Maigret: Maigret and the Man on the Bench

I wonder how relieved Maigret feels that he didn’t have kids. He does mention here that he had a daughter who didn’t survive, which I’m sure is a source of regret, but in so many of the cases he investigates kids are what get people into trouble.

The reference to his daughter, by the way, comes during a courtroom scene where Maigret is being interrogated by a defence lawyer about having struck the accused after taking him into custody. “At one point I boxed his ears, as I might have done my own son,” he admits. There’s a bit that hasn’t worn well.

I like the story though. Louis Thouret is found dead, stabbed in the back in an alley. How did he get there? As Maigret pieces together the last few years of Thouret’s life he discovers that he had led a dual life, along the lines of the Michael Douglas character in the movie Falling Down or John Lanchester’s novel Mr. Phillips. It all comes from having to keep up appearances, which is something Louis’ wife nagged him about. These are the sort of people Maigret is most drawn to in the Parisian crowd:

In former days what had struck, you might even say romantically inspired, him about this crowd in perpetual movement were those people who, discouraged, defeated and resigned, had given up on life and been swept along by the flow.

Since then he had come to know them, and they were no longer the ones who made the biggest impression on him; rather, those who did were on the rung above, the decent, honest, inconspicuous types who struggled day in, day out to stay afloat, or to foster the illusion, the belief, that they really existed and that life was worth living.

Maigret and the Man on the Bench is also one of those books where the action is driven by predatory and cruel women, and the men who try to appease them. In our own time the bathrobe has come to seem like the uniform of the man on the make; in Maigret novels it’s more often a woman in a dressing gown with a breast falling out. I should have kept count at the start of this series of how many times this happens. It’s usually just a depressing attempt at seduction by some vamp who doesn’t realize that Maigret can’t be tempted in that sort of way (they’d do better by offering him a drink). In fact, he is usually repelled by boobs, as here when visiting a woman of a certain age and noticing how “one of her breasts – always the same one, soft and wobbly like bread dough – had a tendency to slip free of her dressing gown.”

I wonder how critical a comment that is meant to be. I think a breast like bread dough would be pretty firm for a woman over 50.

This was a good one, though the ending is presented as a sort of afterthought. I think the lesson learned is not to flash your cash around, especially in certain neighbourhoods. Also don’t have kids unless you’re prepared to slap them about to keep them in line.

Maigret index

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