Inspector Cadaver by Simenon
Translated by William Hobson

I’ve often remarked (either here or to myself) that you can’t go wrong with a Maigret; I’ve read a number of them for our various Clubs, and because Simenon was such a prolific author, there’s usually one of his most famous creation’s escapades available for reading, whatever the year we pick! 1944 is no exception, and there were numerous short stories and novels to choose from; however, I ended up with one which I came across on one of my trips to London over the summer – “Inspector Cadaver”.

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the new covers…

I was particularly pleased to come across it in Skoob, because it’s the first of the new Penguin translations I’ve read; I’ve been keen to find out what they’re like and also how I got on the with translation. The latter was just fine, and the story intriguing – it turned out to be a bit of a slow burner that suddenly took off for me mid-read and I ended up being absolutely gripped.

“Cadaver…” finds Detective Chief Inspector Maigret somewhat out of his comfort zone again (Simenon *did* seem to like to do that to his character…) Our sleuth is comfortably established and well-known in Paris; however, the examining magistrate, Brejon, has asked a favour of Maigret and sent the latter out into the country, to Saint-Aubin-les-Marais. Brejon’s brother-in-law is in trouble: a local youth was found dead on the train tracks but the country gossips have got to work, implying that the death was not accidental and that Naud (the brother-in-law) is implicated. Brejon hopes that Maigret can help sort things out, but that may not be so easy…

For a start, Maigret has no official status. Then there is the attitude of the locals, who close ranks against the interloper and seem to have no intention of helping him find the truth. And there is the titular Inspector Cadaver… His actual name is Cavre, and he and Maigret know each of old, from a time when Cavre was drummed out of the force. What is Cavre doing in Saint Aubin? Who employs him and why does he always seem to be a step ahead of Maigret? What are the Naud family hiding, in particular the daughter? And will Maigret ever find the solution?

It was so easy being Maigret. You had a whole apparatus of the most sophisticated kind at your disposal. And you only had to casually drop your own name for people to be so dazzled they would bend over backwards to be agreeable to you. Whereas here he was such an unknown that, despite all the articles about him, all the photographs of him in the papers, Etienne Naud had marched up to Justin Cavre at the station.

Well, of course, he does get to the truth, and in his particularly distinctive way, though not without a lot of grumpiness and poking into secrets and annoying people – pretty much his modus operandi, really. What was noticeable to me, as someone who’s read quite a lot of Maigret now, is the detective’s ambivalence. He often sides with the poorer people he meets with, the victims of society who are often sacrificed for the sake of the rich. Yet he finds himself seduced by the rich lifestyle, finding it hard to shake off the inbred respect he feels as the son of a poor family. But Maigret being Maigret will never entirely let the rich off the hook, despite having sympathy for some of them. In this story he dispenses his own kind of justice and fate takes a hand at the end too, leaving you with the feeling that what goes around comes around, and that a certain kind of person will always gravitate towards their own kind.

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

As always, it’s a joy watching Maigret going through his detecting process; appearing to bumble around but actually having a very definite purpose. His encounters with Cavre are pointed and amusing, and seeing him finally getting the better of his ex-colleague is marvellous. Reading this, I realised how much I felt that the recent adaptations for TV with Rowan Atkinson got it wrong. The bits I watched were glossy and melodramatic, and that solidity of Maigret, his almost impenetrable character, seemed to elude Atkinson…

Plot-wise, I did get a major strand about two-thirds of the way in, which kind of revealed the whole reason for what had happened. That wasn’t a problem, as it was still a delight to watch the whole facade built up by the Naud family unravel under Maigret’s investigation, and Simenon’s ability to capture the tensions and atmospheres around the family was impressive. Very satisfying!

So my first read for the #1944Club was a good one. I rarely find myself disappointed with a Maigret, but I don’t always remember to pick one up. The Club reads are a great excuse to revisit favourites, and I often return to crime – in fact, I might well be heading to a rather wonderful re-read later in the week. Watch this space… 😉

Advertisements