Maigret in Montmartre (1959)
When we were kids our grandparents home libraries tilted heavily towards mysteries, including the mystery book club that used to put three in one volume. The highlights of their collection, for me at any rate, were Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series and Georges Simenon's Maigret mysteries. Simenon was legendary for the speed with which he wrote and the volume of work he produced. Routinely churning out books in the space of ten days, he once agreed to write a novel while spending a week in a glass cage like a zoo creature, as people observed him (though he ended up not doing so). He's credited with some 220 novels, 84 of them featuring the happily married but work obsessed, pipe smoking, food and drink loving, Chief Inspector Maigret of the Paris police.
I read them by the bushel full thirty years ago, but hadn't picked one up in years. Then I noticed that Netflix had a British miniseries made in the early 90s, with the wonderful Michael Gambon as Maigret. The episodes are uniformly terrific, but the one based on Maigret in Montmartre is especially intriguing, as is the book, because of what we now know of Georges Simenon's quite debauched personal life.
Simenon explained his lifelong womanizing, including the frequenting of prostitutes, as follows: "The goal of my endless quest, after all, was not a woman, but 'the' woman, the real one, loving and maternal at the same time, without artifices." Were it not such a profoundly disordered sentiment it might almost be poignant. At any rate, in this story a young stripper, Arlette, comes to the police with a drunken story about the imminent murder of a countess. Her tale is so vague that Maigret and his deputies disbelieve her and she retracts the warning and leaves, but is promptly murdered herself upon reaching her apartment and a countess is indeed murdered shortly thereafter.
In the investigation that follows Maigret spends most of his time at the strip club and discovers that men, including his naive deputy, Lapointe, the satyr-like owner of the nightclub, and a stone-killer, were all captivated by Arlette, though each seems to have found in her what he wished to. Maigret too becomes fascinated, of course, and it's pretty hard not to view the story as some kind of fictional wish fulfillment of Simenon's own disturbed quest.
Setting aside personal parallels though, the pleasure in the series is always the stolid and sensible Maigret, with his fine sense of natural justice. Though Simenon gives him his share of distinctive characteristics, he has none of the real oddities of other fictional detectives and no pretense to genius. What he is most of all is a companionable guide to Paris, it's underworld, and the variety and vagaries of human nature. By all means seek out the discs and there are so many of the books in print you can find them at almost any book sale. Buy a stack.
-OBIT: Georges Simenon Dies at 86; Creator of Inspector Maigret (ERIC PACE, September 7, 1989, NY Times)
-ESSAY: Writers Without Cafes (Georges Simenon, August 5, 1951, NY Times)
-INTERVIEW: Leon Trotsky 1933 (Interview By Georges Simenon, First Published: Paris-Soir, June 16-17, 1933, Marxists Internet Archive)
-ARCHIVES: Georges Simenon (The New York Times)
-INFO: Georges (Joseph Christian) Simenon (1903-1989) (kirjasto)
-INFO: Georges Simenon (The Guardian)
-FILMOGRAPHY: Georges Simenon (Imdb.com)
-FILM GUIDE: Georges Simenon (NY Times)
-Simenon's Inspector Maigret (Trussel)
-Georges Simenon (A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection)
-INFO: Georges Simenon (WEBORGERS -The Belgian Writers)
-Georges Simenon (Wikipedia)
-INTERVIEW: GEORGES SIMENON: The Art of Fiction No. 9 (Interviewed by Carvel Collins, Summer 1955, Paris Review)
-PROFILE: Inspector Maigret Is Called In Again (The New York Times, April 16, 1969)
-PROFILE: Chez Simenon (ISRAEL SHENKER, October 24, 1971, NY Times)
-PROFILE: SIMEON'S LAST CASE (Leslie Garis, April 22, 1984, NY Times Magazine)
-ESSAY: Would you believe it?: As Georges Simenon's centenary approaches, Mark Lawson unravels clues to the life of the Belgian thriller-writer and discovers a mysterious character who could write a book in 11 days and claimed to have had 10,000 lovers (Mark Lawson, November 23, 2002, The Guardian)
-ESSAY: France's Master of Noir: Georges Simenon's reissued dark novels are worthy of your attention, says novelist Nathaniel Rich—but his longest book, Pedigree, doesn't do him justice. (Nathaniel Rich, 12/05/10, Daily Beast)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: The Inspector Maigret Mysteries (NY Times)
-ARCHIVES: "georges simenon" (Find Articles)
-REVIEW: of Intimate Memoirs by Georges Simenon (Mavis Gallant, NY Times Book Review)
-EXCERPT: CHAPTER ONE: Simenon: A Biography By PIERRE ASSOULINE
-REVIEW: of Simenon: A Biography By Pierre Assouline (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of Simenon: A Biography By Pierre Assouline (DEIRDRE BAIR, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW ESSAY: The Relentless, Pitiless Georges Simenon (Richard Rayner, LA Review of Books)
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