"Pietr the Latvian" was first published by Belgian author Georges Simenon in French in 1931 as "Pietr-le-Letton", and "Maigret and Monsieur Charles" came out as "Maigret et Monsieur Charles" in 1972. In the 41 years between, the original novels were translated from the French into many world languages and sold in the millions, making Simenon an author of considerable note. When it comes to the world's greatest fictional detectives, his Detective Chief Inspector Jules Maigret of the Police Judiciaire in Paris is up there with Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Nero Wolfe and ... well, add your favourite.

Penguin's plan for one of its most extensive and ambitious series launches ever was to reissue all 75 books in paperback chronologically one a month. And every book was to have what Penguin called an authentic new translation, to bring the reader closer than ever to Simenon's gritty originals. Penguin did not labour the point, but the fresh translations seemed to show that some of the previous translators had been a little, shall we say, fanciful in their efforts.

Since 2013, the 10 new translators who have worked on the classic series have ensured the desired consistency of approach. Plus. the series has gained a distinctive look through the choice of front covers – all 75 have used images from the archive of cameraman Harry Gruyaert, a member of the famed Magnum international photographic cooperative.

And someone, perhaps the now-75-year-old Gruyaert himself, had the inspiration, or foresight, for the photographer to take a fresh image for "Maigret and Monsieur Charles" so that this final book mirrored the cover of that very first book, "Pietr the Latvian". Not only is the symmetry a subtle nod between numbers 1 and 75 but the inspector figure decorating the latter book is shown turning away from a street sign for the Quai des Orfevres, the home of the Police Judiciaire where so many murderers and crooks cracked and confessed under the strain of hours-long interrogations conducted amidst the fug of Maigret's pipes, with sandwiches and beer sent up from the Brasserie Dauphine.

Maigret, then, is signing off with a flourish. "Maigret and Monsieur Charles" marks not only the end of the series but also Simenon's prolific career as a novelist, in which he wrote some 400 long and short stories. It only dawned on him in 1972 when he sat down to write his next novel after "Maigret and Monsieur Charles" that there would be no more.

Simenon recalled: "At the beginning of February … I had written 'Maigret and Monsieur Charles', not knowing that it would be my final novel …

"September 18 I go down to my office to set up the yellow folder for a new novel. I close my door at 9.00 am. I have to set down the names of my characters, their résumés, their ancestry, sometimes their childhood friends, all the pertinent information, as I've said, of which I usually incorporate only a small part in the book. I have to know it all, to know them; so I make sketches of the layouts of their houses, sometimes of the neighbourhoods they live in.

"On the large folder I have written the name of my main character, which is to be the title: Victor.

"What I call my 'plots' have never really been that, since I conceived the actions and reactions of my heroes only as I went along, chapter by chapter, learning the solution only when I got to the last page.

"It would not work out that way for 'Victor'."

Indeed, "Maigret and Monsieur Charles" does not mention Maigret's pending forced retirement at the age of 55, whereas some of the books immediately before it have often spoken of the home that he and Madame Maigret, Louise, had bought in Meung-sur-Loire in readiness for the move to the tranquillity of country life.

Still, Simenon wasn't bound by chronology, and as early as "Lock No. 1", which was number 18 in the series, published in 1933 as "L'Écluse nº 1", he had Maigret applying for and being granted early retirement, with Louise already packing up the apartment on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir.

In this early book, published in a previous translation as "The Lock at Charenton" and "Maigret Sits it Out", our hero is days away from retirement, which will come at midnight on a Wednesday. It is said to be Maigret's last case

Likewise, the very next book, the eponymous "Maigret", number 19 published in 1934, sees the inspector's peaceful retirement in the countryside disrupted when a relative unwittingly embroils himself in a crime he did not commit and the inspector returns to Police Headquarters in Paris once again. This novel has been published in an earlier translation as "Maigret Returns".

As there is then an eight-year gap until Maigret shows up again in the 20th book, "La Maison du juge" ("The Judge's House") in 1942, it would seem fair to assume that Simenon had intended to do away with Maigret in much the same way that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes fall to his death from the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, until dismayed fans pressured the author to resurrect their hero (a little bending of the fictional events was necessary, posthumously, to do so).

Also, oddly, in "Maigret se fâche", number 26 published in 1947, which is titled "Maigret Gets Angry" in the new Penguins and had been translated earlier as "Maigret in Retirement", two years into his new life at Meung-sur-Loire Maigret had yet to be tempted to take on a case. But an 82-year-old widow showed up at his door and virtually ordered him to Orsennes, where her 18-year-old granddaughter, Monita Malik, had been found dead in the river.

The series editor of the 2013-2020 collection, Josephine Greywoode, editorial director at Penguin Press, said re-translating all 75 books had been both a labour of love and a profitable initiative. In total, according to Penguin Random House UK, global sales of the new translations reached a landmark one million copies.

"It's been really very successful for us," said Greywoode. "It was our ambition to try and recreate the cultural space here for this author and his series that it has in say France or in Italy. And in that way we have been so encouraged by the support we've had from literary fans like John Banville and Julian Barnes and from the media. But also from the fans who have pre-ordered every single book and have really bought into the series in a wholehearted way. For us it is wonderful we have been able to get to 75 because we have had that support from consumers for this work."

ITV's Maigret series starring Rowan Atkinson contributed in terms of the cultural status that has built since Penguin Press set out on the project. But, according to Greywoode, another "real engine" for fuelling word of mouth over the past six years has included the hosting of 15 special dinners by Penguin, largely in London, for Simenon's greatest fans.

In attendance have been well-known literary fans such as Banville, as well as Simenon's son, John Simenon, who acts as a living champion for his father's work and legacy. Georges Simenon was born in Liege, Belgium, in 1903 and died in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1989.

The final"Maigret and Monsieur Charles" was to be celebrated with a "Club Simenon", as the dinners have been dubbed, with further plans afoot for retailer and consumer competitions to mark the major milestone.

Although the Maigret project is winding up, Greywoode indicated the press's enthusiasm for the writer will continue well into the future."Simenon was famously prolific so there is plenty more for us to delve into," she said. "We would like to really establish this series now we've reached the end to ensure it has a long life. But, yes, then we will be publishing more of the novels Simenon wrote outside of the (Maigret) series of which there are around 200. We'll be looking to curate a selection of those to bring to readers hungry for more."


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