Cécile is Dead by Georges Simenon

Cécile is Dead by Georges Simenon, translated by Anthea Bell, an Inspector Maigret novel.

Synopsis (Amazon)

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.

This novel has been published in a previous translation as Maigret and the Spinster.

My thoughts:

This is one of the best Maigret books I’ve read – and it is complicated, remarkably so in a novella of just 151 pages. At first it seems quite straight forward. Cécile has been wanting to see Detective Chief Inspector Maigret for months, sitting patiently in the ‘Aquarium’, as the waiting room at the Police Judiciaire in Paris, is known. She was convinced that someone had been breaking into her aunt’s apartment. But no one takes her seriously and Maigret is always busy, until one day he decides to see her. But she had left the waiting room, so he goes to the apartment where she lives with her elderly aunt, Juliette Boynet, the owner of the apartment building. She wasn’t there, but her aunt was – lying dead on the floor, strangled. Cécile was missing and the title tells you why – she was indeed dead.

And from then on, the mystery became more complex, with several suspects with a variety of motives. Juliette was very wealthy, but also miserly. She had a large family, mostly estranged from her and at odds with each other. They all turn up for her funeral, arguing about who should take precedence in the funeral cortège, and about who should inherit her money and property.

Maigret has to sort it out in his own way – musing over the details and feeling bad that he hadn’t spoken to Cécile earlier, thinking her worry over an intruder who just moved things around the apartment without taking anything was trivial. We see more of how he thinks and works when later in the investigation he is accompanied by an American, a Mr Spencer Oates from the Institute of Criminology of Philadelphia, who had asked if he could study Maigret’s methods.

This is the second time I’ve read Cécile is Dead. I first read it in 2018, but didn’t write about it at that time. Reading it for the second time, I realised I had forgotten all the details – it was like reading a new book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is either the 20th or the 22nd Maigret novel – Amazon records it as the 20th, whereas Goodreads has it as the 22nd! Whichever it is, it is a good read.

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00SSKM6OC
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin (4 Jun. 2015)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 151 pages
  • Source: I bought the e-book
  • My Rating: 4*

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)

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.

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.


I was delighted and so lucky to win these five books in Sarah’s Giveaway at Crimepieces blog! Thank you Sarah!

They are from the new Penguin translations of Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels:

Years ago I enjoyed the TV series Maigret with Rupert Davies in the title role and have recently watched the latest series with Rowan Atkinson as Maigret. I think he is excellent in the role and so is Lucy Cohu as Madame Maigret.

Last Sunday  I enjoyed watching Maigret’s Night at the Crossroads and was pleased to see the book was today’s Kindle Deal of Day.
The Night at the Crossroads (Maigret #7)I shall be reading them very soon!

A Trio of Maigret Books

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 Orfèvres 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.

Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass: France

This week’s Crime Fiction on A Euro Pass destination is France. When I think of French crime fiction Georges Simenon’s Maigret immediately pops into my mind.  Simenon was actually Belgian, not French, but as the Maigret books are set in France (mainly in Paris) they fit the criteria for the Europass.

Simenon wrote 75 novels and 28  short stories featuring Commissaire Jules Maigret and I first knew of them from a friend at school who loved the books. Then there were the numerous TV productions with Rupert Davies as Maigret.

I have read several of them in the past and most recently I’ve read the following three Maigret books. The links are to my posts on the books:

  • Lock 14, which was the second book, originally published in 1931 as Le Charretier de la ‘˜Providence’ and translated as Maigret Meets a Milord in 1963. It’s a short book of 124 pages set along the canal from Epernay to Vitry-le-Francois. It’s a mystery in which Maigret gets increasingly grumpy, exasperated and tired.
  • My Friend Maigret, first published in 1939 as Mon ami Maigret. It’s a study of Maigret himself, and of life on a small Mediterranean island, three miles from the French coast, where he investigates the murder of Marcellin, a thug, drunkard, thief and pimp. He is accompanied by Mr Pyke, a British detective who is shadowing Maigret to studying his method of working.
  • The Man on the Boulevard, first published in 1953 as Maigret et l’homme du banc. This book is set in Paris where Louis Thouret is found stabbed in a little alleyway. Louis  has led a double life that his wife knew nothing about. It appears he had been having an affair for three years.

There are many things I like about the Maigret books – the attention to detail, the descriptions of the weather, and the characters themselves.  The descriptions of the locations are good, but above all I like the characterisation of Maigret himself.

Lock 14 – Georges Simenon

I used to enjoy the TV series Maigret with Rupert Davies in the title role and when I came across this book I thought it was time to renew my acquaintance. Lock 14 was originally published in 1931 as Le Charretier de la ‘Providence’ and translated as Maigret Meets a Milord in 1963. It’s a short book of 124 pages which didn’t take me very long to read.

The main action is in the world of canals and barges with Maigret cycling up and down the canal in his efforts to discover who had murdered a woman found in a stable at Dizy alongside the canal from Epernay to Vitry-le-Francois. I was a little puzzled at first about what was going on but I wasn’t the only one as Maigret himself had to familiarise himself in a world that was very different from the one he knew.  At first I found the names of the places, boats and characters confusing but really the story is quite simple, once I’d worked out who was who, which boat they were on and that horse-drawn barges had stables on board.

The murdered woman we soon discover was Mary, the wife of Sir Walter Lampson, a retired colonel of the Indian Army, who is sailing on his yacht The Southern Cross, with the seaman Vladimir, Willy Marco his friend and Gloria (Madame Negretti) the widow of a Chilean politician. When Willy is also found strangled in the canal the mystery thickens. Also travelling along the canal is the horse-drawn barge the Providence – the skipper, his wife ‘a fat Brussels woman with peroxided hair and a shrill voice’ and the carter, Jean who looks after the horses.  Just who was Mary and why was she killed?

In the end I did enjoy this mystery, with its description of the gloomy canal world, as the rain pours down incessantly and Maigret gets increasingly grumpy, exasperated and tired.