Catching up, we read through the 146 pages of "Maigret in Court” in a day. That’s the way Simenon wanted his books to be: short and devoured quickly, preferably in one sitting, like a play. Previously, we’d only read a third of it before it was stolen, in which Detective Chief Inspector Jules Maigret, standing in the witness box, had rather sensationally revealed his doubts that the man on trial for a double murder, Gaston Meurant, a picture framer, was guilty. This led to Meurant’s acquittal by the jury.

The two murder victims were Meurant’s aunt, Léontine Faverges, and a 4-year-old girl, Cécile Perrin, who the aunt was caring for. After the trial, Meurant discovered who the real murderer was and killed him in turn, because the latter had been having an affair with Meurant’s wife. And it turned out to have been the wife who had put up her lover to slay the two so as to steal the aunt’s valuables, and then contrive to implicate Meurant.

To get to the bottom of the whole tangled mess, Maigret had taken the unusual step of continuing the police investigation "unofficially" after Meurant’s arrest because the Detective Chief Inspector hadn't been convinced of his guilt. And when the released Meurant found out who the real murderer was, Maigret had known Meurant had a gun but neglected to tell his fellow inspector Lapointe, who'd been following Meurant. Result: three deaths in all – the aunt, the child and the lover – and Meurant under arrest again.

All very absorbing and delivered with typical Simenon flair in this golden period of "Maigrets”, but we were equally interested in some of the background. Two days before appearing in court – which he hates, by the way, for several explained reasons – Maigret and Madame Maigret had returned from a three-week holiday in the Loire region, where they had finally taken the plunge and bought a property for Maigret’s retirement.

As the court hears, Maigret is 53 years old, which means he will be forced to retire from the Paris Police Judiciaire in two years, in accordance with the regulations. The house is on the edge of the town of Meung-sur-Loire and is very ancient with a grey-walled garden. It has blue-tiled corridors, leaded windows, and heavy beams and a pump in the kitchen. It reminds the Maigrets of a presbytery, and Simenon says it is the first property they have owned.

But, for us, the point is this: if there are another 20 "Maigret” books to go, numbers 56 to 75, and Maigret has just two years of service left, during which we know from experience he will deal almost exclusively with murders, then it would seem that a fair amount of blood is going to be shed in quite a short period. There was a quick diversion involving a bank robbery in "Maigret in Court”, but Simenon gave it short shrift. Maigret is very much a murder man.

And so we come, then, to "Maigret and the Old People”, which was first published in French as "Maigret et les vieillards” in 1960. It has previously been issued in English as "Maigret in Society” but, as we know, all the ongoing Penguin reissues have new translations.

Here we discover that the victim this time is a former ambassador, the Count of Saint-Hilaire, who has been shot four times in the study of his apartment in Rue Saint-Dominique. It’s one of those cases Maigret doesn’t like, because there is going to be interference from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which will want to hush up any possible scandal.

The count had retired 12 years earlier, and at the time of death he was 77 years old. His body is discovered by his housekeeper of 46 years, Mademoiselle Jaquette Larrieu, who lives in and is 73. His murder coincides with the funeral of Prince Hubert de V--, of one of the great French families, who was 80 but died a couple of days earlier after a bad fall from a horse.

Now, it gets a bit tricky: Prince Hubert's wife, Princess Isabelle de V--, who is 72, has been a lifelong friend of Saint-Hilaire's. In fact, they'd intended to marry, some 50 years ago, but the count “barely had a fortune”. So she'd wed Prince Hubert in a marriage of convenience while the count was on diplomatic duties abroad, then maintained a life-long, almost daily correspondence with the count. Although the count and princess lived near one another, they rarely glimpsed each other and it was a platonic relationship.

It was, says her son, a kind of mystical love that never gave the family reason to be ashamed. And Prince Hubert knew about their feelings and letters but tolerated it, being the first to smile about it, even with a hint of tenderness. Everyone in their circle had known the romantic story that the count and the princess intended to marry at the death of Prince Hubert. But after waiting 50 years, and within days of the prince’s accidental death, the count is dead too...

Saint-Hilaire had no enemies, and there is no sign of forced entry. Nothing had been taken. After reading many of Isabelle's letters to Saint-Hilaire, and interviewing everyone concerned, Maigret becomes disconcerted to find himself in a milieu of which he has only a vague and imprecise idea. All of the people connected are old and noteworthy. This affair involves only a circle of old people, who had relationships that to him did not seem human.

Maigret realises that in this case he hasn’t shown his usual ease but has been reticent and clumsy. This goes back to his distant past, the years spent in the shadow of a chateau where his father was estate manager and where for a long time the Count and Countess of Saint-Fiacre had seemed to him like creatures of a unique species.

In a final complication, Maigret’s friend Doctor Pardon has told him about an article he read in the English medical journal “Lancet”, in which it says that a skilled psychiatrist, based on his scientific knowledge and surgical experience, is quite well placed to understand human beings. But it is possible, particularly if he is influenced by theory, that he will understand them less well than an exceptional schoolteacher, a novelist or even a policeman.

But Maigret finds he has seldom been so perplexed by human beings. Would a psychiatrist, a novelist or a teacher have been better placed to understand characters who had suddenly materialised from another century – these old people?

Murder and mind games, that’s our Simenon.

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