The shoe is on the other foot when Maigret gets called into the principal’s office (that is, the office of the prefect of police) and finds out he’s been accused of getting the niece of a prominent public official drunk and raping her. It’s a #MeToo story circa. 1964, which would be kind of interesting but we all know our hero is being set up and the scheme is so improbable that its complexity is what finally convinces Maigret as to who’s behind it (he knows the villain’s “tendency, when faced with a problem, is to look for the subtlest, most complicated solution”). Add to that the fact that Maigret only becomes “a problem” due to “an almost miraculous combination of circumstances” and we have a very whimsical plot indeed.
I was kept interested, if only because as I got closer to the end I didn’t see how Simenon was going to wrap things up in the few pages remaining (and as it is, the subplot is only resolved in the next book, Maigret’s Patience, so what we have is a rare two-parter). Suffice it to say that Maigret gets some breaks as he begins to grow in weight and density, which is an observable phenomenon with him whenever a case starts to come together.
Things kick off with the Maigrets having dinner with the Pardons. We learn Dr. Pardon has stopped smoking cigarettes at home because his wife is worried about all these nasty rumours of cigs causing lung cancer. So instead he smokes cigars! This was what (some) people thought made sense in 1964.
From there we enter into a discussion of “truly wicked” criminals, whose only motivation is an inherent spite. This is a red herring, as the bad guy in this book has a motive. I like a bit of initial misdirection though, as it’s not often what you’re expecting.
Not to say the villain isn’t wicked enough. His crimes are only briefly outlined at the end, but recalled for me Richard Lloyd Parry’s People Who Eat Darkness. As for the complainant, Nicole, she could simply be dismissed with a muttered “bitch,” but might also be flagged as another example of Maigret’s take on degenerate youth. A student at the Sorbonne, she runs with a fast crowd, comes from a family of privilege, and clearly has little respect for the law or even basic morality. I’ve flagged before how Maigret (like Simenon?) was getting grumpier as the series went along, casting a particularly jaundiced eye on flashy young people. In this book Nicole is only a tool, but it’s a point worth flagging because I don’t think the kids are going to get any better from here on out.