While the Maigret novels have lots of recurring themes and character types, Simenon kept them fresh with a good mix of complex psychological case studies. A good example is the monstrous Dr. Gouin in Maigret’s Mistake. In general terms he’s another of Simenon’s spoiled man-babies, waited upon by codependent women. But in being a world-famous surgeon he magnifies this, becoming a kind of cult leader to a harem whose members compete with one another to serve and protect him. He’s also sexually insatiable in a passionless way, which is the very quality that gets him into trouble.
The contest between Maigret and Gouin is a similarly bloodless affair. Like Maigret, Gouin is a God-the-Father figure, but his arrogance sets him apart. Maigret sees himself, at least in this book, as more like the Son, descending to the human level so that he can empathize with the people he’s investigating. Gouin wants to remain above humanity and is only interested in using others, in particular homing in on people who want to be used.
Not a particularly gripping entry in the series, and I thought it jumped the rails a bit in the final pages. I don’t believe in Madame Gouin turning against her husband like that. But then jealousy might have won out over her martyr complex.
Maigret’s mistake? I think it was drinking a glass of marc in the early going. Marc is pomace brandy, or so I’m told, and once Maigret starts a case drinking one particular type of alcohol – calvados, beer, red wine, or whisky – he feels he has to keep drinking the same until the case is wrapped up. A curious but endearing superstition. But he doesn’t even like marc! Poor Maigret.