Maigret: Maigret at the Coroner’s

After playing host to various visiting officials keen to study his (non-existent) “methods,” Maigret is on the road here, taking a “study tour” through the U.S. that has landed him in Tucson, Arizona and a coroner’s inquest into the death of a B-girl whose mangled body parts have been found on a railway track. Although only a spectator he is immediately “hooked” and “in the game.”

Maigret had come to America on at least one previous occasion, but in Maigret in New York the New World was looking a lot like the Old, in part because the people he was investigating were European immigrants and in part because New York City is such a cosmopolitan place. In Tucson Maigret encounters the real America and there’s more of a sense of culture shock, and not just because in the vastness of the sun-baked American West he is someone who has never learned to drive a car. Though being a pedestrian is linked to his sense of feeling shabby.

He felt it several times a day, this impression of shabbiness. These people had everything. In no matter what small town, the cars were as numerous and luxurious as on the Champs-Élysées. Everyone wore new clothes, new shoes; shoe repair shops were hard to find. Crowds all looked well scrubbed and prosperous.

The houses were new, too, full of the latest appliances. They had everything: that was the right word.

And yet despite all this newness, prosperity, and plenty, the newspapers are full of crime. Why? To some extent it can be explained by crime being part of the same drive for more that consumes everyone. It’s this drive that leads to the rise of the criminal celebrity, an admiration “of the kind that everyone in the States showed for anyone who succeeds, whether as a millionaire, a cinema star or a famous murderer.” That drive, the desire for more, can never be satisfied. As his FBI guide explains, “there are moments when the comfortable house, the smiling wife, the well-scrubbed children, the car, the club, the office and bank account are not enough.” “Does that happen back in your country, too?” he asks. Maigret affirms that it “happens to everybody.” This is because, he believes, “that men and their passions are the same everywhere.” So much so that in the end Maigret’s Tucson counterpart feels the same sense of indifference to the execution of justice.

All of this stuff is interesting, in the great tradition of French intellectual takes on American culture. But the actual crime and its investigation are difficult to follow, even with the maps and diagrams provided, and the attitude toward rape has also dated badly. Still, I’d rate it above average for the series, even if it’s a bit of an outlier in ways that go beyond the desert setting.

Maigret index

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