That was “Maigret Enjoys Himself”, number 50 in Penguin’s one-a-month reissue of all 75 Maigrets in paperback, and this one, “Maigret Doubts”, is number 52 (we will catch up with number 51, “Maigret Travels”, later, whenever the inspector gets back from wherever it is he went).

Despite his holiday, again we find Maigret in lethargic mood, though this time it is more the weather to blame. It is a grey January and after the holidays people are living their lives in slow motion. Almost all the people who make the headlines are on the Cote d’Azur or on the ski slopes. Maigret’s office at the Quai des Orfevres is overheated, not much is going on and his mind is drowsy.

Then he is unexpectedly visited by a man, Xavier Marton, the head salesman in the toy section of a Paris department store, who believes that his wife, Giselle, is trying to poison him by putting zinc phosphide in his food. At first, the sluggish Maigret is only half-listening. He is apathetic and distracted, and besides, no one is ready for the undertaker yet.

The Martons live with the wife’s sister, Jenny, who is in her mid-30s. She had lived in America but her husband, an engineer in an oil refinery, was killed in an explosion and she returned to France, shaken and discouraged. The Martons took the widow into their house. Giselle Marton works in a lingerie house, called Monsieur Harris, on Rue Saint-Honoré, run by Maurice Schwob.

Maigret is called away from the office for a while, and Xavier Marton gets fed up waiting and departs (we don’t blame him, as it seems rather rude of Maigret to leave him hanging around for quite a while). Maigret isn’t unduly concerned to find him gone, but the plot thickens, as they say, when Giselle then also turns up at the detective’s office the same day. She knows of her husband’s visit because she followed him there. And of course she denies having anything to do with zinc phosphide and says Xavier is having delusions. She is the one who feels that her life is in danger.

So who is telling the truth? For Maigret, left to ponder what the heck is going on, it’s a little like carrying out an investigation in reverse. In the normal run of things there is usually a crime at the beginning, and it’s only once it’s been committed that the police try to find the motives for it. Now there appear to be motives among the warring couple but as yet no crime.

The matter is complicated and confused. The previous day Maigret had never heard of the Martons, now Xavier, a toy salesman specialising in train-sets, is beginning to haunt his thoughts. Perhaps Marton is a normal man, who feels that his life is in danger and has come in good faith to inform the police. Perhaps, on the other hand, he is a man obsessed and suffering from persecution mania, who needs reassurance. Perhaps he is a madman. Does he need a policeman or a psychiatrist?

Is Xavier carrying on with Jenny, and is Gizelle doing likewise with Maurice Schwob? Nothing serious has actually really happened yet but, of course, if Maigret fails to act and there is a corpse, it will be on his conscience …

“Maigret’s Doubts” was first published in French as “Les scrupules de Maigret” in 1958. The novel was published in 1959 in English in a first translation by Robert Eglesfield as “Maigret Has Scruples”. Penguin’s current ongoing publishing of the entire series of Maigret novels is using brand-new translations, and it is these latest versions that The Budapest Times has come to trust over the earlier ones. The translator for this new edition is Shaun Whiteside.

Georges Simenon was born in Liège, Belgium, in 1903. His prolific output of over 400 novels and short stories have convinced many critics that he is a genius, brilliant, truly wonderful and the greatest novelist of all, with comparisons to Beckett, Kafka, Camus and Chekhov. At The Budapest Times we don’t go quite that far (not least because we haven’t read so much of Beckett, Kafka, Camus and Chekhov) but we do know that once you read Simenon’s first chapter it’s going to be mighty hard not to read the rest and find out how the whole intrigue ends.

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