Joséphine Papet, 34, has an apartment on Rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette in Paris and she has a live-in lover, Léon Florentin. But he's not allowed to stay one night of the week, Thursdays, because they are reserved for another man, Fernand Courcel. Florentin also has to make himself scare on three other occasions each week when another three men come to enjoy Joséphine's bodily pleasures.

Each of the four regular visitors thinks she lives on her own. Each knows nothing of the others and is under the illusion that he alone is being favoured. And each leaves behind some francs to keep their mistress in clover. These four are mostly middle-aged men occupying more or less important positions. Each leads calm and regular lives in the bosom of their families except for the few hours on their one day a week. That's one woman, five men, just the sort of sexual shenanigans to fire up Simenon's fevered imagination.

But we can guess what is going to happen next...

It is mid-June and the novel opens with Detective Chief Inspector Jules Maigret reading his inspectors' routine reports at the Police Judiciaire in the Quai des Orfevres. There is a nice touch of Simenon humour to get us under way as Maigret tackles a troublesome fly. Joseph, the old usher, brings him an embossed visiting card from a visitor. The card announces "Léon Florentin, Antiques Dealer".

Florentin was a fellow pupil of Maigret's at the Lycée Banville in Moulins some 40 years ago. He was the class clown, acting the fool behind the teachers' backs with his rubbery face. Florentin was the son of a pâtissier, a pastry chef, and Maigret didn't particularly like him. Rather, he had a soft spot for Florentin's sister, who worked in the pâtisserie. It wouldn't be Simenon, we're sure, if he didn't have Maigret recall that the girl had a "well-filled blouse". (Thanks for all the mammaries, Georges.)

Maigret and Florentin have only bumped into each other once since schooldays, 20 years ago on the Place de la Madeleine in Paris. It was rather an awkward meeting, and so is this latest one. Florentin, having seen Maigret in the newspapers, has come to report that Papet has been shot in the throat at pointblank range in the apartment and is dead.

Florentin, being the live-in, is the only one of the five paramours with a key to the apartment. It was about 3pm on a Saturday and Florentin would have had to clear out for a while at 5pm when one of the regulars was due. But someone turned up early and was knocking on the door. Florentin hid in the closet, something he had done three or four times before when someone arrived unexpectedly. Joséphine and the man spoke for 15 minutes, then Florentin heard a shot. He stayed concealed for a further quarter of an hour until he heard the man leave. It was another hour or so before he went to inform Maigret. Why the delay, the Detective Chief Inspector wonders?

The "Maigret" books are basically police procedurals, and police procedurals can be about as exciting as it gets, whether films or books, fiction or non-fiction. One dictionary defines "Police procedural" this way: "A mystery story written from the point of view of the police investigating the crime." True, but we feel it's a bit more than that. Let's add: "Crime committed, police investigate step by step, clue by clue, suspects grilled, crime solved." That's near enough, and anyway, what we want to say is that "Maigret's Childhood Friend" is a pretty good police procedural. Simenon is an adept at the genre.

So, Maigret and his inspectors are on the trail, and the first thing to do is identify and check out the five men, one by one. Easy to find is Francois Paré, about 50 years old and who heads the Navigable Waterways department in the Ministry of Public Works. He lives in Versailles and his allotted time with the accommodating Joséphine was each Wednesday at around 5.30 or 6pm.

Then there is Fernand Courcel, who lives in Rouen and has offices on Boulevard Voltaire. Out of the five he is the oldest and has been getting into bed with Joséphine the longest, some 10 years. He has the Thursday night spot and is the only one of the four with overnight privileges, forcing Florentin to go to his own miserable little flat temporarily. "Antiques Dealer" is rather wishful thinking for this inadequate man.

Then there is someone known only as Victor. Another transgressor is a redheaded man, the youngest at 30-35 and fairly new on the sexually unrestrained scene, having been enjoying Joséphine's favours for only a few weeks. Completing the roster is a man with a limp who has a weekend slot. It is fertile stuff for the libidinous Simenon.

Maigret must track them down and sort it all out. He is suspicious about the lack of help from Madame Blanc, the bulky and hostile concierge at Rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette with sausage-like fingers. "If only that appalling creature would talk!"

There is a complication. Even though Florentin is the main suspect, Maigret feels slightly uneasy and wonders that if Florentin hadn't been his fellow pupil in Moulins, wouldn't he already have instructed the examining magistrate to issue an arrest warrant against him? Isn't Maigret allowing himself to be influenced by some kind of childhood loyalty?

This is no ordinary case, and the fact that Florentin was a schoolmate doesn't make it any better. But the pastry-chef's son had never really been what one calls a friend. Young Maigret had had mixed feelings about him, as he does now. He had been irritated by his playing the fool, and Florentin had always lied, instinctively or for fun.

Childhood memories surface for Maigret. Murder is the main crime but robbery and blackmail also come into play. The investigation proceeds, step by step, clue by clue, suspect by suspect...

"Maigret's Childhood Friend" was published as a serial, "L'Ami d'enfance de Maigret", in Le Figaro in French in 1968 and then as a book that same year. It is number 69 in Penguin Books' one-a-month chronological reissue of the 75 "Maigret" novels in new translations. It was published in a previous translation as "Maigret's Boyhood Friend".


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