I don’t know if it’s because Simenon liked writing about them or because I like reading about them more, but his Maigret novels with wicked women as the villains are my favourites. It works (for me) again here as Maigret and his wife are on vacation taking the waters at Vichy, which is where a mysterious woman he had noticed as always dressed in lilac is found strangled one morning.
The heavies are the dangerously independent, and “self-satisfied,” Lange sisters. What a pair of schemers they are! We feel it’s only right that the elder Lange is killed, and Maigret even hopes the guy who did her in is acquitted. I can hear him muttering “What a bitch!” as he did at the end of Signed, Picpus.
It’s not much of a mystery, as there’s only one suspect and Maigret is led to him quickly through some rather random deductions. For example, that the phone caller needs time to arrange a meet-up is attributed immediately to the fact that he “must be married,” which isn’t an obvious connection to make. The back story is interesting though, playing like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for grifters, and it moves along in a tight, suspenseful manner. On the copyright page it says it was first published serially (in Le Figaro), which I don’t think was usual up to this point. At least I didn’t see any notes to that effect in the other books I checked. Given that there were two or three Maigret novels being published every year, serial publication wasn’t really necessary.
Perhaps a week at the spa was just what the doctor ordered in more ways than one, as this was the first really good Maigret story in a while, and I think stands as one of the better in the series. Bad women really brought out the best in our man.