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#1944club – opening the week with a classic Maigret

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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… 😉

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The Case of the Grumpy Detective…

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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!

#1968Club – A Little Vintage Crime from opposite sides of the Pond

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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… !

A fish out of water

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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!

Ahem. #books

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What was that phrase about the best laid plans? Oh yes – I think that came from a book, too….!

So there was I, feeling all smug about not buying much in the way of books lately, and with piles of them in the hall waiting to be donated. But today, I happened to wander into a couple of charity shops, not really looking for anything in particular and not wanted anything in particular. But Bookish Things Happened….

The first charity shop had a little clutch of Companion Book Club editions – always recognisable because of their distinctive jacket design, if they still have one. These two particular titles did, and although they’re a little battered, they were 50p each, so…. “Sailing to Freedom” is a real life story of an Estonian family sailing from Sweden to America during WW2 to escape repatriation and the consequences by the Soviet Union – sounds absolutely fascinating. As for the Maigret, it’s a title I don’t have (I think!) but was essential because of this:

I’m rather intrigued by the inclusion of an interview with Simenon, and I’m hoping to get onto this one soon – the Maigret stories are *so* readable!

I popped into the Samaritans Book Cave also, as I’m donating to them this week, and I happened upon this in their poetry section (which I always check out to see if there are any volumes of the Penguin Modern Poets I need):

Intrigued? You bet I was! I know (or can remember) very little about Dickinson’s life, and Gordon is a respected biographer, so I’m hoping for a torrid tale of family fallings-out and vicious vendettas!

And finally, a library book:

I thought I would borrow “The Stone Angel” and see if I felt like reading it and joining in with the Virago author of the month for June. Much better than buying it, especially as Mount TBR is still tremblingly high.

Well, it could have been worse – last week the library had a book sale where the volumes were 5 for £1 and I exercised great restraint and only came home with a BIG catalogue book from a Royal Academy Russian show from ten years ago. I think I did pretty well, considering… 🙂

#1951club – Feeling the heat in Paris

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Maigret and the Burglar’s Wife by Simenon
Translated by Julian MacLaren-Ross

During our last club week (1947) I came to Maigret as something of a treat when I was feeling all read out and not sure what I wanted to turn to next. Simenon was such a prolific author that there’s always likely to be at least one of his books from a particular week, and from 1951 there are several titles. I confess that I sent off for this book when we decided on 1951, and although it’s a bit battered it appears to have an interesting history – I assume from the sticker on the front it was once a file copy at Penguin!

“Maigret and the Burglar’s Wife” is a short book, but absolutely compelling. Set in a sweltering summer Paris, the great detective and his colleagues are struggling to cope with the weather while getting on with their job. Maigret is visited by ‘Lofty’, the burglar’s wife of the title; many years ago, when he was a rookie cop, she stripped naked in an attempt to resist arrest by him for her involvement in a crime. Nowadays, however, she’s married to well-known safe cracker, Sad Freddie, and she brings Maigret a strange and intriguing story. Whilst out burgling, her husband stumbles upon a dead body in the house he’s attempting to turn over. Figuring that it’s dangerous to stick around, he does a runner and, after phoning Lofty to tell her, leaves Paris with no forwarding address. Both Freddie and Lofty reckon he’s in danger from the murder and so Lofty wants Maigret to solve the crime and get her husband off the hook. However, with no reported death in the area, no body, and no real certainty about where the murder is supposed to have taken place, Maigret is faced with an almost impossible task.

This is a classic Maigret set-up; so often, the detective is lured into a case by the slightest of hints or connections, uncovering an unexpected crime, and it’s where he (and Simenon!) excel. After a bit of hard graft, the house is identified as one occupied by a wealthy respectable dentist Guillaume Serre and his controlling mother. Serre is large arrogant man who is dominated by mother; married twice, his first wife died of a heart condition and his second, Maria, has apparently recently returned to Holland. There is no body; there are no forensics; there is no evidence of a crime of any sort. Any other detective would walk away, but Maigret’s instincts will not let him. After finding the slightest shred of a thing that might allow him a way into the case, he hauls Serre in for one of his epic interrogation sessions; a battle of wills between two big men that will end in perhaps a surprising way.

Rupert Davies as Maigret in the BBC adaptation of the story

MATBW was, of course, pure joy to read; I’m not sure I’ve ever been let down by a Maigret title. The atmosphere of the squad room is brilliantly conjured; the odd domestic setup of the Serres with the petty little everyday tyrannies is chillingly portrayed; the usual ensemble cast enliven the narrative; and Maigret’s interrogation is masterly. All this is told in Simenon’s spare, economic style which still manages to convey so much. There are regular tropes in the Maigret books – the undiscovered or uncertain crime; the hot weather; the team ferreting about to no avail and starting to have little doubts about the wisdom of their superior’s actions; and Maigret producing a result with a clever interrogation. But they never get dull or tired, which is another tribute to Simenon’s writing.

I said at one point in my comments that I could easily spend the whole week of the 1951 Club reading classic crime; actually, I could happily have spent it in the company of Maigret and I’d never have had a dull moment. So another successful read for our club this week, and I’m rather convinced that my Maigrets need to survive any library downsizing attempts…

 

What to read for the #1951Club??

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One of the real joys of our reading clubs (where we focus on books from a particular year) is the fact that you get an excuse to rummage among the stacks and find out exactly which books from the year in question you actually own! I’ve been pretty good during previous clubs and have stuck almost completely to books I already owned. Coming to 1951 it seems I have rather a lot of volumes to choose from – and here they are in a lovely big stack! 🙂

This is probably not all the books I have in my collection from the year (there’s an Elizabeth Taylor for a start) but they’re all titles that appeal in one way or another. For a start, there’s plenty of Maigret:

I *could* just read nothing but Maigret all week – and that would be quite a pleasure! But there are other crime titles too:

I’ve read one Durrenmatt title and it was good, if dark; the Christie is that rare thing, one of her titles that I don’t think I’ve read!! And the Tey is one of my favourite crime books ever – but it gave me great grief when I was pulling books off the shelf to photograph! I knew which shelf my Teys *used* to be on, but having had a shuffle I wasn’t sure if they were still there. I looked on the shelf – not there. Searched the rest of the likely places but with no luck. Looked on the original shelf – still no joy. Looked in less likely places but to no avail. Went back to the original shelf and found them tucked up a corner behind some other ones – how do books do that??

If I need a break from crime these two are possibles – I haven’t read Steinbeck or Mitford for ages, so both would be good to pick up.

And then there are the heavier titles:

Of these, I *know* I’ve read the Greene and the Mishima; I *may* have read the Nabokov; and I don’t think I’ve read the Camus. These would probably take a bit more commitment, and I’m not sure if I’m in the right place mentally to revisit the Greene – we shall see!

So, plenty of choice from books I already own, though no doubt there will be temptation from all the interesting suggestions people come up with.  Watch this space to see what I *do* read! 🙂

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