I’ve been reading the Maigret novels by Georges Simenon since I was a teenager and many of them I’ve read more than once. I’ve found the series divides crime writers. Some, like me, love the books and others have never got into the series. I think the structure isn’t for everyone. The culprit is often known, or easily guessed, and as much effort is put into extracting a confession as to discovering who is responsible for a crime.
The books I read as a teenager were the old style green penguins. I never thought about the translation or the translator, in fact, I tended to forget I was reading fiction originally written in another language. Times have changed, however, and Penguin are gradually reissuing all 75 Maigret novels with new translations.
The first I read this month was Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse, translated by the excellent Roz Schwartz. A retired manufacturer is shot dead in his flat after playing chess with his son-in-law. Maigret struggles to find either a motive for the crime, or anyone prepared to speak ill of the dead man. Only the frozen nature of the dead man’s wife hints at family turmoil not immediately apparent. It’s not one of Simenon’s best but a good insight into Maigret’s tenacious and dogmatic approach to solving cases.
More satisfying is Maigret’s Doubts about a train-set enthusiast working in a toy shop who is convinced that his wife is about to kill him. I remember reading this book years ago and Simenon has an eye for the absurd both in terms of setting up the crime and the eventual denouement. Women don’t always come across that well in Simenon’s books and are usually seen through the eyes of male protagonists. However, there’s a nice insight into Maigret’s domestic life as he worries about his wife’s minor illness and a sense that he’s not the young man he used to be. The translation is by Shaun Whiteside.
Maigret and the Old People isn’t the most catchiest of titles and, given that Penguin have changed a fair few of the original names, it’s surprising that they’ve kept this one. Again I can remember reading this years ago and it’s an unusual tale of a retired diplomat found dead in his apartment, Maigret’s investigations reveal an age-old love affair which appears strange to the modern reader but fits in with Simenon’s wry look at relationships. It reminds me why I enjoyed these books so much as a teenager. They’re occasionally racy and always appeared as something different from the British Golden Age writers I was also reading at the time. This translation is also by Shaun Whiteside.