Thank goodness! I don’t consider Maigret’s Pickpocket to be one of the best Maigret books, but considering how dull and contrived the series had been getting, it was nice to have one that I enjoyed. There were lots of questions to ponder, not just whodunit, but whether Ricain had talent or was just a poseur, and how loyal his wife actually was. That these ancillary questions are never answered didn’t bother me a bit. In fact, they made me like the book even more.
François Ricain is the pickpocket, a young man of modest means trying to make it in the film business in Paris. The odds of him getting a break seem long indeed, and he’s settled down into a shabby Bohemian existence, living with his wife in an oddly-appointed apartment and scrounging among friends to make enough money to pay his rent. One day he steals Maigret’s wallet but returns it the next day. This is because his wife has been shot and he needs Maigret’s help.
(As a quick aside, Maigret has his wallet stolen because he keeps it in his back pocket. Madame Maigret has told him not to do this but he doesn’t listen. For the life of me I don’t know why anyone keeps their wallet in their back pocket. I have never in my life kept my wallet in my back pocket. That’s just stupid.)
As you’d probably guess by this point, Maigret doesn’t like this particular crowd. Nor do any of the other upstanding citizens of Paris. After making inquiries, the words that come up most often to describe them are: “savages, badly brought-up people, no morals.” And it’s not just the young people. The older producer who takes advantage of the system crosses a line with Maigret:
“Tell me, Monsieur Carus. I imagine that you have a procession of pretty girls coming into your office every day. And most of them would do anything to get a part in a film.”
“And I’m guessing that you may sometimes take advantage of your visitor.”
“I don’t hide it.”
“Even from Nora?”
“Let me explain. If now and then I take advantage, as you put it, of a pretty girl, Nora doesn’t worry too much, as long as it doesn’t last. It comes with the job. All men do the same thing, though they don’t all have the same opportunity. Yourself, chief inspector . . .”
Maigret looked at him forbiddingly, without smiling.
“Oh please forgive me if I shocked you. Where was I? . . .”
The killer is the sort of loser that Simenon seems to have had a special dislike for: intelligent but bitter about going nowhere and carrying about a sense of grievance and humiliation. The thing that’s new here is that this is a description not only of the killer but of most of his friends as well. Which makes you think that a larger breakdown was occurring in Paris in . . . 1967. The shit was about to hit the fan.