Georges Simenon: Maigret et les Vieillards aka Maigret in Society (1960)

Last year I felt the urge to read some Maigret and got four books. I reviewed the first Un Noël de Maigret aka Maigret’s Christmas. I liked quite a few things about it and since they are all short, under 200 pages, I thought I might try another one.

I’m not sufficiently familiar with Simenon’s Maigret novels to know which of the two that I have read is the more typical one. All I can say is that I liked the first but I’m completely underwhelmed by the second.

In Maigret et les Vieillard aka Maigret in Society Maigret has to solve the murder of an aristocratic ex-ambassador. He has been shot four times, in his own apartment, in the middle of the night. His old servant found him towards the morning and reports the murder at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Maigret has the pleasure to interview people belonging to the Parisian High Society. A breed he isn’t exactly fond of. Although – typical for Maigret – he never judges people, we still understand how much he disapproves of them and thinks they are all a bit odd.

The Count had a “lover”, a princess, who was married to someone else. For over fifty years he wrote a daily letter to the princess which she would promptly answer. They had intended to get married after the death of her husband which had just occurred before the murder.

Despite the strange habits and a few questionable things he discovers, Maigret doesn’t see a motif or find a suspect.

I’m not sure whether this is a trait of Simenon or the Maigret novels but 80% of the book consists of dialogue. The lack of description and scenes was not to my liking. I love good dialogue but it was a bit average. He got the different talking styles of the people very well but the exchange wasn’t very interesting.

All in all I cannot recommend this novel. I’m also not keen on a detective who smokes a pipe and whose homey wife stays at home waiting for him with the dinner and his slippers …

The thing that I found most interesting is the fact how the books are rooted in their time. The mentioning of the death penalty startled me at first and then I vaguely remembered that the Capital punishment existed in France until the 80s. Should you, for one reason or the other, feel nostalgic about the 60s in France, you might like this.

Since I still have two other books sitting here, my final verdict is outstanding… I already have a feeling that I will have to look somewhere else for a detective series that is really to my liking or stick to those I already know. I think I need to get back to Simenon’s romans durs. They are definitely worth reading.

Georges Simenon: Maigret’s Christmas or The Girl who believed in Santa Claus aka Un Noël de Maigret (1951)

Nine stories present Simenon’s dauntless detective in a series of cases in which Maigret’s paternal side is activated and his detection efforts considerably aided by some observant and resourceful children.

I haven’t read any Simenon for a long time and when I was browsing amazon. fr. and discovered Un Noël de Maigret I thought it might be fun to read it at this time of the year. I thought it would be a longer book or a collection of short stories but the book contained only a 100 page long novella. It has been taken out of a collection with the same title and reissued on its own. Maybe it was the best and longest story in the original book. The English version Maigret’s Christmas contains still all nine stories, one of which is The Girl who believed in Santa Claus, the story that I have read. So, if you are in the mood for a lot of Christmas themed Maigret, you will have to get the English version.

The story has very melancholic undertones. It is easily summarized in a few sentences. On Christmas day two neighbours of Maigret come to visit to tell him that the little step-daughter of one of the two women pretends that Santa Claus has visited her in her bedroom at night. He offered her a big doll and tried to remove some floorboards in order to access the apartment below. The step-mother, a cold and distant woman, says she doesn’t believe the little girl, she says, she thinks she made everything up. The second woman, a spinster with a crush on Maigret, has a keen interest in the little girl and forced the step-mother to come along and tell Maigret all about the odd story the child is telling.

The story behind the Santa Claus and the solving of the mystery is not that gripping. The charm of this book lies in the person of Maigret and his psychological analysis. Maigret treats people with amazing respect, he is truly non-judgemental. The book is also infused with his and his wifes sadness about their childlessness. Christmas, being the family holiday it is, reminds them of their fate in a painful way.

Simenon excels in descriptions and psychological analysis. I could compare him to some other crime authors but that wouldn’t do him any justice. He wrote before Rendell, Mankell and all the others. He is very subtle, very poignant. This is not one of his great works but it is well done and his craftmanship can be perceived in every sentence. There is no superfluous word in this book, it’s soothingly unadorned.

I have read a few non Maigret books that I enjoyed a lot (Three Bedrooms in Manhattan aka Trois chambres à Manhattan is wonderful)  but I am not too familiar with his Maigret books.

Who has read any? Which did you like? Or do you prefer those without the inspector?