I mentioned in my notes on Maigret Defends Himself that it was basically the first of a two-part story arc, which concludes with Maigret’s Patience. The action picks up here a week later, with Maigret still on the trail of a gang of Paris jewel thieves, and re-visiting the Rue des Acacias apartment that’s home to the crippled ex-gangster Manuel Palmari and his saucy girlfriend Aline. Alas, it’s not a happy occasion, as someone has just shot Palmari and it’s up to his old not-quite-friend but not-quite-adversary to find out whodunit.
This turns out to be not much fun. The fact is that in these later Maigret books none of the killers are terribly interesting case studies. Here they are just the same “wild animal” types we met back in Maigret and the Saturday Caller. I even thought I was well on my way to figuring things out ahead of schedule, but then things took a bizarre swerve into a crazy back story and it turns out I was wrong. Though the explanation I was coming up with would have been better. I hate it when that happens in a mystery novel.
Some odds and ends: (1) Champagne is “more or less the only drink that doesn’t tempt” the hard-drinking Maigret. (2) Palmari has a maid in to clean his apartment two hours a day every day, and all morning on Mondays and Saturdays. That seems like a lot of maid service. (3) Maigret, as is often noted in the series, can’t drive, and we’re told here it’s because he has a tendency to let his mind wander into reverie while working on a case. He’s a man who knows his limitations. (4) The concierge in an apartment building is a ubiquitous figure in many of these novels. It’s a job that never seems to have caught on in North America. Given how grumpy they all seem to be in Paris, that may be for the best.
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.
From Chronicles of a Liquid Society (2016) by Umberto Eco:
A significant transformation came about in the opposition between the religious and secular worlds. For thousands of years, the spirit of religion was associated with a distrust of progress, rejection of the world, doctrinal intransigence. The secular world, on the other hand, looked optimistically upon the transformation of nature, the flexibility of ethical principles, the fond rediscovery of “other” forms of religion and primitive thought.
There were, of course, those believers, such as Teilhard de Chardin, who appealed to “worldly realities,” to history as a march toward redemption, while there were plenty of secular doom merchants, with the negative utopias of Orwell and Huxley, or the kind of science fiction that offered us the horrors of a future dominated by hideous scientific rationality. But it was the task of religion to call us at the final moment, and the task of secularism to sing hymns in praise of locomotives.
The recent gathering of enthusiastic young papal groupies show us the transformation that has taken place under the reign of Pope John Paul II. A mass of youngsters who accept the Catholic faith but, judging from the answers they recently gave in interviews, are far distant from neurotic fundamentalism, are willing to make compromises over premarital relationships, contraceptives, even drugs, and certainly when it comes to clubbing; meanwhile, the secular world moans about noise pollution and a New Age spirit that seems to unite neo-revolutionaries, followers of Monsignor Milingo, and sybarites devoted to Oriental massage.
From On Decline: Stagnation, Nostalgia, and Why Every Year is the Worst One Ever (2021) by Andrew Potter:
For well over half a century, it’s been an article of faith, agreed to by all sides, that the right was the side of rules, order, tradition, and circumspection, while the left was the part of rebellion, individualism, freedom, and transgression. Now the political valences have reversed themselves, with the right setting itself up as the true countercultural opposition to the left’s restrictiveness and enforced conformity.
From After the Fact?: The Truth About Fake News (2020) by Marcus Gilroy-Ware:
Intolerable boredom, loneliness, precariousness and the disappearance of the future that is endemic to postmodernism, combined with a heavy emphasis on aspiration reduced to increasingly economistic terms, all produced widespread malaise that is hard to describe in specific terms for those that suffer it but is often demotivating or debilitating. The result is that we try to compensate, through the trappings of consumerism that have arisen to sell compensatory pleasure itself – the most obvious being the soaring popularity of delivery food, the seeming addictiveness of social media or gaming, or the quiet success of the sugar industry.
Inspector Luckless (that would be Lognon) gets shot in the gut while on a stakeout he’d been conducting so discreetly none of his fellow officers even knew what he was up to. So as the Paris police department’s resident sad sack fights for life in hospital it’s up to Maigret to find out what went down on the Avenue Junot.
One way that you can expect a series like this to go after so long a run is for it to become sillier. There are a lot of familiar elements in this one – Janvier had been shot in Maigret Takes a Room, a nosy neighbour played a key role in The Judge’s House, the dirty deeds done behind the façade of a great house is a staple – but they get rolled together here into a whimsical plot involving forged artwork, gangsters, and another ill-matched couple.
“You’ll find it hard to believe me because you’re not a collector,” the collector says as he tried to explain himself to Maigret. To which the detective chief inspector replies “I collect people . . .” His readers may be tempted to add, “I collect books . . .” This is what it’s sort of come to by this point.
Hard to believe, but Maigret’s good friend Dr. Pardon has finally sounded the alarm about the detective chief inspector’s drinking problem. In order to spare Maigret’s liver, he’s recommended cutting down to just quaffing the odd aperitif instead of hitting the bar at all hours of the day while on a case.
Perhaps it’s the lack of lubricant that has made Maigret even grouchier than usual (as if getting old wasn’t bad enough). Whatever the cause, he does, as the title indicates, get angry at the end of this one. I had a hard time figuring out where things were going, but as it turns out the villain was running a kind of fake protection scheme, which is something Maigret takes personally as the protection being offered was from the police. To be honest, I thought it was a pretty good scam, and the guy running it was sympathetic, so maybe Maigret really did just need a drink.
A minor effort, but not bad, at least by the standards of the later books in the series. One point that caught my attention was that when Maigret, who doesn’t know how to drive, wants one of his lieutenants to take the suspect’s car he has to first check if he has “ever driven an American car.” In what way would driving an American car in 1963 be different from driving a French car? I’m guessing most cars at the time would have been standard transmission, so he’s not talking about that. I don’t think any mention is made of what make of car it is, only that it’s American and “big” (naturally). Which is, something that might have set him off too, come to think of it.
A minor entry in the series, but perhaps better for not being as ambitious. It’s pretty easy to figure things out along the same lines that Maigret does.
And what we’re left with is another ending where justice is not so much denied as evaded, at least for a time. The killer walking free is pretty transgressive for a genre work, but despite avoiding a pat ending it’s not a very credible story and we never have any sense what’s making the tramp tick. I think he just wanted out of his marriage and found the most drastic solution imaginable.
Taking another step back, I read it as a parable, with the tramp being a holy man sent to point the moral, which is that final judgment belongs to God. “What’s impossible is to judge,” is all he’ll say. This fits with Simenon’s motto “Understand and judge not.” Not that I think Simenon always held to this, or that it’s the kind of attitude a detective chief inspector should adopt. Justice, at least of the human variety, requires judgment on someone’s part.
From The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume One (1776) by Edward Gibbon:
If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom.
From Arguing with Zombies (2020) by Paul Krugman:
If you had to identify a place and time where the humanitarian dream – the vision of a society offering decent lives to all its members – came closest to realization, that place and time would surely be Western Europe in the six decades after World War II. It was one of history’s miracles: a continent ravaged by dictatorship, genocide, and war transformed itself into a model of democracy and broadly shared prosperity.
The titular caller is a pathetic creature with a hare-lip named Léonard Planchon. He has been showing up at the Quai des Orfèvres on Saturdays hoping to screw up enough courage to talk to the detective chief inspector about something, but has always chickened out. So instead he decides to go to Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, where Maigret lives, and catch the big guy at home.
This didn’t make much sense to me, but then nothing about Planchon rang true. He’s neither sympathetic nor believable. In today’s Internet manosphere language he’s an exaggerated type of the beta simp: a total loser who marries a hot girl who in turn shacks up with one of his employees, a guy who first supplants him in the bedroom (forcing him to sleep in the kitchen on a camp bed) and then takes over his house-painting business. Planchon wants to warn Maigret in advance that he’s thinking of taking . . . drastic measures. I thought for a while that we might be entering Before the Fact territory, which had the potential to get interesting. But then Planchon disappears.
No prizes for guessing what has happened. And given that the perps are a pair of wild animals, possessed of low cunning but low intelligence, it doesn’t take Maigret long to catch them out. Another weak effort, and a bit silly too.
Over at Canadian Notes & Queries my review of Tamas Dobozy’s Ghost Geographies is up. Solid story collection I was really impressed by.