Recently I’ve been reading Maigret books – three on the run – The Madman of Bergerac, The Hotel Majestic and The Friend of Madame Maigret – by Georges Simenon.
First, The Madman of Bergerac, which I enjoyed the most of the three. It’s an early Maigret novel first published in 1932. There is a deranged killer on the loose, who pierces his victims’ hearts with a needle. Maigret is on the train on his way to visit Leduc, an old colleague near Dordogne, when he finds himself sharing a compartment with a restless stranger who jumps off the train. On an impulse Maigret follows and ends up being shot in the shoulder and laid up in bed for two weeks at a Bergerac hotel, the Hotel d’Angleterre.
He conducts his inquiries from his bed, helped by Leduc and his wife, Madame Maigret. He reflects:
There is something slightly intoxicating about a narrow escape from death. and then to lie in bed and be cosseted … Especially in an atmosphere of unreality …
To lie in bed and let your brain work of itself, just for the fun of it, studying a strange place and strange people through a sunlit window … (page 23)
It’s a complicated story and I had no idea who the murderer was. It’s a short book, quickly and easily read and a satisfying mystery. I liked the personal aspects, the insight into some of Maigret’s mind, his analysis of the crime and the local people, and his relationship with his wife – who cooks his meals for him at the hotel.
My rating: 4/5
Next, The Hotel Majestic, first published in 1942. Another complicated mystery for Maigret to solve. The body of Mrs Clark, the wife of a wealthy American is found strangled in the basement of the Hotel Majestic. Suspicion falls on Prosper Donge, a hotel employee, who finds the body and Maigret travels to a nightclub in Cannes to find out more about his background – and Mrs Clark’s.
I found this book a little frustrating as Maigret’s intuitive powers leads him to the solution. He has hunches, which are not made clear to the reader and spends time pondering the psychology of the characters. At times I felt very like Mr Clark, who doesn’t speak French and has to keep asking ‘what’s he on about?’
My rating: 3/5
Finally, The Friend of Madame Maigret, first published in 1950. What I particularly liked about this book is Madame Maigret’s involvement in the story. She actually does some detective work! It begins when Madame Maigret is sitting on a bench in a square when a young woman in a blue suit and white hat asks her to mind her little boy. She doesn’t return for several hours, then snatches the child from Madame Maigret and drives off in a taxi.
Meanwhile, Maigret is investigating a reported murder, although there is no corpse, just two human teeth in the ashes of Monsieur Steuvels’s furnace. Steuvals is the obvious suspect, but acting for him is the young lawyer, Liotard, who treats Maigret as his special enemy, claiming Maigret is out of date:
… a detective of the old school, of the period when the gentlemen of the Quai des OrfÃ¨vres could, if they chose, give a man the third degree until exhaustion drove him to make a confession, keep him in their hands for weeks, pry shamelessly into people’s private lives, in fact a period when any kind of trick was considered fair play. (pages 56-7)
Are these two stories connected? It seems unlikely at first. Maigret is dissatisfied, with too many people mixed up in the cases,which get ever more complicated and new characters appearing about whom Maigret knows almost nothing. He just wants to start the investigations again. It’s only when Madame Maigret comes up with a vital clue that he is able to make any headway.
My rating: 3.5/5
Reading these three books, one after the other has given me a much more rounded picture of Maigret than if I’d read them in isolation. Maigret is a big man, who smokes a pipe, actually he has many pipes, wears a bowler hat – often on the back of his head, who works mainly by intuition and analysis of the facts, is a bit handy with his fists, and has a happy home life. The stories are intricate, with many characters, have well developed plots, a great sense of location and at under 200 pages are quick, satisfying books.
Georges Simenon (1903 – 1989) was a Belgian writer who wrote nearly 200 books, 75 of them featuring Maigret, from 1931 to 1972.