I have a little joke with myself that when it comes to our club reads, there’s pretty much always at least one Maigret story that I can read from the year in question. 1968 is no exception, and there were two titles available, although I only own one – and as I’m trying to read from the stacks where I can, I went for that one.

However, when I was looking through titles of books for the last Club, the name of Rex Stout came up. I hadn’t read any of his Nero Wolfe titles for absolutely ages (decades probably) and I had wanted to squeeze one in to 1951. That didn’t happen, but as I had access to a 1968 book I decided to go for that too. So a double-header today and a pair of rather wonderful, if different, crime reads.

First up I read the Stout, “The Father Hunt”; narrated by Archie Goodwin, sidekick to Nero Wolfe (who always tells the tale as far as I can recall), it’s about a young woman called Amy Denovo who asks Archie to help her find out who her father was. Her mother was killed in a hit and run accident, and she knows nothing about her missing male parent. Amy’s mother was remarkably secretive, and of course as Archie is employed by Wolfe and can’t act on his own, he draws the great detective into the quest. It turns out that Amy was left a lot of money by her mother, which came from her absent father over the years, and so she can afford Wolfe’s large fee (well, he does have a collection of rare orchids to maintain!) As usual in these stories, there are tight-lipped millionaires, starchy bankers and uncooperative policemen, all ripe for Archie to annoy (I can still remember the format even though it’s such a long time since I read a Stout!) There’s a wonderful ensemble cast and although the solution was perhaps a little rushed, it was still an enjoyable read.

The Simenon was “Maigret’s Boyhood Friend” and concerns the murder of a women known as Josee who has been shot. Josee had a number of ‘friends’ who helped her to pay her way, regular visitors with regular days; but she also had an almost live-in lover in the form of Florentin, the class clown from when Maigret was at school. It is Florentin who presents himself at Maigret’s office, claiming that Josee was murdered and it was not him – he had been hiding in the cupboard and had heard the murderer but does not know who it was.

Janvier could not help smiling. He was well acquainted with this mood, and, as a rule, it was a good sign. It was Maigret’s way, when he was working on a case, to soak everything up like a sponge, absorbing into himself people and things, even of the most trivial sort, as well as impressions of which he was perhaps barely conscious. It was generally when he was close to saturation point that he was at his most disgruntled.

Maigret is, of course, skeptical, and sets off to investigate the murdered women’s visitors. His investigation is hampered by Florentin’s antics, and the fact that Maigret really dislikes his old school classmate. Despite this, however, he finds it impossible to believe the man is a murderer, and so there has to be much grilling of the other suspects, and also of a monumental and uncooperative concierge who troubles Maigret greatly. Once again, there is a wonderful ensemble cast, plenty of Parisian atmosphere and a clever, twisty solution (as well as a little nod to one of Poe’s seminal crime stories). I don’t think I’ve ever read a Maigret that disappoints, and this one was no exception.

So, looking back over these two crime tales, how different actually are the French and the American detectives? In some ways, there are similarities: both are very individual, both detect in their own way which often baffles those around; both have an ensemble team around them and a very distinctive location. Despite the superficial differences of New York vs Paris, neither detective suffers fools gladly, neither likes to admit defeat and neither functions well without their particular foils or sidekicks. Maigret and Nero Wolfe are more alike than you might think, both these books were a marvellous read, and this double-header was a wonderful way to finish off the #1968Club reading week! 🙂

*****

As an aside, I read the Stout on my tablet (e-book! eek) but the Maigret in paperback; and the latter was a most unpleasant experience, as it was a *very* old anthology edition with crispy brown pages and as soon as I opened it these started falling out as obviously the spine glue had given up the ghost. Not fun, and it’s odd for me to have found an ebook a more enjoyable read… !

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