Consider further: when did Enid Blyton ever pop up in a "Noddy", "Famous Five" or "Secret Seven" story alongside Big Ears, Timmy the Dog or Binkie? Or when did P.G. Wodehouse drop in at his very own Drones Club for a Buck's Fizz cocktail with Bertie Wooster, Pongo Twistleton, Psmith, Freddie Threepwood, Bingo Little, Freddie Widgeon, Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright and all the others?

But now it is confession time. Penguin Books has been republishing the whole "Maigret" series one a month since 2013 in chronological order with new translations from the French, and this led us recently to unexpected possession of a copy of the previously shunned "Maigret's Memoirs". It seemed appropriate, then, to forget our prejudice, take the plunge and at least give it a bit of a go. Would it be as ridiculous as we suspected? Well, ummm, it's brilliant, an excellent "Maigret". Preposterous in its way but damned clever.

The book starts off with Maigret's chapter one heading, "In which I am not displeased to have the opportunity to at last say something about my relations with a man named Simenon". Maigret then recounts that it was in 1927 or 1928 – he can't remember exactly – when the chief at the Police Judiciaire in Paris, Xavier Guichard, asked him to drop by his office for a moment. Maigret did, and was introduced to "Monsieur Georges Sim, a journalist", whereupon Sim protested with a smile: "Not a journalist, a novelist."

Remember that Simenon – and this is real life we are talking about – was born in Liege, Belgium, in February 13, 1903 (his superstitious mother insisted the birth was registered for February 12), and began working on a local newspaper, Gazette de Liège, at age 16. In 1922, aged 19, he went to Paris determined to be a successful writer.

The various numbers surrounding his career may not always be 100 percent accurate but it is generally accepted that between 1923 and 1933 he wrote some 200 books of pulp fiction under 16 different pseudonyms (Gom Gut, Christian Brulls and Jean du Perry, for instance), knocking out some 80 pages each day at obvious speed.

Eventually, after this apprenticeship, he had the courage to write under his own name, and the first "Maigret" proper (after four "prototypes") was "Pietr-le-Letton" in 1931 ("Pietr the Latvian", or "The Strange Case of Peter the Lett" in later English translation). Nine other "Maigrets" followed in 1931 and seven in 1932 introducing the imperturbable, pipe-puffing Parisian police inspector Jules Maigret to popular fiction.

Simenon then slowed down a bit. "Maigret's Memoirs" is the 35th book in the series and was originally published as "Les Mémoires de Maigret" in French in 1950. By then, and here is the twist, the fictional Maigret had decided that the flesh-and-blood Simenon had taken enough liberties with him in the previous 34 titles and it was time to set the record straight. So in this make-believe autobiography of reminiscences and musings he tells the story of his own life, giving a glimpse into both his mind and the writer who immortalised him.

So, Sim/Simenon had arrived at the Police Judiciaire in 1927 or 1928 young and eager to soak up atmosphere for his crime novels by dogging the footsteps of an inspector. The author wants to write ""semi-literary" fiction about a real, unromanticised policeman, and Maigret gets the task of being his living research library.

The detective is irritated by the audacious fellow who names "my character" Maigret. The inspector eventually argues with Simenon for over-simplifying the intricate duties of the police, such as by attributing the work of other officers to Maigret and deliberately mixing up the Police Judiciaire and the Surete.

Maigret is four-square and honourable, compared with the rather cocksure Simenon (and remember it is Simenon who is presenting himself in such a way. The man knows how to deliver a nice line in self-deprecation, even though we – and doubtless he too – know he is being devilishly clever really).

For the reader, it's a treat as Simenon deftly handles his head-spinning role-switching, including the evolution of "Sim" to ``semi-literature'' that he can begin to sign with his full name. Then Maigret becomes embarrassed when the books became famous.

For Maigret fans there is a host of invaluable background detail. The Detective Chief Inspector offers some memories of his youth and early manhood, including his young mother's "unnecessary" death (the fault, perhaps, of an incompetent family doctor), his subsequent childhood away from his sorrowful father with a childless aunt and her baker husband in Nantes, his police career beginnings (despite early medical ambitions) and his charming courtship and marriage to his beloved Louise.

When he explains a few of the "contradictions" that appeared in Simenon's narratives, he is following to some extent a list his wife has prepared. She is the person largely responsible for the firm friendship that eventually grows between the novelist and her husband.

Maigret describes some of his early experiences in the police, mentions some famous cases and speaks of his eventual promotion to the Special Squad. There are observations and anecdotes from his years as a very everyday Paris policeman, with crime statistics, Vice Squad vignettes (the police/prostitute camaraderie), compassionate glimpses of the underworld and an emphasis on the humdrum, red-tape aspects.

Intriguingly, Maigret gives his opinions of the various screen actors who portrayed him (several others would follow, post-1950, culminating so far with Rowan Atkinson in 2016 and 2017).

No plot, no mystery in "Maigret's Memoirs"; just him telling us how he's different from the invention, even though he is the invention, if you see what Simenon means.

"I can still see Simenon coming into my office the next day, pleased with himself, displaying even more self-confidence, if possible, than before, but nevertheless with a touch of anxiety in his eyes ... He trumpeted these last words as if they were a sensational discovery. 'Making it seem truer than life, that's the crux of it. Well, I've made you truer than life'."

Rather ingeniously, it must be said.


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