The Third Simenon Omnibus

Maigret Has Doubts was first published as Vue Confidence de Maigret in 1959, and was translated into English by Lyn Moir. Doctor Pardon, Maigret’s old friend, confides the details of one of his cases after he has entertained the Maigrets to a dinner in his apartment. It is the story of a dying Polish tailor whom he cannot save. Pardon is more concerned about the man’s hysterical wife, needlessly as it turns out. Maigret understands. In turn he tells Pardon about one of his own cases, something he rarely does with anyone. The story is told in flashback, as the two men drink and smoke after their dinner. It was the story of Adrien Josset, a pharmaceutical firm executive accused of the savage murder of his wife.

The law of criminal procedure has recently been changed, and Maigret makes no secret of his regret at the loss of autonomy he has consequently experienced. Cases are now completely in the hands of the examining magistrate, who controls whatever evidence the police uncover. This is particularly uncongenial for Maigret, who likes to question and understand the background of everyone involved with his cases before making up his mind what to do. Slowly, he begins to form his impression of Josset, and it is not unfavourable. Then a malicious witness sends a letter to the newspapers, and the story is eventually tried and judged by journalists, who inflame public opinion. Everyone believes Josset is guilty long before his trial. The examining magistrate is under pressure to achieve a quick conviction, and his instructions to Maigret end up suppressing a lot of inconvenient evidence.

The book provides a convincing portrait of Josset and his world. He was a man who achieved good fortune by luck rather than his own efforts, who unfortunately comes across in the newspapers as a bit of a gigolo. Maigret of course finds a lot more than such a stereotype. But his hands are tied. He cannot save Josset. There is no resolution to the story. Even the rumours concerning someone who could be the real killer are not substantiated. The real tragedy for Maigret is that the man was not adequately tried. His guilt is still, at least in Maigret’s mind, undecided. He has doubts.

The Old Man Dies was first published as La Mort d’Aguste in 1966. It was translated by Bernard Frechtman. This is a story of Les Halles in Paris, the old marketplace torn down in 1970. It is the story of Auguste Mature who comes to Paris and opens a restaurant called Chez l’Auvergnat and prospers. With supreme economy Simenon creates what is virtually a two generation family saga in his usual scope of 120 pages. Auguste grows old, still vain of his virility, mustache and muscles. He stays in close touch with other shopkeepers from his district of the Auvergne. His health is poor now, and he is on a strict regime set by his doctor which he rebels against when he can. His wife Eugénie, whom he married when she was sixteen, has grown old too, and has lost her reason, spending her time in a dream world where no one can contact her. Auguste has three sons. The eldest, Ferdinand, has become a magistrate, though he and his wife and children have to struggle on a low salary to survive. The second son, Antoine, works with his father in the restaurant, and has become his partner. The youngest, Bernard, is a wastrel living on borrowed money.

Both Ferdinand and Bernard have grown apart from their family: involved with their own affairs, they seldom have time to visit. With loving detail, Simenon gives the daily routine of Antoine and his wife Fernande. They rise at five, Antoine does the shopping then sets the menu. He is as well known and liked in the area as his father was before him. The routine of preparing food, greeting customers, ordering supplies, dealing with staff, give an extremely realistic flavour to the story. The other brothers are treated with as much detail. We understand their life and their values and concerns. Then, quite suddenly, Auguste has a stroke and dies.

The brothers and their families gather to plan the funeral. Ferdinand and Bernard realise for the first time that the restaurant is a prosperous business, and that their father has been putting substantial sums of money away for years, and that therefore there is an inheritance for them. Both are needy men, and the realisation slowly affects their judgment till they turn against their brother Antoine, suspicious he is trying to defraud them.

Here is an everyday tragedy familiar to many, yet a tragedy nevertheless. Part of Simenon’s genius is that he never exaggerates yet can clearly show the effect of strong emotions on actions his characters take. The conclusion of The Old Man Dies, with it’s unexpected twists and turns, is among the most moving passages he ever wrote.

Maigret and the Minister was first published as Maigret Chez le Ministre in 1954. It was translated by Moura Budberg. The Calame Report, an architect’s warning about an unsafe public project which has collapsed and resulted in the death of 128 young children, was disregarded when it was first published, and has subsequently disappeared. Now it has resurfaced, with allegations that several politicians and contractors involved with the project may have previously had it suppressed to avoid a scandal.

Maigret enters the shifty world of politics in this story, dodged by members of the security police wherever he goes. He has been appealed to by the Minister of Public Works to act privately on his behalf, and finds a situation where the very existence of the report can be used by unsavoury and unscrupulous politicians to lever influence. In an unfamiliar world of decadent diplomatic officials, fanatic followers of political parties, officials of the security police whom neither he nor his superiors can know anything about officially, renegade members of that force and suspicious staff in politicians’ entourage, Maigret grimly sticks to what he knows best: finding the perpetrators of criminal acts.

This is a story which will appeal to lovers of the traditional detective story. Despite the quite believable situation described, the story revolves on tracing identity and following clues which slowly reveal the true course of events.

The Third Simenon Omnibus, Penguin Books, 1971. Maigret Has Doubts, 1959, rated ◊◊◊◊◊◊; The Old Man Dies, 1966, rated ◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊; Maigret and the Minister, 1954, rated ◊◊◊◊◊◊.

©2011 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.


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