Maigret: Maigret’s First Case

April 15, 1913. Jules Maigret is twenty-six years old and working as secretary to the chief inspector of the Saint-Georges district police station. Tall but skinny, he looks like a “raw-boned adolescent” and doesn’t intimidate anyone. His new wife still calls him “Jules.”

In this flashback entry in the series (in superhero parlance something close to an “origin story”) we get to see the formation of the future celebrity chief inspector, as well as a template for much of what would follow. The plot is the familiar one of a wealthy family with dark secrets hidden behind the façade of their well-appointed home. Maigret investigates, uncovers the buried truth, but then learns a lesson not in his police manual about how it may not be worth pursuing justice in all cases. Sometimes this does more harm than good, so what would it really achieve?

The most notable part though is Maigret’s sense of his own calling.

The profession he had always yearned for did not actually exist. As he grew up, he had the sense that many people in his village were out of place, that they had followed a path that was not theirs, purely because they didn’t know what else to do.

And he imagined a very clever, above all very understanding man, a cross between a doctor and a priest, a man capable of understanding another’s destiny at first glance.

This is very optimistic, and expresses a worldview grounded in golden age detective fiction. For everyone and everything there is a proper place and order. Everyone has a correct destiny, and evil or crime only come about when people lose their way. It is the role of the detective as doctor/priest to heal any disorder and reaffirm the natural, healthy way things ought to be. There is, however, a tension between this and Maigret’s learning to let things go, as doing justice can’t really make anything better. In the end, rich people are just going to do what they do anyway, leaving behind a mess for others to clean up.

Maigret index

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