Maigret leaves a rainy Paris for the balmy Mediterranan island of Porquerolles, three miles from the French coast, where he investigates the murder of Marcellin (also known as Marcel Picaud), a thug, drunkard, thief and pimp – in other words a “mauvais garcon”. He is accompanied by Mr Pyke, a British detective who is shadowing Maigret to studying his method of working.
There are so many characters in My Friend Maigret that I got confused part way through this book and had to go back to sort out in my mind who they all were. Maigret, however, didn’t have the same problem as he talked to them all in connection with the murder.
The main point of interest for me was not who did the murder as the character of Marcellin remains indistinct throughout the book; he is just a small-time crook who claimed to be Maigret’s friend and that appears to be why he was killed. No one has left the island since the murder took place and at first there are no obvious suspects but gradually as Maigret meets and talks to the local people he discovers the truth and through analysis and intuition solves the crime. The interest for me lay in the relationship between Maigret and Mr Pyke, the very proper British detective, and in the location on the island of Porquerolles.
Maigret and Pyke are very different characters,and Maigret feels inhibited and irritated by his presence. He worries about whether Pyke is criticising him for drinking, smoking and his general behaviour – was he acting as a detective should? He almost seems to develop an inferiority complex and be feeling very self-conscious. He looks at himself in the mirror and tells himself “That’s the divisional chief inspector!”
… it was not very long ago that he was wearing short trousers … Now he was a grown-up: everyone believed what he said, and there was only himself whom, from time to time, it was hard to convince.
did other people have the same experience? did Mr Pyke, for example, sometimes wonder how other people could take him seriously?
Much is made of the differences between the French Maigret and the English Mr Pyke – in the food and drinks they like, their style of clothes, and the way they speak – Maigret vague and thoughtful, whereas Mr Pyke is methodical and speaks in clipped precise sentences.
Maigret’s vagueness is enhance on the island where the heat makes him feel sleepy and he loses the desire to work. Porquerolles, set in a silky sea that is an incredible blue, is conjured up by the sights, sounds and smells that Simenon scatters throughout the book. There are the smells of food, bouillabaise and saffron oil, wine, mimosa, eucalyptus and fresh coffee; and the sound of bells on Sunday, the noise of the boules players, the laughter and conversation in the Grand Hotel and the sound of the sea.
My thoughts as I finished this book were that it’s not so much a crime or detective story, but it’s really a study of Maigret himself, and of life on a small Mediterranean island.