"Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse" is number 58 in the series. It was first issued in the original French in 1962 as "Maigret et les braves gens" and was previously translated and released in English with the different title "Maigret and the Black Sheep", rather than the literal "Maigret and the Good People". Like all the Penguin reissues this is a new translation, and as we believe these latest translations to be more meticulous than some of the previous ones, quite why "of Montparnasse" has been added is a mystery upon a mystery.

Simenon is/was a fascinating character. His writing career began in 1923, soon after his arrival in Paris from his native Liege, Belgium, as an aspiring 19-year-old journalist. By the time Maigret was born, in 1931, Simenon had abandoned journalism and was making a handsome living as "Georges Sim" and another couple of dozen pseudonyms, author of pulp fiction. He is said to have written some 200 short novels and stories in less than 10 years, including once publishing a personal record of 44 titles in one year.

# Georges Simenon

The "Maigret" stories were the first that Simenon was confident enough to publish under his own name. He launched the series with a fancy-dress party in a Montparnasse nightclub and the guests had to be finger-printed at the door, a precaution that did not prevent about 800 gatecrashers from joining the 400 who were invited (another account talks of "1000 guests" but we find that many numbers around Simenon are rubbery, for instance has he sold 800 million books worldwide, or is it a billion? When such huge figures are bandied around, the difference hardly seems to matter).

The publicity stunt reminds us of an earlier Simenon legend. In 1927 he apparently agreed to be locked in a glass cage, to spend seven days in public writing a novel for serialisation in a new newspaper, Paris-Matinal. The paper folded before Simenon made it inside the cage but the word of mouth was priceless. And the story is still sometimes recounted as having actually taken place.

Simenon was a notoriously fast writer. He once labelled one of his books "the first novel by Georges Simenon for eight days". We recently came across another story involving him that we had not seen before. In this one, British film director Alfred Hitchcock phoned Simenon’s home but was told by the writer’s secretary that he had just begun a new novel and couldn’t be disturbed. Hitchcock, knowing that Simenon was capable of writing one novel -- or two or three -- every month, replied, "That's all right, I'll wait." The story is described as "probably apocryphal" but it fits and we like it anyway.

By the by, Simenon falsely insisted that "Pietr-le-Letton" ("The Strange Case of Peter the Lett," 1931) was the first book in which Inspector Maigret appeared fully developed because the actual one, "La Maison de l'Inquietude" ("House of Anxiety," 1932), was written under a pseudonym and initially rejected. As well as the 75 "Maigret" novels, there are 28 short stories featuring the Detective Chief Inspector of the Police Judiciaire in Paris kicking around somewhere.

The plot of "Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse" reminds us rather a lot of "Maigret and the Old People", which was published only two years earlier in 1960 and is number 56 in the series, so only two books before. In both mysteries, an elderly respectable man is shot at home by his own gun, which then disappears. Maigret then naturally has to get involved with the families and the people around them.

In the earlier book Maigret is disconcerted to be swept up in a world of "old" people, and in this latest volume he is again unsettled, this time because he is surrounded by "good" people: people who have lived quiet uneventful lives in a calm well-to-do neighbourhood. Could "of Montparnasse" have been added to the title to differentiate "Maigret and the Good People" more from "Maigret and the Old People"? And was Simenon starting to run a little short of ideas, perhaps?

The get-it-down-fast author is only on page one before Maigret is phoned in the night and called to the home of René Josselin, a retired cardboard box company owner who has been found shot in his chair. His wife, Francine, and daughter, Véronique Fabre, had found him when they returned from an evening at the theatre. He had stayed home and played chess with his son-in-law, Doctor Paul Fabre, but then the latter was called away to a sick child ... only there was no sick child, and no one at the address given knew anything about it (Simenon doesn’t trouble to give an explanation for this red herring). He'd gone from there to the hospital, to check his patients.

The problem for Maigret is that everyone involved is a "good person"... there are no real suspects and no motive. According to the concierge, no one had left the Josselins’ building after Dr. Fabre, and only one person had come in, for one of the neighbours. But then it seems Josselin's gun is missing, and the neighbour reports no visitors.

A search of the building reveals that a man had stayed in one of the maids’ rooms on the top floor, and that he'd gotten the key from the Josselins’ apartment. Then, a systematic door-to-door check of the neighbourhood reveals that Josselin had met a man in a café one day, and that his wife had met the same man later on. This is the breakthrough that helps Maigret solve the case … and us to solve that earlier alternative "Black Sheep" title.

The libidinous Simenon loved to wallow in the sexual, and his books often mention glimpses of women’s breasts and stocking tops, their sweaty armpits and prostitutes, the latter being a favoured pastime of his in real life. In this novel, when the police check the maids’ rooms on the top floor, one beautiful Spanish-looking woman comes to the door stark naked and not at all embarrassed. It’s a typical Simenon fantasy.

The Josselins are not the sort of people you would expect to be caught up in a tragedy, a murder, of this kind. They’re "good" people. Maigret must reconstruct the events leading up to the killing moment by moment, and find the "baddie". Read on, read on …

Next fix: "Maigret et le client du samedi", or "Maigret and the Saturday Caller", number 59, the September 2018 reissue.

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