A retired diplomat is found dead in his study, body riddled with bullets, drawing the detective chief inspector into another one of those situations where he’s stuck among the inhabitants of a mostly closed social circle that he has trouble relating to. In this case that means a bunch of old-school aristos. Maigret’s method, or un-method, is to immerse himself in a particular social milieu so he can understand it from the inside, but rich people always put him off his game and make him feel at a disadvantage by knocking him back to his own childhood as the son of a provincial estate manager. This dynamic has been at work in so many of these novels that I’m starting to wonder why it still affects Maigret the same way. At some point, you’d think he’d get more comfortable around “these people.” I also raised an eyebrow at his own judgment that he is just a “regular” guy. We all think that, more or less.
The behaviour of this particular bunch of French aristocrats seems particularly odd to Maigret because it involves a man who carries a torch for an old love of his who went out and married the wrong guy. This isn’t that crazy, but he carries the torch for over fifty years, which is a bit much. But then “these people” (Maigret always thinks of them like this) are repeatedly likened to characters in a novel, where they are more common. Here I was thinking of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. The book begins with Maigret and Dr. Pardon musing over who might understand people the best: a psychiatrist, a schoolteacher, a novelist, or a policeman. By the end, Maigret thinks a priest has to be added to the list. By my own reading of what’s going on I’d say the novelist might come out ahead.