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Mystery author #13: Georges Simenon. Part 2

Title:Maigret in Exile
Original French title: La Maison du juge.
Translator: Eileen Ellenbogen
Series detective: Inspector Maigret
No. in series: 21 (of the novels. If the short stories are included: 42)
Year of publication: 1942
Type of mystery: Murder, whodunnit
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Rural France, 1930’s? (The story was written during WW2, but since there is no mention of the German occupation of France, I’m guessing pre-war)
Some themes: Love, sexual abuse, adultery, hate

Story: Maigret has done something to displease his superiors and has been sent into a kind of exile in a small town on the northern coast of France where nothing ever happens. He has fallen into a boring routine which is broken when a woman from the next town arrives to tell him that a corpse can be seen through her neighbour’s upstairs window. Maigret goes to investigate, and finds the neighbour, a retired judge, trying to dispose of the corpse, apparently not to hide the crime but because he doesn’t want to be involved. After some investigation the body turns out to be that of a young psychiatrist whom Maigret suspects came to examine the judge’s daughter, who is mentally impaired. Possible suspects are the judge, his estranged wife, his estranged son, a young oyster-fisherman from the village who wants to marry the girl, and the girl herself. What unfolds is a story full of pride, passion and skeletons in several closets.

Review: Here is a story where Maigret is finally fully developed as a character, and a likeable character at that. The judge and his family are all more or less messed up, and the case, simple as it seems at first, is full of unexpected twists and turns.
I don’t know if it’s the translation or if it’s Simenon’s vague wording, but it is rather hard to figure our just what is wrong with the judge’s daughter. At first it seems she’s a nymphomaniac who has fits of some kind (I assume she’s epileptic, but that’s just my interpretation), then it seems she may be mad and prone to fits of violence or delusions, and then finally it turns out she’s what is now called “mentally impaired” but back then would have been called “retarded” or “subnormal.” (She is, by the way, quite respectfully handled by the author and Maigret, but not by all of the other characters).

Rating: A twisty whodunit with enough skeletons in closets to please the most hard-core mystery fan. 3+ stars.

Title:Maigret Has Scruples
Original French title: Les Scrupules de Maigret
Translator: Robert Eglesfield
Series detective: Inspector Maigret
No. in series: 48 (of the novels. If the short stories are included: 80)
Year of publication: 1958
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Paris, France, 1950’s (?)
Some themes: Love, hate, adultery, psychosis

Story: A man comes to Maigret to tell him that he is sure his wife is trying to poison him and says he wants to police to know this in case something happens to him. A little later the wife comes in and confesses similar fears about the husband. Maigret has forebodings about this and since it is the low season for crime, he is able to put some of his men on the case, which leads to interesting discoveries about both the man and wife. When a poisoning death does occur in their house, it is up to Maigret to unravel what happened and who was responsible.

Review: Here is one of those stories that only work if there is psychosis involved, because a sane person would simply acquire a divorce.

Maigret needs all his powers and knowledge of human nature, plus some “help” from books on psychiatry and psychoanalysis, to unravel a devious plot by a cunning would-be murderer who intends to make the Inspector an accomplice to the crime. Experience and intuition tell Maigret to take the accusations of the couple against each other seriously, but since neither man nor wife will make an official accusation against the other, Maigret can not prevent the crime from taking place. He can only watch from the sidelines as the drama unfolds and be ready to clean up afterwards. This bothers him enough to have the couple watched in the hope he or his men will be able to prevent a tragedy from happening. The unfolding of events is slow and tense, and the crime only takes place a chapter or two from the end of the book, so this is more of a “who will do it” rather than a whodunnit. As this is a crime novel, there is never any doubt that there will be a crime, only the how and the who are in doubt.

Rating: A tense psychological crime thriller, a real nail-biter. 4 stars.

Author review:
I rarely discover authors whose books I can read in quick succession without getting tired of their style, characterisation or formulas. Three or four books is usually enough before I need to take a break, but in the case of Simenon I can see myself going on indefinitely. In the four books I have read so far I have detected no recurrent formula. Maigret is a complex and likeable character who doesn’t have any super-annoying traits (unlike some other sleuths I might mention) and doesn’t work with only one sidekick and actually trusts them to make the right decisions (it’s often the dumb sidekick that gets me annoyed with an author). The books have been translated by different translators who have all given the books some of their style, meaning that although Simenon’s style shines through, it does not get monotonous. There is in fact nothing about the stories to annoy me other than a slight over-tendency towards melodrama, which I can easily live with. All in all, I have to say that Simenon is becoming a firm favourite and I will definitely be reading more of his books.

Next up: Patricia Wentworth


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