris.

Maigret is on unfamiliar territory tackling names he knows only vaguely from reading in the newspapers, but his signature hunches and instincts – not to mention his prodigious alcohol consumption and pipe-smoking – carry him through, as usual.

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