A series of panicky phone calls leads not to a whodunit but rather into a police procedural, as Maigret tracks down a gang of brutal killers who are described as being little better than animals: “Where, in what lower depths, in what world of poverty, had their group been formed? . . . Given the way they were and behaved, they would in earlier times or other climes have lived exactly the same lives, naked, in forest or jungle.” They don’t even kill for money, but only to eat, drink, and rut.
“Civilized men fear wild creatures, especially wild creatures of their own kind who remind them of life in the primeval forests of ages past.” The gang’s well-dressed leader, however, is “an even more dangerous wild animal” for practicing a more refined and dangerous form of viciousness. Alas, we never get to hear any of these wild things speak, making them a lot less interesting than their countryman Radek from A Man’s Head. And what did Simenon have against Eastern Europeans anyway? [Note: In Maigret’s Memoirs he (Maigret) tells us that “on average, sixty-five per cent of crimes committed in the Paris region are committed by foreigners.” I’m assuming Simenon was pulling that number from somewhere, and if so it may help explain what’s going on here.]
A good read, and you can tell why it was one of the novels chosen for the short-lived ITV Maigret series starring Rowan Atkinson. The opening game of telephone tag plays well, so much so that you don’t stop to ask why Albert doesn’t just tell Maigret what’s going on. Only the business with Maria’s baby feels like a misstep. I think it’s the first time in the series that I found things getting corny. Something I’ll have to keep an eye on as I continue.