I haven’t said anything yet about the covers of these Penguin translations of the Maigret series. The photos are credited to Harry Gruyaert. I think they work really well, though I don’t like the lettering they used for Simenon’s name. In any event, most of the time they aptly capture the post-War Parisian scene, though not as much in the earlier books, which are set in the 1930s. I also wonder why they had a horse on the cover of Inspector Cadaver.
The cover for Maigret’s Failure presents us with the imposing façade of what looks to be a very swank address. I think it nicely captures the messaging of Ferdinand Fumal’s fancy digs on Boulevard de Courcelles: the stolid architecture, complete with closed shutters, reflects an abiding concern in the series with what lies behind respectable bourgeois appearances. Thirty years earlier a young Maigret and his wife had enjoyed walking past this same address, dreaming of moving on up.
“When I’m detective chief inspector . . . ,” he had joked.
And both of them had looked through the railings, with their gilded spikes glinting in the sun, at the opulent townhouses around the park, imagining the elegant, harmonious lives people must be living behind their windows.
If there was anyone in Paris who had gained first-hand experience of life’s brutal realities, who had learned, day after day, how to discover the truth of appearances, it was him, and yet he had never entirely grown out of certain fantasies from his childhood and adolescence.
Hadn’t he once said that he would have liked to be a “mender of destinies,” such was his desire to restore people to their rightful places, the places they would have occupied if the world were a naïve picture postcard version of itself?
Conflict rather than harmony probably reigned in eight out of ten of the still magnificent houses that surrounded the park. But he had rarely had the opportunity to breathe such a strained atmosphere as the one between these walls.
Or, as the cook later puts it when she’s being interviewed: “If you’d seen what I’ve seen in well-to-do houses!”
The actual mystery here will be a familiar one to genre fans, though I can’t remember Simenon using it before. It’s the murder victim who was such a loathsome individual that everyone wanted to kill him. Indeed this is something he was aware of, asking for Maigret’s protection. His murder thus constitutes Maigret’s initial failure, the first of several.
There are a plethora of suspects, all with motive, means, and opportunity. So does it even matter who’s guilty? Not much. The solution comes to Maigret in a dream and the killer’s apprehension, years later, is only worth a shrug.
One of Maigret’s oddities is that he can’t drive (in Maigret in Court we’ll be told that he never wanted to learn how to). He gets police cars to carry him about Paris most of the time, though in a pinch Madame Maigret can get behind the wheel. The fact that his wife drives and he can’t struck me as signaling that his inability to drive was something exceptional. And yet here the super-rich Monsieur Fumal can’t drive either. Nor can his manservant. All three of these fellows hail from the country, so maybe that was typical of Frenchmen of peasant stock at the time. But it’s also probably wrong to think of an ability to drive as being universal. I remember hearing that when filming Get Carter (1971) they had to work around the fact that Michael Caine, in his mid-30s then, didn’t know how to drive. Bringing the story up to date, apparently many young people today are choosing to go car-less, mainly for economic reasons, which, along with the advent of self-driving cars, means that the ability to drive may be about to go into steep decline. Now we just need better public transit and more walkable cities.