Maigret Takes a Room by Simenon
Translated by Robert Brain

I didn’t think it would be long until I read my latest Maigret! I actually started reading this book over a coffee on the day I found it in a local charity shop, and as I was nearing the end of a review book I carried on with the Maigret as soon as I could. They’re addictive – and very, very readable – and a strong case could be made for having a month of reading nothing but the exploits of Simenon’s famous detective!

“Maigret Takes a Room” opens with the great man very much out of his comfort zone! Madame Maigret is away visiting a sick sister, and so her husband is rattling around in an empty flat, feeling guilty if he goes to a restaurant or has a drink, but unable to cope with the silence. However, sudden dramatic events involving the shooting of one of his officers take Maigret off to a quiet boarding house which seems to be at the centre of things. The wounded officer, Maigret’s loyal side-kick Janvier, was watching the house in pursuit of some robbers, and so Maigret takes a room in the building in an attempt to track down the perpetrators.

And an intriguing place it is, too. The establishment is run by a middle-aged woman with an obvious love of cakes and Chartreuse, Mme Clement; according to her all of her lodgers are lovely people with no issues. There are a couple of struggling families; some young women with occupations of varying respectability; some gentlemen with rather dull jobs, and a retired musician who teaches piano to young girls. Maigret watches the neighbourhood from his window, misses his wife and solves the mystery of the missing thief quite quickly. However, as usual with Simenon, there’s much more to be investigated than just the simple, obvious crime, and as Maigret steeps himself in the atmosphere of the area and studies its inhabitants, he comes to a startling conclusion about the reality behind the shooting of Janvier.

Jean Gabin as Maigret

Simenon is *such* a clever writer, and that’s amply on display here. As always, Maigret seems to mooch through his investigation, soaking in the ambience of the neighborhood and getting to see what’s behind the facade of what goes on around him. Simenon’s prose is spare and economic, yet he always manages to capture brilliantly the atmosphere of a place and convey his characters with all their foibles and issues. Mme Clement in particular is vividly depicted, and a worthy foil for the detective. And I always love the way Simenon takes a seemingly straightforward crime, embellishes it with his wonderful characters and setting, then twists the story so something completely unexpected develops.

As you might be able to tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this read, and I’m so glad I picked it up in the local charity shop. I find I can’t go wrong with a Maigret, particularly if I’m in one of those moods when I don’t quite know what to read. And the 20th century translations seem to work well for me, so despite the fact the lovely shiny new Penguin editions are very appealing, I’ll probably keep sticking to the old battered versions I know and love!

********

As I mentioned in my haul post, when I picked up this particular Companion Book Club edition, my decision to purchase was swayed by the fact that there is an interview with Simenon in the back of the book. This is a reprint of the Paris Review interview and it makes fascinating reading. The author comes across as something of a writing machine; once he has the idea for the book he simply has to sit down and write it, a certain number of chapters a day without a break, or it won’t come to fruition. Interestingly, more of the focus seems to be on the non-Maigret writing, and the detective gets very little mention at all. An essential read for those wanting an insight into Simenon’s creative process!

Advertisements