Maigret and the Millionaires / Maigret and the Gangsters by Simenon
When I picked up this lovely Companion Book Club volumes of two Maigret stories from a local charity shop, I was taking a bit of a risk; because Simenon has written *so* many that I have a list of the ones I own and the ones I’ve read and I didn’t have it with me! However, I suspected I didn’t have these two and I was right; and they made a lovely read in recent times of distraction – there’s nothing like getting lost in crime novels take your mind off your troubles!
Although the stories are separated by a number of years (Millionaires was published in 1957 and Gangsters in 1951), I can see why it makes sense to publish them in a volume together. Maigret books are novella length in the main, and often appear in pairs or collections; and these two share a common theme, that of the great detective being in a milieu that is not his usual one, leaving him somewhat out of his depth.
The first story finds Maigret investigating the death of Colonel Ward, a fabulously rich Englishman, found dead at his hotel in the bath. The same night, his mistress (who was staying in a room in the same hotel) had attempted suicide, been taken to hospital and next day had done a runner. Then there are her previous husbands, one of whom seems happy to help her out. Maigret ends up travelling all over the place, moving in the rarefied atmosphere of the very wealthy, and his discomfort is understandable and in some places amusing. Of course, there is never any doubt that he’ll find a solution but watching his journey is enjoyable!
“Maigret and the Gangsters” reflects the changing world and pits the great man against some American criminals carrying out their operations in Paris, so successfully that the police aren’t even aware of things. It’s only because the hang-dog Lognon happens to spot them in a suspicious action that their crimes start to come to light. Maigret makes use of his connections in the USA to find out about the men concerned, and finds himself dealing with a different breed of criminal to those he’s used to. In fact, the book throws the whole Parisian crime scene into relief, as it’s quite clear that the organised, brutal and very efficient behaviour of the Americans is nothing like the more parochial French criminals that most of Maigret’s crimes centre around. His success is in doubt in this book – can the great French detective really outwit the wily Americans?
Of course, we are still in a recognisable Parisian setting – all rainy streets and atmosphere, evocatively captured by Simenon’s taut prose; and the detective is surrounded by his usual team, including Lucas, Janvier,Torrence and Lapointe, and in the second book the lugubrious Lognon, a recurring and long-suffering character. It amazes me how Simenon could produce so many works in a series and yet they never get tired or repetitive. There’s a great joy in spending time with the detective and his team, watching their patient and painstaking work; and also getting inside the heads of them and the criminals they’re hunting down. Simenon was very much a psychological writer, probing the motivations and emotions of both the good guys and the bad guys.
I got happily lost in these stories of detective and deception, and I’m so glad I picked this one up! If you’ve never read Simenon’s Maigret books and you love classics crime, I’d highly recommend starting soon – they’re unputdownable! 🙂