MAIGRET

Posted: July 14, 2011 in France, notes, review, tv crime fiction

July 14th is Bastille Day so I thought it was appropriate to post about the most famous French fictional detective, Commissaire Jules Maigret. 

Maigret became well known in the UK not only through the 75 novels and 28 short stories written by the prolific Belgian born author Georges Simenon from 1931-1972, but a wonderful BBC TV series starring Rupert Davies. This series ran from 1960-1963 with over 50 episodes and it was compulsive viewing, with Rupert Davies receiving awards and the ultimate praise from Simenon himself. “At last I have found the perfect Maigret”

I remember back in the 1970s when two women were murdered in New Malden over one weekend [a very rare occurrence] the local police constable saying that “he had solved the case quicker than Maigret by arresting the victims respective husbands.” Maigret set the standard. 

Unfortunately the Rupert Davies series is not available any more, because the BBC for reasons of economy recorded over their tapes back in the 1960s. But that wonderful actor Michael Gambon appeared as Maigret in an ITV series that ran for 12 episodes in 1992-1993, and surely this should be included in a list of the 10 best crime DVDs. 

Maigret was a commissaire [chief inspector] who worked in the Paris police judiciaire along with his inspectors, Lucas, Janvier, Lapointe and young Torrence. In the French inquisitorial system he would be working under the command of a juge d’instruction, a situation that could cause conflict when media or politics were involved. Maigret famously was a pipe smoker, and enjoyed drinking calvados, beer brandy and white wine. For a character created by an author who had a large appetite for women, Maigret returned faithfully at night to Madame Maigret who was an excellent cook, frequently producing his favourites: calf liver a la bourgeoise, blanquette de veau, and baked fish in white wine. Maigret conducted his investigations in a straightforward calm manner, noting detail and studying the psychology of the suspects. His method was frequently to have no method. 

There is a wonderful resource with absolutely everything you might want to know about Maigret here at http://www.trussel.com/f_maig.htm 

Below is a review of The Yellow Dog that I wrote in December 2007. Happy Bastille Day!


I think it is appropriate for a blog that has been mainly about European crime fiction to finish the year with a review of a book about the detective who introduced a whole generation to the genre.
The Yellow Dog is a classic novella written in 1931 by Georges Simenon featuring his pipe smoking detective Maigret.
When Monsieur Mostaguen, Concarneau’s biggest wine merchant, is shot in the stomach, Maigret, who was in Rennes reorganizing its mobile unit, is sent to investigate.
Then as three prominent citizens are about to drink an aperitif in the bar of the Admiral Hotel it is noticed that in the Pernod there are some floating crystals, which turn out to be strychnine. One of the three Jean Servieres, then disappears and his empty car is discovered with blood stains on the seat.
A mysterious yellow dog is lurking around the hotel, and there are more events to come …..
Crime fiction to be successful needs atmosphere, plot, characters, and a mystery combined together in a sensible cocktail.
In The Yellow Dog Simenon demonstrates his total mastery of the art by creating a perfect mix. We get a cleverly created atmosphere of fear, a real bouillabaisse of a plot, superb characters, and a mystery to untangle.
I particularly liked the way firstly Maigret reads a newspaper article giving details of what has happened, and then later explains the key features of the case to the Mayor. This allows us slow Watsons to organize our thoughts in line with those of the master detective Holmes-Maigret.
Maigret interestingly also gathers all the suspects together for his final explanations in the style of the English country house mystery.
In a surprisingly brief 130 pages Simenon covers an enormous amount of social commentary about life in a small town. He also creates one of the most memorable detectives in all of crime fiction.
Maigret, the incorruptible pipe smoker, calmly thinking his way to a solution amid the general panic.
He drank his aperitif down straight and got to his feet.
“A piece of advice , gentlemen! No jumping to conclusions. And no deductions, above all.”
“What about the criminal?”
He shrugged his broad shoulders and murmured: “Who knows?”
Superb stuff from a master, with more action in a short novella than others manage in a 600 page blockbuster.
Leroy, sitting on the edge of the little iron bed, remarked, “I still don’t quite understand your methods, superintendent, but I think I’m beginning to see….”
Maigret gave him an amused glance and sent a large cloud of smoke out into the sunshine. “You’re lucky, my friend! Especially in this case in which my method has actually been not to have one…..” 
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Comments
  1. Philip Young says:

    A timely post, Norman. Simenon was a great writer – simple, concise and compelling – and rather an extraordinary individual.

  2. Norman – What a terrific idea for a post. Maigret was definitely a fine sleuth and a very influential character, and Simenon such a gifted writer. Well done!

  3. Mack says:

    I’ve only read two Maigret stories, The Yellow Dog and The Bar on the Seine and enjoyed both. It is a tribute to Simenon that he could write stories that are still very readable today. It is the character of Maigret that gives them their lasting power.

  4. Norman says:

    Thanks Philip, Margot and Mack. When I read the I’s list I thought surely the Maigret series with Michael Gambon should be in that lot [along with The Sopranos] and only then did I realise it was Bastille Day today.
    I used to have a large collection of 1970s Penguin Maigret novels and short stories, but having collected them over 30 years ago they were given away to various charity shops during our house moves and attempts to reduce the number of books that we had. Stupid….. :o(

  5. kathy d. says:

    I have thought about reading Simenon’s books for years and haven’t yet done it. A friend — who told me about Camilleri’s books, and was right — has read all of the Maigret stories and recommends them.

    Is this a good place to start? I will read a few but I can’t take on a series. I am weighed down by too many and my TBR list and pile. Need a bit of catching up before I venture upon a new series.

  6. Norman says:

    Kathy The Yellow Dog was the first but from distant memory Maigret and his Corpse 1948 and Maigret defends himself 1964 are among the best. You can’t go far wrong with any of them. The editions I had were the Penguins from 1970-1979, I wish I had them now.

  7. Mack says:

    The Yellow Dog is a fine place to begin reading but it isn’t the first. Chronologically it comes in at number 4. Peter the Lett (Pieter le Letton, Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett) was the first.

  8. Mack says:

    Norman, I think Yellow Dog is the first to be available in English. The only reason I know about the others is because I’m obsessed with series order.

  9. Keishon says:

    Thanks for writing this post! I know Colin Cotterill oft has referenced this character in his Dr. Siri series and I’ve been meaning to…look them up thanks!!!

  10. LRJ says:

    You may be happy to learn that there are several episodes of the Maigret series with Rupert Davies on Youtube

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