Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses by Georges Simenon

This week the theme for Novellas in November is Literature in Translation and I’ve chosen Maigret and the Reluctant Visitors by Georges Simenon translated from the French by William Hobson, a novella of 172 pages.

This is the 53rd Inspector Maigret book, originally published in 1955.

It is November and Maigret, nearing retirement, is in a melancholy, nostalgic mood. He has been called out to the home of the Lauchaume family where Léonard, the eldest son has been shot dead. The name Lachaume brings back memories of his childhood in the countryside where the village grocer sold Lachaume Biscuits. But the family is now in dire straits, living in a large house on the Quai de la Gare, Ivry and their biscuit factory is failing. Their house was once an impressive three storey building but is now in a state of decay, cold and damp. The rest of the Lachaume family, his younger brother Armand, Paulette Armand’s wife and his elderly parents, are not only reluctant to talk to the police, they don’t appear to be grieving.

It looks initially that the murder may have been part of a burglary, although only a wallet is missing, but Maigret is suspicious right from the start. His attempts to question the family are held up by their lawyer and also by the Examining Magistrate, Angelot who insists on taking charge of the case. But he makes headway when he visits Véronique Lachaume, Léonard’s estranged sister and eventually Paulette reluctantly talks to him.

The book as a whole has a nostalgic feel, the sense that the world is changing – the Lachaume family has been left behind. Their business has only been kept afloat by the money from the sons’ wives, but they are still proud and reluctant to face the true facts of their situation. Maigret, too, is beginning to realise that his world is changing. for one thing he is getting older, the new magistrates are the younger generation bringing in new methods and he is aware that he only has two years left before his retirement. However, he solves the case mainly through his own intuition, and so he casts off his melancholy.

I’ve now read several of the Maigret books totally out of order, so now I’ve decided it’s time I read the first book, Pietr the Latvian first published in 1931.

My Friday Post: Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses by Georges Simenon

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses is one of the novellas I included in my Novellas in November post. It has 172 pages and is Simenon’s 53rd Inspector Maigret book, first published in 1959.

It begins:

‘You haven’t forgotten your umbrella, have you?’

‘No.’

The door was about to shut, and Maigret was already turning towards the stairs.

‘You’d better wear your scarf.’

His wife ran to get it unaware that this little remark would leave him out of sorts for some time, melancholy thoughts churning through his brain.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

My job is to look for the truth, and that is what I’m doing. Your presence in fact would incline me not to look very far, because it’s very unusual for the relatives of a murder victim to send for a lawyer before they can even be questioned by the police.

Blurb:

When the head of a powerful Parisian family business is murdered in his bed, Maigret must pick apart the family’s darkest secrets to reveal the truth.

“The curious thing was that there seemed to be no grief here, only a strange dejection, a kind of uneasy stupor…”

Maigret is called to the home of the high-profile Lachaume family where the eldest brother has been found shot dead. But on his arrival, the family closes ranks and claims to have heard and seen nothing at the time of the murder. Maigret must pick his way through the family’s web of lies, secrets, and deceit, as well as handle Angelot, a troublesome new breed of magistrate who has waded into the case. And it’s the estranged black sheep of the family, Veronique, who may hold the key to it all with her knowledge of the depths to which the family will sink to protect their reputation.

Maigret’s Holiday by Georges Simenon

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.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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.

The Shadow Puppet by Georges Simenon

The Shadow Puppet

Penguin Classics|2 October 2014|160 pages|Paperback|4*

Georges Simenon wrote his 13th Maigret book, The Shadow Puppet in December 1931 at the villa Les Roches Grises at Antibes (Alpes-Maritimes) on the French Riviera. It was first published in 1932 under the title L’Ombre chinoise. 

It’s the second Maigret book I’ve read in the last two days and I think this is better than the other one I read, The Saint-Fiacre Affair. It is a more typical murder mystery – a man is shot dead in his office in the Place des Vosges in Paris and Maigret uncovers a tragedy involving desperate lives, unhappy people, addiction and an all-consuming greed. He gets to the truth through careful examination of the facts, questioning those involved and applying his knowledge and understanding of human nature.

One evening Raymond Couchet, the owner of a serum company in the Place des Vosges, was shot dead, seated at his desk, and the safe behind him was empty, the 3600 francs that should have been there have gone. The building contains Couchet’s medical laboratory  as well as residential apartments, set around a central courtyard. Called to the scene Maigret notices the shadowy figures in the lighted windows of the building and suspects that the murderer could be one of the residents of the apartments where Couchet’s first wife, Juliette Martin and her husband live. Then there is his son, Roger, a drug addict living in the Hôtel Pigalle, and in the next room to him, Couchet’s girlfriend, Nine Moinard, a dancer at the Moulin Bleu.

It is an entertaining mystery and Maigret finds himself getting to really like Couchet as the details of his life emerge – and equally disliking both his son and his bitter ex-wife. What I like about these Maigret books are that they are concise and tightly structured yet convey such convincing characters and depths of perception. In this particular book Maigret comes across feelings of enmity, greed, class distinction, hatred and paranoia in the course of his investigations.

Reading Challenges – Calendar of Crime (the setting is a place of employment), and Mount TBR 2019 (a book I’ve owned for 2 years)

The Saint-Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon

The Saint-Fiacre Affair

Penguin Classics|6 November 2014|160 pages|Paperback|3*

The Saint-Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon was first published in January 1932, under the title Maigret Goes Home. My copy is one of the Penguin Classics publications in new translations.

Saint-Fiacre is where Maigret was born and grew up. His father had been the steward of the château there for thirty years. So when an anonymous note predicting a crime during All Souls’ Day mass at the church is handed in to the Moulins police office, Maigret went back there for the first time since his father had died. It is a melancholy visit for as well as a death to investigate, Maigret finds so much had changed and the atmosphere was oppressing him – he had never imagined that he would find the village in such a sorry state.

The predicted death took place in the church whilst Maigret was attending the the first Mass on All Soul’s Day – the old Countess of Saint-Fiacre died during the mass, of heart failure.  But Maigret soon discovers that the heart attack had been brought on when the Countess read a fake newspaper story of her son’s suicide that had been planted in her missal. Maigret suspects a number of people could have been responsible – her son, Maurice, her secretary/lover, Jean, the steward, Ernest and his son, Emile.

I enjoyed this book, although I found it rather disjointed and at times couldn’t follow very easily who was speaking, so it was a bit difficult keeping track of what was going on – maybe that was my problem, I’m not sure. But I thought the melancholy atmosphere and the descriptions of the chateau and Maigret himself were well done and it is packed with drama and tension. The denouement in which Maigret reveals the truth reminded me of the way Poirot rounds up all the people involved and explains who had done the deed and why, and why it was a crime that was not punishable by the law. 

 Reading ChallengesCalendar of Crime (winter scene on the cover), and Mount TBR 2019(a book I’ve owned for 2 years)

My Friday Post: Maigret’s Holiday by Georges Simenon

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Maigret’s Holiday by Georges Simenon is one of my TBRs, the 28th Inspector Maigret novel in which Maigret’s wife falls ill whilst on their seaside holiday at Les Sables d’Olonne and  a visit to the hospital sends him on an unexpected quest to find justice for a young girl.

Maigret's Holiday

 

The street was narrow, like all the streets in the old quarter of Les Sables d’Olonne, with uneven cobblestones and pavements so narrow that you had to step off to let another person pass.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

‘I was very fond of that girl, but I repeat that my feelings for her were purely fraternal. I am aware that things are often otherwise. A man can easily be in love with two sisters, especially if they are both living under his roof. That is not the case  and besides, Lili was not in love with me. I’ll go further. I was the exactly the opposite of what she loved. She found me cold and cynical. She often said I had no heart.’

I’ve been reading the Maigret books as I come across them – so, totally out of order of publication. It doesn’t seem to matter. Maigret’s Holiday was originally published in 1948

Have read this book? What did you think about it? And if you haven’t, would you keep on reading?

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin by Georges Simenon

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin (Maigret #10)

Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels in new translations. This novel has been published in a previous translation as Maigret at the “Gai-Moulin”.

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin by Georges Simenon, translated by Siân Reynolds is one of the early Maigret books, first published in 1931. Two teenage boys, Delfosse and Chabot, attempt to burgle Le Gai-Moulin, a nightclub in Liege in Belgium, but on finding a body they panic and leave, fearing they’ll be suspected of murder. The next day, to the boys’ amazement, the corpse is found in the Botanical Gardens in a large laundry basket in the middle of a lawn. Who was he, who killed him, why was he killed and who had moved the body from the nightclub to the Botanical Gardens?

This short book is mainly concerned with Delfosse and Chabot and their subsequent actions that set them at odds with each other and land them in police custody. It’s an unusual Maigret book in that Detective Chief Inspector Maigret is not immediately involved in the police investigation – that is carried out by Chief Inspector Delvigne of the Belgian police and part of the mystery is why Maigret is even in Liege. Adèle is the dancer referred to in the title but she doesn’t play a major role in the book, although the two teenagers are obsessed with her. It’s quite a puzzle and Maigret doesn’t reveal his thoughts, or his reasoning until the end, much to the annoyance of Delvigne.

The plot is unconvincing and Maigret’s actions seem quite implausible, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this book. It’s not really the crime that is in focus, as Simenon is skilled at setting the scene and drawing convincing characters in a few paragraphs. In this novel the two boys and Adèle stand out:

She wasn’t beautiful, especially now, lounging about in her mules and shabby peignoir. But perhaps, in the familiarity of this intimacy, she held even more allure for him.

How old was she, twenty five, thirty? She’d certainly seen life. She often talked about Paris, Berlin, Ostend. She mentioned the names of famous nightclubs.

But without any excitement or pride, without showing off. On the contrary. Her main characteristic seemed to be weariness, as could be guessed from the expression in her green eyes, from the casual way she held a cigarette in her mouth, from all her movements and smiles. Weariness with a smile. (page 28)

I knew that Simenon was a prolific author, writing seventy five novels and twenty eight short stories featuring Maigret, but I was surprised to find that The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin was the 10th book that he published in 1931. By the end of 1931 his books had been translated into 18 languages.

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (7 Aug. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141393521
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141393520
  • Source: my own copy – thanks to Sarah’s Giveaway at Crimepieces blog
  • My rating: 3.5*

This book slots into the only reading challenge I’m doing this year – What’s in a Name 2018. It fits into the category of a book with the word ‘the‘ used twice in the title. It is also one of my TBR books (a book I’ve owned prior to 1 January 2018) and also a book on my Classics Club list.

First Chapter First Paragraph: Cécile is Dead by Georges Simenon

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

This week I’m featuring Cécile is Dead by Georges Simenon, one of the books I think I’ll include in Cathy’s annual challenge, 20 Books of Summer.

Cécile is Dead (Maigret, #22)

It begins with a foggy scene.

The pipe that Detective Chief Inspector Maigret lit on coming out of his door in Boulevard Richard-Lenoir was even more delicious than usual. The first fog of the season was as pleasant a surprise as the first snow for children, especially when it was not that nasty yellowish fog you see on certain winter days, but a misty, milky vapour with halos of light in it. The air was fresh. The ends of your fingers and your nose tingled on a day like this and the soles of your shoes clicked smartly on the road.

Blurb (Amazon):

A new translation of this moving novel about the destructive power of greed, book twenty in the new Penguin Maigret series.

‘Poor Cécile! And yet she was still young. Maigret had seen her papers: barely twenty-eight years old. But it would be difficult to look more like an old maid, to move less gracefully, in spite of the care she took to be friendly and pleasant. Those black dresses that she must make for herself from bad paper patterns, that ridiculous green hat!’

In the dreary suburbs of Paris, the merciless greed of a seemingly respectable woman is unearthed by her long suffering niece, and Maigret discovers the far-reaching consequences of their actions.

Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels in new translations. This novel has been published in a previous translation as Maigret and the Spinster.

What do you think – would you read on?

A Maigret Christmas by Georges Simenon

A Christmas Mystery

Publication date 2 November 2017, Penguin Books (UK). Newly translated by David Coward

Review copy from the publishers, via NetGalley

My rating: 4 stars

The review copy of A Maigret Christmas and Other Stories by Georges Simenon I received contains just one of the three stories in this collection, A Maigret Christmas which was first published in 1950 as Un Noël de Maigret.

It’s set in Paris on Christmas Day. Inspector Maigret has the day off and Madame Maigret, hoping to bring him croissants for his breakfast in bed, as she usually does on Sundays and public holidays, is disappointed to find that he had got up before she returned from the corner shop. Both Maigret and his wife are feeling not exactly depressed but rather melancholy, with no family to visit at Christmas.

Their plan to spend a quiet morning cocooned in their apartment is disrupted by the arrival of two ladies, Madame Martin and Mademoiselle Doncoeur, who live in the apartment opposite in the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir. Colette, a little girl staying with her aunt and uncle, Madame Martin and her husband, had woken in the night and seen Father Christmas in her room, making a hole in the floor. He gave her a present, a big doll and then held up his finger to his lips as he left. But who was he and why was he trying to take up the floorboards?

Maigret, concerned about Colette, decides to help and, phoning his colleagues at the Quai des Orfevres for information, he spends the rest of the day solving the mystery. As the mystery is unravelled it turns out to be anything but simple. I enjoyed this story for the mystery itself, but I also liked the light it throws on Maigret and his wife, their relationship and the sadness they feel at being childless, particularly so at Christmas.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

Amazon UK link

Catching Up: three crime fiction books

I’m following the example of my blogging friend, Cath at Read Warbler, by writing a ‘catch up’ post as I am behind with writing reviews. That’s what going away for two weeks and then having an awful cold afterwards does for you!

So here are three crime fiction books, all very enjoyable 4 star books, that I read earlier this year:

A Dedicated Man by Peter Robinson, the second novel in Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series, first published in 1988, and my 17th book for  Bev’s Mount TBR 2017 challenge. I’ve been reading these books totally out of order and have gone back to the first ones to fill in the gaps in my reading.

Banks is now more settled in Yorkshire after the events described in the first book, Gallows View. I was struck as I read the books how unlike the TV version of Banks they are. Banks, himself, is nothing like Stephen Tompkinson (who plays his role). Robinson’s Banks is ‘a small dark man, in appearance rather like the old Celtic strain of Welshman, and his physique certainly didn’t give away his profession.

The ‘dedicated man‘ is local historian, Harry Steadman, who was found half-buried under a dry-stone wall near the village of Helmthorpe, Swainsdale. It seems that nobody would have wanted to kill such a good man, but as Banks investigates his background several suspects emerge. Sally Lunn, a young teenager knows more than is good for her and sets out to beat the police in finding the culprit.

Banks is a dogged and determined police officer, also a ‘dedicated man‘ and he concentrates on Steadman’s past; after leaving Cambridge where he got a first in history, he’d taught at Leeds University where he’d developed an interest in industrial archaeology. After his father died he’d inherited a considerable fortune and left his job to concentrate on his own interests. He’d married, Emma, a plain-looking woman who Banks first mistook for the cleaning lady.

Other characters include Jack Barker, a crime fiction writer, Penny Cartwright, a folk singer and Michael Ramsden, a close friend who worked in publishing. I thought Barker’s comment about his editor was interesting – that he could spend two days working on a fine description and find his editor wants him to cut it out because it slows the action. I wondered if that was Robinson’s own experience because he does include passages of description that do slow down the action. But I like his style, which is a good balance of description and fast -paced action.

Completely different in style is my next book, also detective fiction. It’s The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien by Georges Simenon, translated by Linda Coverdale. This is the third book in the new series of Maigret novels in new translations, published by Penguin, originally written in 1930. In this short book (144 pages) Maigret observed a shabby man, travelling on a train from Holland to Bremen, carrying a small suitcase. He replaced the man’s suitcase with another exactly like it and followed him when he left the train, only to watch him through a keyhole in hotel bedroom, place a revolver in his mouth and press the trigger.  Maigret is disturbed by the thought that he had both witnessed the tragedy and been the cause of it. Wonderfully mysterious and obscure I was baffled for most of the book, as Maigret uncovers a crime from ten years earlier, revolving around the macabre drawings of hanged men of all types. A recurrent theme was the steeple of a church – the same church, that of Saint-Pholien in Liège.

A note at the beginning of the book reveals that the book was drawn from Simenon’s experiences in Liège, when he was ‘involved with a literary set, comprised of poets and young artists. A member of the group, Joseph Jean Kleine, was  found hanging from the doorway of the church of Saint-Pholien during this period, a tragedy that left its mark on Simenon.

Moving forward to 2016 my final book is Present Tense by W H S McIntyre, a criminal defence lawyer. It’s the 7th book in his Best Defence series, featuring criminal lawyer Robbie Munro. Munro is based in Linlithgow and deals mainly with Scottish Legal Aid cases.

Billy Paris, ex-military, leaves a cardboard box with Robbie and asks him to look after it for him, without telling him what it contained, but assuring him it wasn’t guns, knives or drugs. That’s OK until two men in black suits, one a detective inspector and the other from the Ministry of Defence, ask him for the box and want to know where they can find Billy.

It’s a legal drama, a tense and complicated mystery, combined with details of Robbie’s personal life. He is a single dad with a daughter, Tina, aged four and a half, living in his dad’s house along with his brother, Malky, an ex-footballer. His dad has promised Tina a Pyxie Girl doll for Christmas, but they’re impossible to get. There’s a lot about parenthood, more specifically fatherhood, and family relationships told with dark humour, all making for an intriguing and absorbing mystery.