Maigret Loses His Temper by Simenon
Translated by Robert Eglesfield

There’s no accounting for reading whims, is there? I may be awash with new books, review books and charity shop finds, but if I suddenly get an urge to read an old Maigret that’s been knocking around the house for years, well that’s what I’m going to do. And I did… I was trying to remember the impetus for picking this one up, and then recalled it was thanks to an article on LitHub which listed some quintessential Parisian fictions. This one apparently featured Père Lachaise cemetery – well, not exactly, and I think the article was a bit disingenuous. Nevertheless, I *did* thoroughly enjoy this particular Maigret!

“Maigret Loses His Temper” is a slightly later adventure of the great detective, first published in 1963. The story is set in a Paris which is sweltering in a heatwave. Maigret is by now a chief inspector, and currently drowning in a sea of paperwork; not the kind of setting the detective prefers, and so when a body is found, Maigret jumps at the chance to escape from his boring desk-work and get involved in sleuthing instead. However, the case is an odd sort of one; the victim is a night-club owner, who owns a string of businesses which, despite their seedy nature, he runs so honestly that he’s known as “the grocer”. Even more strangely, the body appears to be have been stored for a couple of days before being dumped outside Père Lachaise, which in a heatwave isn’t really that sensible a thing to do… The victim’s family appear to be uninvolved; gang warfare is ruled out; and so it’s left to Maigret to dig deep into the heart of the case and find the complex story behind a seemingly simple murder.

Without hurrying, he strolled through the few streets which constituted the former steward’s world, and, as the hours went by, these changed in appearance. First there were the neon signs which became more numerous, and then there were the uniformed commissionaires who appeared outside the doors. Not only did the jazz, coming out through the night-clubs’ doors, give a different vibration to the air, but the passers-by were different and the night taxis began to spill out their passengers, while a new fauna moved backwards and forwards between the light and shade.

As always, Simenon’s writing oozes atmosphere, and he captures the city beautifully; the seedy clubland, the neon and the strip joints, are brilliantly conjured in his spare yet effective prose. And the group of detective, that familiar ensemble cast he has around Maigret, make their reassuring appearances supporting their chief. However, the star of the book is, as ever, Maigret; what a really wonderful creation he was. He almost seems to mooch through the case; smoking his pipe fiercely, popping into the local bars for a drink and a meal; but that distracted air hides the thought processes going on behind the scenes. Some kind of detecting instinct sends him in the right direction, and he tracks down the criminal despite all the odds, revealing some surprising twists and an unexpectedly nasty murderer.

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

Simenon wrote so many Maigrets that there *is* the danger that if you’ve read a lot they tend to merge a little bit; and in fact I keep a checklist so that I can be sure of what I own and don’t, as well as which ones I’ve read. However, this is a particularly strong entry in the series: the mystery is clever, the atmosphere is marvellous and Maigret’s persistence very much on show. Simenon at one point allows himself to insert a meditation on Maigret’s handling of cases and this adds a fascinating element to the book (as well as painting an image of Maigret like a spider in the middle of a web, with his minions spread out all around him while he directs events from the centre).

    It had happened several times, indeed quite often, but never in such a clear, characteristic way. You work in a given direction, all the more stubbornly in that you are less sure of yourself and have less data to hand.
    You tell yourself that you remain free, when the time comes, to turn round and search in another direction.
    You send inspectors right and left. You think you are marking time, and then you discover a new clue and you start moving cautiously forward.
    And all of a sudden, just when you least expect it, the case slips out of your grasp. You cease to be in control of it. It is events which are in command and which force you to take measures which you have not foreseen, and for which you were not prepared.

I devoured “Maigret Loses His Temper” in a couple of sittings, and it was the perfect book at the perfect time. Sometimes you just need the safety of a reliable read: a series you love, a writer and characters you’re familiar with – and I’ve very rarely been disappointed with a Maigret!

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