One of my long-term mottoes is “If in doubt, read a crime Penguin” – and since I was undecided about what to read next, this seemed the best idea! The volume in question is a recent vintage green acquisition and is a middle-period Maigret (1950s).

The book opens with a beleaguered police departments suffering from flu, illness and staff shortages. As so often with Simenon’s books, the atmosphere comes alive and we feel as we are in a rainy, dull Paris suffering alongside the characters. The police department is investigating the disappearance of an Englishwoman on a coach trip, and finding absolutely no clues, when an old friend from school turns up needing help.

“Friend” is perhaps the wrong word. Fumal was known at school as “Fattie Fumal” and was not a popular boy. He has grown up into an unpleasant businessman, owning a large butchers conglomerate. To get to this point in his life he has made many enemies on the way and destroyed a number of other businesses. Now Fumal is receiving threatening letters and wants help and protection, so he uses his influence with politicians to pressurise Maigret into seeing him. But our detective has unhappy memories of his school days and the effect that Fumal’s father had on Maigret’s own father, so he is reluctant to help.

Needless to say, Fumal is murdered and Maigret finds himself wondering if he did enough to help the man. Battling the weather conditions and the illness in the department, Maigret investigates and finds a solution – so where is the failure of the title?

As this is a Simenon book, there is a lot more than just a straight detective story. There various players in the drama are revealed to have secret lives, past histories and things they don’t want Maigret to know. It seems that all of the members of Fumal’s household have a motive for the murder and it takes a lot of disentangling to find out who it was that actually committed the act.

This was an excellent Maigret – full of well drawn characters, intriguing and atmospheric. I realised while reading it that one of the things I like about Simenon is his economy of style. For example, a sentence like “Aren’t you having a car sent round?” enquired Madame Maigret, who made herself as small as possible on such occasions tells you all you need to know about Maigret’s state of mind on finding out that Fumal has been murdered.

By Jac. de Nijs / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

And the failure? Well, it could be argued that Maigret feels he has failed Fumal by not preserving his life. But there is also failure in that the killer escapes and eludes capture; similarly, the missing Englishwomen is not found by the authorities. But Simenon gives us resolution in the last few pages and as usual with his novels, this was a satisfying read!

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