At home, Madame Maigret’s dentist hasn’t yet stopped her toothache, and her nightly distress has been interrupting her husband’s sleep. The famous detective is increasingly tired and irritable. An aged English woman tourist has gone missing in the middle of a “Paris by night” revel, and the English newspapers are trumpeting the inefficiency of the French police because they can’t find her.

Things get much worse when a rich and powerful businessman uses his influence with a government minister to secure a personal meeting with Maigret to lay out his problem. The minister expects Maigret to pull out all the stops to help. Although Maigret doesn’t recognise him at first, it turns out that his visitor is an old classmate, “Fat Ferdinand”, from when they were at school together decades ago in Saint-Fiacre village.

Maigret’s father was estate manager at the Saint-Fiacre chateau and Ferdinand’s father was the village butcher, Fumal. The two men didn’t get on well and Fumal humiliated Maigret’s father in a cattle deal and in another obscure incident later. Maigret, then, is not at all pleased to be reunited with Ferdinand Fumal, now a big meat wholesaler in Paris who is contemptuously self-confident, insulting and arrogant. He is a ruthless businessman makes people’s lives hell just for the sake of it.

But Fumal has lately been receiving anonymous death threats in the post. Maigret, affected by his old antagonism to Fumal, is half-hearted about the whole problem. He puts another officer on the case and organises some protection for Fumal starting next morning. By then it is too late, and Fumal has already been killed.

What’s going on? It’s a murder. It’s a mystery. Maigret is on the trail. And Simenon has got us in his grip, again. The Belgian writer (1903-1989) wrote 75 Maigret novels and Penguin Classics is reissuing the whole lot, one a month, all in new translations and with front covers from the work of photographer Harry Gruyaert, of the famous Magnum agency. “Maigret’s Failure” was originally published as “Un échec de Maigret” in 1956. It is number 49 in the reissue series.

Simenon, as we know, wrote fast once he had his idea. He pretty much developed the plot as he went along and didn’t revise much. He rattled off a book in about a week, sticking to a vocabulary of about 2000 words in a deliberately non-literary approach. Another part of this tactic to keep readers involved was to make the books short, almost like a play, so that they could be devoured in a single sitting. “Maigret’s Failure” clocks in at 160 pages and a solid spell of reading will indeed get you through it in a day.

It can be a bit of a hit and miss approach but Simenon, biting down on his pipe just like his creation, usually hits the plus side of the ledger, with occasional clunkers (please don’t mention “Monsieur Hire's Engagement”).

And so, the dogged detective sets about hunting Fumal’s killer. The problem is, Fumal abused everyone around him and kept an unpleasant hold over them. A lot of people were thrilled he was dead. “What may have troubled Maigret the most was the malice he sensed in everything Fumal did, because he (Maigret) had always refused to believe in pure evil.”

Maigret struggles to put aside his own feelings and carry out his duties as an investigator. Along the way we encounter the Simenon-Maigret trademarks – Maigret’s frequent visits to local bars, for instance, for a reviver or two and to use the public phone to check in with headquarters. Madame Maigret is her usual scant, shadowy presence, ready at home with a meal that Maigret is often too busy to come back for.
And as always, Simenon, who was highly sexed, never misses the opportunity for sordid little details – “People said she never wore underwear, and even cynically explained, ‘You might miss your chance while you’re fiddling about getting them off.’” (And this is only Page 10.)

The title of the book tells us that these – don’t forget the missing woman – are troubling cases for Maigret. It could have been called “Maigret’s Double Failure” or “Maigret’s Failures”. Consequently, it doesn’t have a neat ending but it is vintage Simenon. Put aside a cold, wet day for a vicarious visit to Paris.

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