Although I have already expounded on the enduring importance of this popular French policeman, I felt inspired to create this, my first top 5 for 2018, following the Christmas Eve showing of Maigret in Montmartre. Starring Rowan Atkinson in his first non-comedic role on screen, the series is an excellent portrayal of this Gallic sleuth and his quest for truth in Georges Simenon’s murky Paris.
The novels share many characteristics with classic English Crime Fiction, which, at the time they were published, was experiencing its Golden Age. However, the key differentiator is the series’ setting; whilst many Golden Age works explored the private and personal nature of crime, and were often centred around private homes and intimate, family settings, Simenon instead chose to explore the wider issues France faced at that time, and as such his novels are often set in Paris or other cities, with a focus on community and shared suffering.
Much like Kurt Wallander, Henning Mankell’s depressed detective who scoured the streets of Ystad in search of devilish criminal masterminds, Simenon’s Maigret is a man who uses every sense to uncover his villains and restore order, however briefly, to the streets he views as his own.
The one problem I find with many of the screen portrayals of the character is that they often give the character an eccentricity, or they allow him to be viewed as uniquely special, as if his powers of deduction alone are enough for him to solve every case, when in fact, Simenon wrote the character as an intensely ordinary man. For example, during the first of ITV’s Maigret films, starring Rowan Atkinson, Madam Maigret, whilst speaking about why a group of policewomen had volunteered to put themselves in extreme danger, tells her husband; ‘of course they would do it for you’. This implies that it was some special magnetism that he possessed, and not the thrill of working with more senior officers on such a high profile case, that drew these women to volunteer for such a perilous task. In fact, Simenon’s Maigret is constantly portrayed as intensely normal, with no special attributes aside from his bulk, his steadfast dedication to his job and his dogged approach to his role as a policeman.
A prolific writer, Simenon produced over 75 Maigret novels, many of which are yet to be translated into English (I once tried reading a Simenon novel in the original French but unfortunately my GCSE knowledge proved no match for their strange sentence configurations and multiple noun genders), and as such I am yet to read the entire collection. However, over the years I have encountered a number of the novels that have been translated, and here are five that I think will offer a great introduction to this stoic and practical Parisian policeman.
5. The Friend of Madame Maigret: I have always admired Simenon’s portrayal of Madame Maigret, as although it is not entirely fair on women it is certainly progressive for its time. In this novel she assists her husband as he tries to prove an improbable, corpse-less murder by recounting her strange encounter with a woman and her child.
4. Maigret Travels: A multi-millionaire is found dead in the same hotel as a struggling countess, who later flees, with Inspector Maigret in pursuit. Although this is one of the later novels to feature Maigret, it is a really thrilling tale that makes for a great introduction to this tough, hardened detective.
3. The Crime of Inspector Maigret: A true moral dilemma, this fascinating novel explores a complex case as our intrepid French detective embarks on an international chase that quickly turns deadly. One of the faster paced Maigret books, this is a real page turner that kept me hooked from the very beginning.
2. My Friend Maigret: Transported to the Mediterranean island of Porquerolles in search of the killer of a small time crook who had claimed to be a friend of his prior to his death, Maigret explores the island’s petty grievances and uncovers a number of startling revelations. With a Scotland Yard Inspector in tow desperate to find out the secrets behind his success, the dour French Inspector is on top form in this visceral, emotive and intensely human novel.
1. Pietr the Latvian: As always, it is my firm belief that the first novel in a series is always the best place to start, and Pietr the Latvian is a really strong book, offering an enticing glimpse into Maigret’s Paris and the evil that lurks within. Beginning with a simple trip to the train station to intercept a criminal, Maigret happens upon a crime scene as soon as he arrives, and is plunged headfirst into a thrilling adventure that will take him deep into the international underworld as he searches for not only the murderer but also the true identity of his victim.