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Recent Reads: Maigret’s Failure by Simenon

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One of my long-term mottoes is “If in doubt, read a crime Penguin” – and since I was undecided about what to read next, this seemed the best idea! The volume in question is a recent vintage green acquisition and is a middle-period Maigret (1950s).

The book opens with a beleaguered police departments suffering from flu, illness and staff shortages. As so often with Simenon’s books, the atmosphere comes alive and we feel as we are in a rainy, dull Paris suffering alongside the characters. The police department is investigating the disappearance of an Englishwoman on a coach trip, and finding absolutely no clues, when an old friend from school turns up needing help.

“Friend” is perhaps the wrong word. Fumal was known at school as “Fattie Fumal” and was not a popular boy. He has grown up into an unpleasant businessman, owning a large butchers conglomerate. To get to this point in his life he has made many enemies on the way and destroyed a number of other businesses. Now Fumal is receiving threatening letters and wants help and protection, so he uses his influence with politicians to pressurise Maigret into seeing him. But our detective has unhappy memories of his school days and the effect that Fumal’s father had on Maigret’s own father, so he is reluctant to help.

Needless to say, Fumal is murdered and Maigret finds himself wondering if he did enough to help the man. Battling the weather conditions and the illness in the department, Maigret investigates and finds a solution – so where is the failure of the title?

As this is a Simenon book, there is a lot more than just a straight detective story. There various players in the drama are revealed to have secret lives, past histories and things they don’t want Maigret to know. It seems that all of the members of Fumal’s household have a motive for the murder and it takes a lot of disentangling to find out who it was that actually committed the act.

This was an excellent Maigret – full of well drawn characters, intriguing and atmospheric. I realised while reading it that one of the things I like about Simenon is his economy of style. For example, a sentence like “Aren’t you having a car sent round?” enquired Madame Maigret, who made herself as small as possible on such occasions tells you all you need to know about Maigret’s state of mind on finding out that Fumal has been murdered.

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

And the failure? Well, it could be argued that Maigret feels he has failed Fumal by not preserving his life. But there is also failure in that the killer escapes and eludes capture; similarly, the missing Englishwomen is not found by the authorities. But Simenon gives us resolution in the last few pages and as usual with his novels, this was a satisfying read!

A Busy and Unusual week – plus a quick round up

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My weeks are normally quite straightforward nowadays – work Monday to Friday, shopping in the Big Town Saturdays and recovering Sundays. This week there were a couple of variations to the usual theme!


On Wednesday I had the great delight of a night out at the local Concert Venue to see one of my favourite 80s bands live in concert – Ultravox! It was a grand gig – two long sets of just Ultravox with an interval in the middle. The guys were on great form and played every Ultravox song you could possibly want to hear, including my favourite off the new album “Brilliant”. I missed them on the reunion tours a couple of years ago, so I was *very* pleased they decided to visit the Big Town on this tour. Needless to say, I spent a happy few hours dancing about at the front of the stage in a very undignified manner – and consoling myself with the fact that I was not the oldest, greyest or largest person there and that I was having a whale of a time!

Having tired myself out so that I was looking forward to a nice quiet weekend, Youngest Child decided with two days’ notice that we had to visit the Leicester University open day on Saturday – despite the fact that we have been to Leicester many times and that Middle Child has studied there. I suppose the fact she wants to take a different subject is relevant. So we were up at the crack of dawn on Saturday for a long day of train travelling and traipsing round. There were some good points though (as well as the fact that the visit was a success and Leicester Uni was very pleasing to YC) – I got a lot of reading time on the train and also got to visit my favourite Leicester charity bookshop and as well got to have lunch with Middle Child and her boyfriend! So it was an exhausting day, but a lovely one!

I managed to read the whole of Elizabeth Taylor’s “The Wedding Group” on the journey there (which gave me a good excuse to buy another book, as it was the only one I had brought with me!) and very much enjoyed it and will review when I can get my head together. Meanwhile, here are some thoughts on a couple of books I’ve read this week:

Simenon – The Sailors’ Rendezvous

This is an early Maigret title (1931 I think) and a very good one. A friend of the detective calls in a favour and so instead of his usual holiday destination, Maigret and his wife head north to Fecamp, on the English channel, where the skipper of a fishing trawler called the Ocean has been killed. There is an obvious suspect but no clear motive, and much dark muttering about the ship travelling under an evil eye, accidents and deaths on board and strange behaviour by the upper echelons of the crew. Maigret cannot get clear in his mind what has caused the murder and who did it, despite tracking down a female of suspect morals and her crony. The book’s strength is in a remarkable section at the end where Maigret sits on the vessel and literally *thinks* himself into the mentality of the various characters and works out the solution. A wonderful piece of psychological writing by Simenon and a very satisfying book.

David Garnett – Lady Into Fox/The Man in the Zoo

After reading Simon’s piece on”The Man in the Zoo”  here, I decided to dig my copy of Lady into Fox out for a read – and discovered that alas I must have disposed of it on an ill-advised clear out of books – not good….. So Amazon came to the rescue with a nice little Evergreen Books edition that also contained The Man in The Zoo. I read both short novellas in one sitting and was most impressed – possibly more so with The Man in the Zoo. As a vegetarian (and therefore somewhat anti-hunting) I found the trauma of the poor hero of Lady Into Fox whilst trying to protect his transformed wife from the hounds almost unbearable. But both books were interesting examinations of what makes us human and keeps animals as beasts, and seeing how the zoo specimens reacted to the human member of their community was intriguing. Very clever little stories and most enjoyable!

As mentioned, I hope to post about “The Wedding Group” soon – I thought it was remarkable and one of the Taylors I’ve enjoyed most!

Recent Reads – A Round-Up

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Having whizzed through several books on my recent trip away, I thought it might be best to do a quick round-up – if I try to review all these at length, I’ll be here forever!! So, off we go:

Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

I’ve had this on my tbr for a long time, and to be honest never really grasped what it was about but felt it was one of those books I should read. However, Heavenali’s review here whetted my appetite and I finally picked it up, and found I couldn’t put it down! It’s funny, clever and surprising, and very beautifully written. I found the way she mixed rural drama (while sending it up wonderfully) and the futuristic elements remarkable, and it was worth the wait – I’m glad I finally got to read it.

Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

In the mood for Stella Gibbons after I picked up the book above, and found this volume sitting quietly in the Oxfam Book Shop waiting for me – joy! Only one story (the title) is set on the eponymous farm, but the rest of the stories stand up in their own right. They’re lovely – witty, well written and often with a sting in their tail. I liked this book a lot, but interestingly, reading them so closely after the Katherine Mansfield volume reinforced my feelings about Mansfield’s genius. Gibbons stories are very, very good but don’t have the depth of Mansfield – who is a remarkable writer indeed.

The Greer Case – David Peck

A vintage Penguin I picked up because I liked the sound of it on apenguinaweek. It was very readable too – demolished much of it on the train to Leicester! It’s a retelling of a real-life court case, which took place in the USA in the middle of last century. There is a contested will, an illegitimate child, mysterious past – the whole thing was very well told and readable and intriguing.

Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino

Another return to my beloved Calvino – Invisible Cities is reckoned by some to be Calvino’s best and it’s certainly a book that stays in the mind. It’s certainly not a heavily plotted action thriller – more a series of short meditations. The book is ostensibly a record of Marco Polo’s conversations with Kublai Khan, describing the cities of the empire which he has visited. However, each short piece has a beautiful poetic quality and it soon becomes clear that these are descriptions of the ideas of cities, rather than cities themselves – some are even perceivable as contemporary with the reader, and some obviously futuristic. Calvino seems to be exploring the whole nature of a city, its organic structure, its possibilities and potential. What I love about Calvino is his word pictures – he’s capable of putting the most amazing, unexpected images into your head and they stay there forever. A book I would recommend to everyone.

I Will Not Serve – Eveline Mahyere

A slim little Virago picked up on my travels, and Mahyere’s only book prior to her suicide in 1957. It tells the tale of Sylvie, forced to leave her convent school where she is in love with one of her teachers, Julienne (who is about to become a nun). The book is formed of diary extracts, letters and narration and paints an intense picture of Sylvie’s love and despair compared with Julienne’s calm acceptance of God. Sylvie drinks and hangs around in bars and dreams of becoming an artist with Julienne alongside her. Beautifully written, sad and touching.

Madame Maigret’s Friend – Simenon

I love a good Maigret, and this is one. Seemingly disparate strands come together to reveal a crime and as usual Simenon is in complete control of his characters, his plot and his readers! The involvement of Mme Maigret is masterly and adds an extra element to the story.

Maigret in Montmarte – Simenon

Another atmospheric visit to Paris where Maigret is investigating a murder which will reveal other crimes and also affects the police force a little more closely than usual. One of the things I love about Simenon’s books is the atmosphere they create. The reader is never going to be able to out-guess Maigret or his creator, but that isn’t the point about these stories. It’s the characters and the settings – the rainy Paris streets, the sadness and the seediness, the light and shade in the behaviour of the people. Simenon was a master of his craft and the books are authentic in their atmosphere through and through.

March Violets – Philip Kerr

Oh dear. The one dud for me in the recent batch of reads. I read about these online, with rave reviews and they sounded good – hard-boiled thrillers set in pre-War Berlin. I persevered with this one, although I actually skip read to the end just to find out the resolution. Problems? Well, a lot of them for me. The hard-boiled dialogue was so over-the-top and clichéd I actually got really fed up with it by the end. I hated all the characters – accepting that in pre-War Berlin there wouldn’t be that many nice people about, they were all pretty brutal cardboard cut-outs. The violence and misogyny were just too much and laid on with a trowel. I didn’t find the detective to be anybody I could care about. And having a sequence set in Dachau just seemed to me to be stepping over the line. I have 5 more in the series of these books and I have to say I unfortunately don’t feel like starting another one. I don’t have an issue with hard-boiled thrillers – I love Dashiel Hammett’s books to death – but this book was just nasty and left me feeling a bit tainted.

So – not a bad amount of reading for less than a week. I’m off to cleanse my palate with “Mrs. Miniver”!

A Short Trip Away!

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The slight gap in posts here is due to the fact that I’ve been off, with Youngest Child, to visit Middle Child in Leicester for a couple of days. We managed also to fit in a short call at the Aged Parents’ residence, which was lovely, as we haven’t seen them for a while. Middle Child has just completed her degree and is about to start fearsomely hard work on teacher training, so we figured it would be best to make our trip before the start of the new term.

Leicester is a rather nice city – very multicultural and very, very friendly. Everyone you seem to encounter, from people on buses to people in shops and cafes is just really nice. Maybe this is a by-product of a place being a University town, but I like it a lot. What I also like about Leicester is its book-shopping facilities (of course!) As well as a number of second-hand bookshops, there is also a good collection of charity shops. Needless to say, I had a good browse and came back with a few irresistible treasures. One of my favourite shops is the Loros Charity Bookshop:

Most books are priced at £2 and there is an excellent selection – I had to reject quite a few and spent just as much time prioritising and decided what I could manage to carry back home as I did browsing. So here are some pictures of my finds, and not all came from Loros.

First up, the Viragos. There were some very hard decisions to be made as I came across a lot of Viragos and couldn’t possible have them all:

The first four are rather lovely though – a beautiful hardback of “Diary of a Provincial Lady” (which many LibraryThing members seem to think you can never have too many of – and I’m starting to agree) – this was only £1 and so a bargain; a Margaret Atwood I don’t have (which is a novelty in itself as I thought I had everything); “The Tortoise and the Hare” by Elizabeth Jenkins; and “The Young Rebecca”, which sounded very interesting.

Then we have a couple of Christa Wolfs – my buying in Leicester was slightly dictated by whether the titles were ones I often saw second-hand, and these I certainly haven’t seen about in my usual haunts.

Next up, “I Will Not Serve” – a slim little Virago I’d not heard of, and it sounded intriguing.

That was all on the Virago front. However, I did come across some lovely old crime Penguins:

The Maigrets are particularly irresistible – I find I can’t put them down and usually read them in one sitting.

This is a miscellaneous selection – “The Moon and Sixpence” because it’s not in the set of Somerset Maugham I recently got; “Eating People is Wrong” because it looks nice and sounded funny; and the Ivy Compton-Burnett because I like that style of Penguin and I liked the first few pages!

Finally, “Berlin Noir” – this is highly rated and I like a good crime thriller. Since it was very, very cheap I thought I would give it a try.

So all in all, Leicester was a good book-buying city! It was lovely to see Middle Child and inspect the new house she’s moved into for her last year studying. I think she was a little shocked at the amount of books I picked up, but as I pointed out I read several just in the short time I stayed with her!

Paris in July: Maigret’s Pipe by Simenon

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I had earmarked “The Ripening Seed” by Colette for my Paris in July read, but the mood was not right so I confess I abandoned it. I’ve learnt that there’s no point forcing reading – you’ve got to read what you want, when you want or it just doesn’t work. Instead, I was drawn to a nice thick volume of Maigret short stories, “Maigret’s Pipe”, which I recently picked up. I read the first story, which is a longish short story, over the weekend and was as usual bowled over by Simenon’s control of a story.

The setting was, as ever, Maigret’s Paris. Even when he’s away from the place, he’s a Parisian, and he’s always uncomfortable out of his own environment. The streets of the city feature in all the stories and in my imagination they’re always black and white and rainy! However, to the story at hand!

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

“Maigret’s Pipe” is a clever tale which begins with the great detective mislaying his favourite smoking aid, his briar pipe. Irritated by the loss, he can’t settle till he goes back over the events of the day, trying to work out when he last had it. What appears to be a simple matter leads on to a much more complex crime and situation and as usual with Simenon, I had absolutely no idea of the solution! I haven’t read many Maigret short stories and I did wonder how the character would work in a truncated setting. But as usual, the tale was enjoyable, atmospheric and entertaining. What I love about Simenon’s writing is how he can conjure up a place or person very simply in a few sentences – he brings what is probably a lost Paris alive! I hope to read more of the stories in this book as July goes on but for now” Maigret’s Pipe” has transported me to the City of Light!

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