I am way behind with writing about the books I’ve read, so I thought it’s best to start catching up by writing about the last book I finished, whilst it is still relatively fresh in my mind.
Maigret’s Holiday, translated by Ros Schwartz, is one of Penguin Classics’ new translations of the entire series of Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels. This edition was published 4 February 2016. It was first published in French as Les Vacances de Maigret in 1948 (the 28th book in the series) and has previously been published in translations as No Vacation for Maigret and A Summer Holiday.
It is August; Maigret and his wife are on holiday in the seaside town of Les Sables d’Olonne. On their first evening they’d eaten a huge dish of freshly caught mussels and they’d both been ill. Maigret quickly recovered but next day on the beach Madame Maigret complained of vague pains and their second night she developed a fever. Admitted to hospital the next day, she was still there nine days later after an emergency operation for acute appendicitis. When a young woman in room 15 in another ward died, Maigret was unable to resist investigating the circumstances of her death, especially as he had received an anonymous note that had been slipped into his pocket; the words irritated him:
For pity’s sake, ask to see the patient in room 15.
The young woman had died after being flung from a moving car. Of course, it is not a straightforward death and the mystery deepened with the disappearance of her brother.
Maigret visited his wife everyday for half an hour. But he was bored with his routine as he strolled around the resort, along the promenade, Le Remblai, feeling he couldn’t go and sit alone on the vast beach among all the mothers and their children. He wandered from stall to stall in the covered market and stopped at cafes and various favourite places for a glass of white wine or of Calvados. Each afternoon he went to the Brasserie du Remblai, overlooking the beach, where a group of important men, including the local chief inspector of police, Monsieur Mansuy, met to play bridge. Maigret sat and watched them play. And it is through Mansuy that Maigret learns about the local characters, which proves essential for him in solving the mystery.
I loved the way Simenon sets the scene. His writing is direct and lucid with just the right amount of description. I could imagine myself in Les Sables d’Olonne, walking on the narrow cobblestone streets and going into the hospital with its atmosphere that reminded Maigret of his childhood when he was a choirboy – ‘the purity of silence had a quality that cannot be found anywhere other than a convent.’ A hospital where the nurses were nuns.
Maigret relieved his boredom by investigating the mystery surrounding the patient in room 15. He gradually peeled back the layers and without him, no one would have had any idea what had really happened or why. Maigret worked methodically and thoroughly, as he tried to understand the locals and their reactions to the police. In the end he painstakingly visited the shops and cafes asking questions and realised that there was at least one other person in danger. But he knew nothing about that person, not even whether it was a man or a woman and he couldn’t guess their age or profession. As he got closer to the solution he became agitated, so much so that it seemed to him that he was no longer breathing, as he tried to avert a further tragedy.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is perfectly paced, building in intensity and complexity, over just 199 pages. A note about the author reveals that Simenon acknowledged that he and his fictional detective shared an important characteristic:
My motto, to the extent that I have one, has been noted often enough, and I’ve always conformed to it. It’s the one I’ve given to old Maigret, who resembles me in certain points … ‘understand and judge not.’
I think that is exactly what Maigret does in this book.