October 1, 2012 by Marcus Speh
Finished Simenon’s (first) Maigret detective novel: somehow I know that I read this one and many others about the inspector from Paris a long time ago. It’s a thrilling tale even though the writing seems often clumsy, take for example the shouting (rather than telling) which is inserted whenever the action is heating up: something like “MAIGRET GUNNED HIM DOWN!” … you can practically hear how every letter is capitalized. What can I learn from this book? For example how inspector Maigret’s physiognomy and nature lend a particular speed to all action so that whenever the plot is accelerating, an attractive gap appears, alongside the question: will this throw Maigret off-balance? At last he loses his cool when his much loved colleague is murdered: from then on the book runs its course like an avalanche. The last 30 pages however are filled with background story and appear like a documentary, oddly disconnected from the plot. Still, the book is most suspenseful and despite its age of 80 years in this somehow still sufficiently contemporary; this could be because we all dream of parents all the time and we’re grateful for every opportunity to teleport to the Seine. Simenon’s references to Paris are strewn in sparsely and smartly, not unlike Chandler’s references to Los Angeles: the city is but a setting, and it’s the reader’s job to discover the uniqueness of this setting. In fact, anything else would feel intrusive. But the true secret of the effectiveness of this novel is not Paris and it’s not the crime either: one could graft Maigret on to another genre (that might be fun in a postmodern way). The true secret, I think, is the corporeality, which spreads throughout the novel like the inspector’s massive figure. Powerful physicality glows throughout like Maigret’s pipe (which should never burn out) or the potbelly stove in his office (which burns out all the time):
«Maigret slept, half of his body buried under the red eiderdown quilt, head pressed into the thick feather filled pillow, while all the familiar sounds buzzed around his tranquil face.»
More than in the novels with with Marlowe, Marple or other detectives (not to mention Holmes/Watson), Simenon recruits the reader as a partner in crime in order to protect the firmly established world that turns around Maigret against all evil. In this regard the novels of this French also could also be called “noir” even though they are (politically) far more conservative than their American counterparts.
[This post was first published in German][Photo above: Lucia Joyce dancing in Paris, 1929, Wikimedia; photo below: Jean Gabin as inspector Maigret in L'affaire Saint Fiacre (1959).][reviews @goodreads]