The detective’s sidekick is almost as essential a part of mystery fiction as the detective himself. It’s testimony to just how indispensable a figure the sidekick is that even though Maigret doesn’t have a regular Watson or Hastings or Archie Goodwin — though he does have Lucas and Janvier, subordinates at the Police Judiciare — in many books a temporary sidekick has to be introduced. Like the sad drunken clown he employs in Maigret in New York, or the poor musician who volunteers to be his assistant in Maigret’s First Case.
In this book the sidekick is a Brit from Scotland Yard named Mr. Pyke, a fellow lawman who has come, like so many others, to observe the famous Maigret’s “method.” Only to find out, as those others had before, that Maigret doesn’t have any method. Or at least that’s what Maigret always says. Though I think it’s obvious that his anti-method is a kind of method all its own.
I thought this was one of the best in the series so far. Maigret comes to the island of Porquerolles to investigate the murder of a beachcomber who had, just before his death, publicly announced himself as a friend of the Chief Inspector. A nice little cast of suspects is assembled, leading Maigret to observe at one point that “there were only freaks on the island.” This gives the proceedings a tidier feel, with Porquerolles being a sort of locked room. The action is easy to follow with lots of wry human observations. The only thing I didn’t care for was the ending. The killer is someone who really upsets Maigret, leading him to verbally and physically abuse him in a manner I found quite out of keeping with his usual reserve and empathy. And yet they don’t seem any worse than many of the other criminals we’ve met in these novels. Nor does it seem to be the case that Maigret took the murder of his “friend” personally. So what is it about the killer that rubs him so much the wrong way? As with the horrible Madame Le Cloagulen in Signed, Picpus, I get the feeling that it has something to do with gender assumptions.