“The New Investigations of Inspector Maigret” by Georges Simenon (published by Penguin Books)
Human bloodhound gives evildoers short shrift
The collection follows “Death Threats and Other Stories” in 2021, which contained five Maigret short stories, and in 2017 Penguin offered “A Maigret Christmas” with the titular short story and two non-Maigrets. That’s 23 Maigret short stories altogether, so if Simenon wrote 28, there are another five out there somewhere, perhaps still untranslated from the French.
“The New Investigations of Inspector Maigret” runs to a bountiful 493 pages compared with the normal 170 or so in the 75 “Maigret” novels. The stories haven’t been given the dates when they were written, but Penguin does say they were published in journals during the Second World War. They are either 13-14, 17-18 or 40-45 pages long, and there can be some obvious shortcomings with the tricky mystery-and-almost-instant-clever-solution format. However, they are enjoyable enough and usually still display Simenon’s skill at drawing an enveloping atmosphere and sense of place peopled by vivid characters.
As has been astutely written of Maigret, he is “An imperishable literary legend… he exposes secrets and crimes not by forensic wizardry, but by the melded powers of the therapist, philosopher and confessor”. While he may not actually know anything, he feels. The mysteries themselves aren’t necessarily the point. Here are a few of the 17 in this welcome addition to our Simenon shelves –
The Hanged Couple – Arthur Aerts and his wife Emma have been found hanged aboard their barge Astrolabe at Le Coudray lock, he from a dog’s chain and she from a sheet torn off the bed. Murder? Suicide? Where is the hundred thousand francs that Aerts is generally known to have? Everyone is accusing Emile Gradut, stoker on the tug Aiglon VII, a lowlife and lover of Emma. Detective Chief Inspector Maigret reflects that “It’s always the same: when a case appears too clear, nobody thinks of looking into the details” – just as Sherlock Holmes observed to Dr. Watson on innumerable occasions!
The Boulevard Beaumarchais Case – Something known and something unexpected here. The known: Maigret is conducting “one of those interminable interrogations that are equally exhausting for both parties”, and the Brasserie Dauphine sends up sandwiches and beer to the smoke-filled office. Louise Voivin, 20, has died, apparently poisoned. She and her husband Ferdinand had taken in Louise’s sister Nicole after the women’s father died, and Nicole became Ferdinand’s mistress. The unexpected: when Maigret puts the screws on Ferdinand, “… suddenly a fetid odour in the room revealed the physical results of his panic”. That’s new – a suspect has crapped himself! “Without saying a word, Maigret went and opened the window, then came back to his desk, slowly filled his pipe and drank what was left of his beer.” That Maigret is a tough but sympathetic cop. Nice one, Georges!
The Open Window – A slightly confusing tale in which the titular window – later translated as a skylight – and a sensation that Maigret experiences – a sensation as in, a “feeling” – lead our man to an on-the-spot solving of a murder. In fact, he does it after smoking his symbolic pipe just four times. He has visited a company to arrest the boss, Oscar Laget, but a shot is heard from a room and Laget is found dead. Right from the start, something strikes Maigret as wrong but what? It’s that window/skylight, and something to do with him being a pipe smoker and thus able to distinguish between hot smoke and smoke that’s grown cold, not to mention the smell of powder from the gunshot.
Monsieur Monday – A “Maigret” without a stiff is like a teddy boy without a quiff. Shootings, stabbings and strangulations may get a bit passé for the hardened crime fiction enthusiast, and here Olga Boulanger, a maid of Doctor Barion, four months pregnant, has died because her intestine was riddled with tiny perforations caused by thin, needle-sharp spikes that adorn the ears of plants, rye for example. These were apparently hidden in cream cakes called religieuses, brought to the house by a beggar, Monsieur Monday, in gratitude for the regular meal given to him each week on that day. Was the poor girl the target or was it the doctor’s children? Is the beggar guilty? Enter Jules Maigret to solve all.
Jeumont, Fifty-one minute Halt! – Paul Vinchon, Maigret’s nephew who is an inspector on the French-Belgian border, phones his uncle at 3am to tell him there is a dead man in a first-class carriage in the train from Berlin. Five other passengers of different nationalities were in the carriage, and someone has stuck a needle in the heart of Otto Braun, 58, a former banker in Stuttgart. And a man is caught hiding underneath a carriage smuggling a considerable amount of international stock certificates. Is he involved? Maigret quickly takes a train from Paris to Jeumont to help his nephew crack the case.
Death Penalty – It was almost the perfect crime – but is there such a thing when bloodhound Maigret is on the trail? In fact, Maigret is getting sick of it, having had his inspectors, including himself, stake out a young couple for 12 days. The man is suspected of a cold-blooded crime of greed, killing his uncle with an iron bar for money. But the suspect has an alibi… “Maigret had been employing his old tactic: having his man followed step by step, minute by minute, from morning to night and night to morning, having him followed ostentatiously, so that if anyone was going to get sick of it, it was him”. The detective even pursues the couple to Belgium, sitting in the same carriage. In France you get the guillotine but Belgium has abolished the death penalty.
Candle Wax – The Potru sisters, aged 62 and 65, and their parents before them, have lived in a shop that seems to belong to a different century. It is a hamlet of some 30 one-storey houses around a church with a pointed spire in the middle of a forest. After the train to Vitry-aux-Loges, barely 100 kilometres from Paris, Maigret has to travel the rest of the way by butcher’s cart. Amélie Portu had been found in a pool of blood but alive, and her sister Marguerite dead with three stab wounds in her chest.
Rue Pigalle – An early morning anonymous tip-off sends Maigret to Marina’s restaurant where he finds Christiani and René Lecoeur, a couple of hoods, and the owner Lucien, with a bullethole in a mirror by the counter. Why haven’t the two underworld types left yet? Is it because of the two men sitting in the window of the Auvergnat bistro almost opposite, who Maigret recognises as Le Nicois and Pepito, two more badasses? And what about the removal van that comes to collect a trunk? Maigret gets to the bottom of it by basically freaking everybody out with his sheer presence.
The Étoile du Nord – In two days’ time Maigret will be officially retiring from the Police Judiciaire after 30 years working at the headquarters on Quai des Orfevres next to the River Seine in Paris. So he has spent the night in his office, sorting out his files and removing his personal papers and notes in a dense blue haze of pipe smoke. At this early hour the building is deserted, and when a telephone rings in a nearby office Maigret ignores it at first. But finally he picks it up and a voice informs of a murder at the Étoile du Nord hotel. Maigret puts on his bowler hat and his heavy overcoat with a velvet collar and is on his way for one last case. One of those famous 12-hour-plus interrogations in his office ensues, as exhausting for the Detective Chief Inspector as it is for the suspect, in this case a slip of a girl…
Storm over the Channel – Now Maigret is retired and he and Madame Maigret are stuck in a miserable boarding house in Dieppe while wild weather holds up the ferry to Newhaven in England, where they will have a fortnight looking around London. But, wouldn’t you believe it, a maid has ventured out and got herself shot dead in the street. When the local chief inspector turns up, Maigret keeps his identity quiet at first but is inevitably recognised and, of course, is invited to join in the investigation.
And so it continues. Long or short, mostly endearing but occasionally a bit silly, Simenon’s celebrated creation lives on today exactly a half-century after the final “Maigret” novel, “Maigret et Monsieur Charles”, in 1972, and Simenon’s death in Lausanne, Switzerland, on September 4, 1989, aged 86.