Deep into the book, though, we find Simenon offering a distinction. "Are you sure he was the murderer?" Madame Maigret asks her husband. "I said the killer," Maigret replies, adding, "A murder assumes premeditation." Madame Maigret: "His act wasn’t premeditated?" Maigret: "Not exactly, unless I’m mistaken." Well, it seems a fine line to us but we bow to the author.

When we say "Deep into the book", we refer to Page 146 out of a total 178. As always, Simenon is economical with his words, being convinced that police and detective fiction have to be read in one sitting. All 75 Inspector Maigret novels – or novelettes, as they are often called – are this slender, in a small format and good-size print.

Belgian writer Simenon (1903-1989) was hugely prolific with an output of some 400 novels and short stories but he certainly wasn’t Charles Dickens: he said it all quickly and that was that, full stop, end of story.

And he did so in the deceptively simple language that often concealed his mastery. Simenon was rarely one to indulge in superfluous prose, but it has to be said that sometimes the books suffered from the excessive speed at which he wrote them, some of the romans durs (the "tough books", or "psychological" novels) in particular having a tossed-off feeling.

# Georges Simenon

But back to the matter at hand, that killer. The Maigrets are having their regular visit for dinner at Doctor and Mrs Pardons’ when a regular patient of the doctor’s interrupts the evening to say he and his wife have seen a vicious stabbing in nearby Rue Popincourt. It is a foul evening of torrential rain and so hardly any people are around, and Pardon and Maigret are first on the scene to tend the severely wounded man.

There is little they can do and he will be dead on arrival at Saint-Antoine Hospital. The victim proves to be Antoine Batille, 21, of Quai d’Anjou on the Isle Saint-Louis. His father owns Mylene Perfumes and Beauty Products, making the family rich and well-known in Paris society. Such crimes happen every night somewhere in Paris and normally the newspapers would only devote a few lines under the heading "other news". But there are some unusual aspects to this case ...

The killer was seen by the witnesses, the Pagliatis, who are a pasta-maker and his wife, to stab Batille four times. Then, hearing the footsteps of the couple, who were less than 50 metres away, the assailant walked off towards the corner of Rue de Chemin-Vert. But he suddenly turned and retraced his steps, as if he hadn’t finished. He bent over his victim, lifted his head to look at his face and stabbed him three more times before fleeing in the rain. Why?

Batille had a tape recorder worn across his body that the killer did not touch. As Maigret investigates, he discovers that Antoine collected human voices. He led quite a lonely life and spent two or three whole evenings a week going into cafés, stations, all kinds of public places, particularly in seedy working-class areas, and switching on his tape recorder. A lot of people thought it was a camera. He had a miniature microphone hidden in his hand. He called his recordings "human documents".

When the police listen to his latest tape, one of the conversations sounds suspicious. Batille says on the tape that it was recorded at the Café des Amis, Place de la Bastille. Some men are talking about arranging to meet two days later on Thursday evening, somewhere outside a villa around Paris. The home has already been watched. It is probably a second home because the owner won’t arrive until Friday and will have to leave on Monday morning.

Can it be the gang that for two years has robbed important villas while their owners were in Paris? They take paintings and precious knick-knacks, and there must be a brains behind the operation, a connoisseur who knows about art, who has connections to resell the loot.

Did the gang realise that Batille had recorded them and so one of them killed him? But they have never killed before. It’s not their style. And if they had killed Batille, why wasn’t the tape recorder taken?

The gang must be dealt with by the Sûreté Nationale in Rue des Saussaies, who can lie in wait for them on the Thursday evening. Certain elements of the Sûreté Nationale and the press are convinced that the robberies and the stabbing are linked. But Maigret isn’t so sure. And although killings are fairly commonplace in Paris, he feels somewhat involved in this one, having been first on the scene. He had attended to the matter automatically because it had happened almost in front of him, and it reminded him of so many years he had spent in the streets of the city at night in younger days.

Now the mastery of Maigret comes to the fore. He reasons that by deliberately tangling up the two crimes in the newspapers, the killer will be goaded by his ego into making it plain that the other four criminals are not responsible for his crime. The slayer sends an anonymous message to a newspaper and from there on Maigret uses all his vast experience to reel in his man, first drawing further notes out of him and then convincing him to phone.

The whole ploy requires the utmost delicacy by Maigret and he has to be absolutely trustworthy: one false word, one false mood from the detective and he would immediately scare off his quarry.

"Maigret and the Killer" was published in French as "Maigret et le tueur" in 1969. The five books still to come in the Penguin Books reissues are:
"Maigret and the Wine Merchant" in September 2019
"Maigret’s Madwoman" in October 2019
"Maigret and the Loner" in November 2019
"Maigret and the Informer" in December 2019
"Maigret and Monsieur Charles" in January 2020

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