Old-time detective

J'adore Maigret. Georges Simenon's classic French detective is quite simply superb. And the Penguin anthology Maigret's Christmas is a great place to start if you've never read any of Simenon's books. Comprising 9 tales - a mixture of short stories and novelettes (no Maigret story to my knowledge even makes it to novel length) - they're a superb collection of all that is best in Simenon's writing. Quirky, well-constructed and extraordinarily atmospheric, you can almost smell the garlic and Gauloises.

The nine stories included here are: Maigret's Christmas, Seven little crosses in a notebook, Maigret and the surly inspector, The evidence of the altar-boy, The most obstinate customer in the world, Death of a nobody, Sale by auction, The man in the street, and Maigret in retirement. As you would expect with any anthology some of the tales are better than others; but there's not a bad story among them. For long-term fans of the detective three of the tales - Maigret's Christmas, Maigret in retirement and The evidence of the altar-boy -- shed more light on Maigret's own background.

The best tale though is the only non-Maigret story; the superb Seven little crosses in a notebook. Police headquarters in Paris are galvanised into action after a series of alarms are raised at police call-boxes across the city as a small boy goes hot on the trail of a murderer. It manages to be both charming and riveting reading with an emotional heart to the story too. Quite simply Simenon at his best.

He's such a clever writer. Yes, sometimes he can sound a little dated (although I love the naive idea that policemen should catch taxis or buses everywhere), and some of Maigret's questioning techniques would undoubtedly raise quite a few eyebrows nowadays. But none of this detracts from Simenon's brilliantly atmospheric writing - he captures a sense of place better than any other crime writer. His crime stories remain clever, and will endure long after many another twentieth-century crime writer is forgotten. I wish I could be in Paris, but if you can't be in Paris the next best thing is to read Maigret.


Paul Magrs said…
i've never read Maigret - though i've picked them up over the years and *meant* to. Your blog might actually spur me on at last!
Book-hound said…
Do give them a go Paul. They can be a bit variable, but I've never read a Maigret yet that doesn't have something good about it.
Shaz said…
I've never gotten round to reading Maigret either. I picked up a book while I was studying French in college, but never opened it.

As a Doctor Who fan, I'm slightly star-struck by the previous commentor. I was just listening to - and enjoying - Hornet's Nest on holiday.
Book-hound said…
Oooo, Paul will be pleased by that! You can check out his blog too, if you haven't already done so - it's in my Blogs to follow column, and at http://lifeonmagrs.blogspot.co.uk/
I am reading "Maigret's Christmas" right now and just finished "Seven Crosses." I agree it's a superb story. Simenon writes his characters with such intuition into motive, feelings, and purpose. I appreciate how the theme of childhood memories carries throughout the text. Very touching conclusion. (Spoiler) "A very proud small boy was being driven across Paris in a police car. :-)

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