Simenon: The Books

The Maigret Novels

As mentioned in the foreword, the following represents my posthumous collaboration with the late David Carter; the writing on the books below is sometimes mine, sometimes David’s, and sometimes a synthesis of both of us. I’ve also included some aperçus by other writers who have made what struck me as pertinent judgements. For the actual titles of the books, I’ve mostly used the recent Penguin Classics editions, as they reflect an ongoing series that is available at the time of writing. The translators mentioned are also the impressive cadre currently being used by Penguin.

Pietr the Latvian/Pietr-le-Letton, 1931, translated by David Bellos (also translated as The Strange Case of Peter the Lett, The Case of Peter the Lett and Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett)

Plot: The police are expecting the arrival in Paris of the crook known as Pietr the Latvian. A body is discovered in a train at the Gare du Nord, which proves to be Pietr’s double. The real Pietr has arrived but managed to escape police surveillance. Maigret tracks him down, but it soon becomes a very personal case, when one of his inspectors, Torrence, is killed while keeping watch on the Latvian. Then Maigret himself is wounded and a witness is killed. But Maigret soldiers on, more concerned to find the murderer than for his own health, and there is an unexpected twist at the end.

Comments: The plot is satisfyingly complex, and Simenon is at times more judgemental than in his later writings. Some of the characterisation verges on caricature, lacking the subtlety he was to develop subsequently. It is likely that this was the first fully fledged Maigret novel to be written; Simenon himself always claimed this. He finished the novel in the spring of 1930 and persuaded his publisher, Arthème Fayard, to publish it only on the condition that he would be able to publish several other Simenon titles at the same time. This is why a whole batch of Maigrets appeared in the same year. The novel is also remarkable for the fact that the author killed off one of Maigret’s inspectors, Torrence, so early in the narrative (he was, of course, very quickly revived).

The Late Monsieur Gallet/M. Gallet, Décédé, 1931, translated by Anthea Bell (also translated as The Death of Monsieur Gallet and Maigret Stonewalled)

Plot: The body of Émile Gallet is discovered in a hotel in Sancerre. Maigret is intrigued by the fact that he seems to have been leading a double life. It turns out that Gallet was not the sales representative that everyone took him to be, but a crook who had discovered ways in which he could blackmail certain wealthy individuals, and one rich lord in particular: Tiburce de Saint-Hilaire. Gallet himself, however, became a victim of blackmail and devised an insurance scam to benefit his own wife. The final truth that Maigret uncovers involves a remarkable twist.

Comments: The novel, which is one of the earliest Maigrets to be written, has vivid scenes set not only in Sancerre, but also in Paris and the Île-de-France. It is clearly based on Simenon’s experience of meeting a group of French nationalists after his first arrival in Paris from Belgium. There are numerous striking twists in the plot, which are reminiscent of the conventions of the popular novels he had previously been writing.

The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien/Le Pendu de Saint-Pholien, 1931, translated by Linda Coverdale (also translated as The Crime of Inspector Maigret and Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets)

Plot: Maigret gets involved, almost by chance, in investigating a murder that happened ten years previously. He becomes intrigued by the odd behaviour of someone he sees during a trip to Brussels: a rather shabby-looking man packs up some thousand-franc notes and posts them off as ‘printed matter’. Maigret follows him to Bremen, Germany, and is present when he commits suicide. He discovers his identity and the fact that he had some connection with a rather suspicious group of individuals in Liège, who call themselves ‘The Companions of the Apocalypse’. In Liège, Maigret learns that one of this group had killed another of the members during a nocturnal drinking session and then subsequently committed suicide. The man pursued by Maigret had started to blackmail his former comrades to gain revenge, and, when proof of his activities is uncovered by Maigret, he in turn decides to kill himself. The ending reveals Maigret at his most human and forgiving.

Comments: Some critics have found the plot a tad far-fetched, but in fact it is very closely based on events in Simenon’s own life. The writer belonged to a similar group, called ‘La Caque’, when he lived in Liège. A member of the group died in mysterious circumstances: it looked like suicide but some thought that it was murder. The real young man’s name was Kleine; in the novel, it is Klein. Whatever the truth of the matter, Simenon’s fictional version involves a suspicious death. At the time there existed a law of ‘prescription’ in Belgium, which meant that a suspect could not be prosecuted for a crime after a lapse of ten years, and it is this fact that determines Maigret’s action at the end of the novel. The real-life Kleine had died only nine years before publication of the book, however, which must have made Simenon unpopular with his old friends. The book is worth reading for its strong sense of atmosphere alone. It is notable, too, that the book deals not so much with the arrest of a single individual but with the complex, murky interactions of the members of a liégeois secret society.

The Carter of La Providence/Le Charretier de ‘La Providence’, 1931, translated by David Coward (also translated as The Crime at Lock 14, Lock 14 and Maigret Meets a Milord)

Plot: A woman’s body is discovered near a lock in the vicinity of Épernay. The husband of the victim, Sir Walter Lampson, who is the owner of a yacht, and his companions are under immediate suspicion. The occupants of a mysterious barge also seem to have some connection with the crime. A friend of Lampson, Willy Marco, is also murdered and the carter, Jean, has an accident. Maigret finds himself somewhat at a loss but finally manages to solve the mystery when he delves into the background of the carter.

Comments: The Carter of La Providence is a very accomplished novel in which Maigret clearly reveals his understanding of human suffering. It is also memorable for its evocation of dull, rainy weather along the canals and the atmosphere of towpath cafés. This early outing for Maigret suggests that he is more physically fit than he was to be in later novels, as evidenced by his repeated pedalling considerable distances along canal towpaths. The novel is particularly valuable as an evocation of France’s past (not dissimilar to Thomas Hardy’s similar endeavours in Britain), with the narrative construction geared more to these elements than to the crime-solving dénouement.

The Yellow Dog/Le Chien Jaune, translated by Linda Asher, 1931 (also translated as A Face for a Clue, Maigret and the Concarneau Murders and Maigret and the Yellow Dog)

Plot: Maigret goes to the old town of Concarneau to investigate the attempted murder of a prominent person. Just after his arrival, another regular visitor to the Admiral Hotel disappears in mysterious circumstances and a third is poisoned with strychnine. Maigret decides to put the surviving partner of the three men, Ernest Michoux, in jail, for his own safety. While all this is happening, a mysterious dog with yellow fur is found roaming around the district. The local authorities become rather anxious at Maigret’s apparent inaction. He, however, is intrigued by the behaviour of the waitress, Emma, at the hotel, who also seems to have a relationship with Léon, the owner of the yellow dog. Maigret finally discovers that at the heart of the mystery there is a drug-peddling racket.

Comments: The Yellow Dog is located outside the French capital, specifically in the Breton port of Concarneau, an area that Simenon was familiar with; what will strike the reader most is the evocation of life in a small provincial town, drawn with quiet skill. The crippling effects on a community of fear and malfeasance are handled with cool intelligence, while socio-economic conditions in Concarneau are described and the First World War impinges on the plot. As so often, the revelation involves the past, as well as the exploitation of an individual who appears to be anything but vulnerable. It is also a perfect example of a theme that is often found in Simenon’s work: the illusion that Maigret is doing very little to move the case forward when, of course, there is a great deal going on beneath the surface. The novel also depicts the contrast between the methods of Maigret’s assistant, Inspector Leroy, and those of the detective himself; this can be encapsulated as science versus psychological analysis. There is an interesting metatextual element here, too: at one point, Maigret uses the image of a violent storm in a film to evoke the events that are happening in the town. The Yellow Dog became one of the most well known of the early Maigrets due to the fact that it was filmed within a year of its first publication.

Night at the Crossroads/La Nuit du Carrefour, 1931, translated by Linda Coverdale (also translated as The Crossroad Murders and Maigret at the Crossroads)

Plot: A diamond dealer from Antwerp is found dead at the wheel of a car belonging to the insurance agent Michonnet at an isolated crossroads near Arpajon. Maigret discovers strange relationships linking the inhabitants of the three houses at the crossroads. There are the insurance agent and his wife; a Danish aristocrat, Carl Andersen, and his German wife Else, a former prostitute; and Oscar, a garage owner and former boxer. The mystery deepens when the wife of the diamond dealer is also killed and the aristocrat is seriously wounded. Maigret himself also narrowly escapes an attempt on his life. He manages to establish that the garage owner is involved in some shady dealings. The resolution sees justice done but love triumphant.

Comments: Night at the Crossroads/La Nuit du Carrefour is more conventionally written than most Simenon novels, and it utilises a savage violence that is not the norm for the author. Nevertheless, the plotting here has Simenon’s typical assurance, with former prostitute Else the focus of the story. The unusual setting also adds to the book’s fascination. La Nuit du Carrefour became very well known after Jean Renoir’s 1932 film version.

A Crime in Holland/Un Crime en Hollande, 1931, translated by Siân Reynolds (also translated as Maigret in Holland)

Plot: Maigret is sent to the little Dutch village of Delfzijl to investigate the murder of Conrad Popinga, a lecturer at a local naval college, because a Frenchman, Jean Duclos, who was a guest of Popinga’s, seems to be involved in the affair; in fact, it was he who discovered the murder weapon. But among the suspects are also the victim’s mistress, a rejected lover, an old sailor, Popinga’s wife, his sister-in-law, a lawyer, and a frightened cadet. Maigret gradually eliminates various false leads to arrive at the truth, but has a crisis of conscience when the murderer commits suicide.

Comments: This novel is not short of suspects and intriguing clues, including a sailor’s hat in a bathtub and a cigar butt. The unravelling of the mystery is less interesting, however, than the evocation of the conservative nature of bourgeois life and values in a small Dutch town. Light and atmosphere are very well conveyed. It is also memorable for Maigret’s own reflections on the responsibilities of the investigator.

The Grand Banks Café/Au Rendez-vous des Terre-Neuves, 1931, translated by David Coward (also translated as The Sailors’ Rendezvous and Maigret Answers a Plea)

Plot: Captain Fallut is discovered strangled in a pool in the port of Fécamp. A young telegraph operator, who was prowling around his boat, is immediately under suspicion. Maigret is contacted by a friend of his, a local primary school teacher, and he sets out to prove the innocence of the young man, Pierre Le Clinche. He discovers that the captain was hiding his mistress, Adèle, on board the trawler, which roused the jealousy of both the telegraph operator and the chief engineer, who had discovered what the captain was up to. But a young ship’s apprentice also discovered the captain’s secret, and it was his threat to reveal all to the ship’s crew that led to a series of tragic events culminating in Fallut’s death.

Comments: ‘It was indeed a photograph, a picture of a woman. But the face was completely hidden, scribbled all over in red ink. Someone had tried to obliterate the head, someone very angry. The pen had bitten into the paper. There were so many criss-crossed lines that not a single square millimetre had been left visible. On the other hand, below the head, the torso had not been touched. A pair of large breasts. A light-coloured silk dress, very tight and very low cut.’ A dual achievement here: The Grand Banks Café/Au Rendez-vous des Terre-Neuves is notable for its maritime setting and its oppressively conjured atmosphere.

A Man’s Head/La Tête d’un Homme, 1931, translated by David Coward (also translated as A Battle of Nerves and Maigret’s War of Nerves)

Plot: Maigret does not believe that Joseph Heurtin, who has been condemned to death, is guilty of the double murder of Madame Henderson and her female companion. Maigret therefore enables Heurtin to escape and arranges to have him followed in the hope that this will help him discover the real guilty parties. He encounters the victim’s nephew, Crosby, and a Czech student, and eventually uncovers a complex plan to put the blame on the unsuspecting Heurtin. The true criminal is finally caught and sentenced to death in Heurtin’s place.

Comments: In a relatively unusual touch, a determined Maigret is allowed to correct a judicial error with the full support of the authorities. The novel incorporates a reference to a genuine murder case, an idea that was relatively unusual at the time. There is less attention than usual paid to subsidiary characters here, but the narrative exerts a grip and it’s easy to forgive the coincidence on which the revelations rest. In a discussion between Maigret and the judge Coméliau, the detective inspector confides that, although he is obliged to draw logical conclusions from material evidence, as a human being he is more concerned with moral proof.

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin/La Danseuse du Gai-Moulin, 1931, translated by Siân Reynolds (also translated as At the Gai-Moulin and Maigret at the Gai-Moulin)

Plot: Two young men, Delfosse and Chabot, deliberately allow themselves to be locked inside a nightclub called the ‘Gai-Moulin’ in Liège, with the intention of stealing the takings. In the darkness they stumble over a body and run off. The following day the body of one of the club’s clientele, a Greek called Graphopoulos, is discovered in a public garden. The investigation culminates in the arrest of Delfosse and Chabot and one other man; the third suspect turns out to be none other than Maigret, who had been following the victim. He allows himself to be arrested by the Belgian police before revealing his true identity. The two young men are set free and Maigret investigates the role of Adèle, a dancer at the club, who seems to be involved in the affair and who leads him to the solution of the mystery.

Comments: In The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin/La Danseuse du Gai-Moulin, Maigret makes one of his most surprising and dramatic entries. The novel is also fascinating for its depiction of Simenon’s home town, Liège, and for its study of one of the young men, Jean Chabot, who resembles in many ways the author himself at that age, as Simenon had also been tempted into crime at one time.

The Two-Penny Bar/La Guinguette à Deux Sous, 1932, translated by David Watson (also translated as The Guinguette by the Seine, Maigret and the Tavern by the Seine, Maigret to the Rescue and The Bar on the Seine)

Plot: On the eve of going to the guillotine, Jean Lenoir informs Maigret that he was witness to a crime six years previously. He and his partner had seen someone dumping a body into a canal. Lenoir subsequently blackmailed the murderer, who disappeared and was not seen again until one evening at a tavern by the Seine, the Guinguette à Deux Sous. Maigret goes to the tavern to investigate and mingles with local people and customers in this peaceful spot. He also meets up with a merry band of Parisians: James, Basso, and Mado and Marcel Feinstein. But their gaiety is short-lived when one of them is murdered. Maigret also manages to find Lenoir’s accomplice, Victor Gaillard, and learns the name of the man who was killed six years before – a usurer called Ulrich. Maigret realises that he is in fact unravelling two crimes.

Comments: There may be some surprising (and unlikely) coincidences in the novel, but Simenon skilfully weaves together two interrelated plotlines and reveals yet again Maigret’s unconventionally ambiguous attitude towards the criminal. There is one particularly strikingly realised character: English alcoholic James, who is able to conduct a relatively normal life despite his condition, and with whom Maigret shares the odd Pernod.

The Shadow Puppet/L’Ombre Chinoise, 1932, translated by Ros Schwartz (also translated as The Shadow in the Courtyard and Maigret Mystified)

Plot: Raymond Couchet has been murdered in his office in the Place des Vosges and a significant sum of money has been stolen. Maigret questions his first wife, Juliette Martin, their son Roger, and his mistress Nine Moinard, and he also keeps an eye on his widow. Roger commits suicide and this event leads to the revelation of what really happened, with the culprit unable to cope and descending into madness.

Comments: One of the attractions of The Shadow Puppet/L’Ombre Chinoise is the adroit blending of three different locales: there are scenes in the world of petty officials, in the milieu of the higher levels of the bourgeoisie and in the area around Pigalle. Simenon lived in the Place des Vosges at one time and knew it well. The novel is acute in describing a variety of relationships among those living in an apartment building, including a woman whose aspirations to social climbing have unintended results.

The Saint-Fiacre Affair/L’Affaire Saint-Fiacre, 1932, translated by Shaun Whiteside (also translated as Maigret Goes Home, Maigret on Home Ground and Maigret and the Countess)

Plot: The police at Moulins receive a message informing them that a crime will be committed in the church at Saint-Fiacre during the first mass on All Souls Day. When Maigret learns of this he decides to be there on the day. One reason for his interest is that Moulins is where he was born and he spent his childhood around the château, where his father was estate manager. Maigret attends the mass and watches the old countess, who, he suddenly realises, is dead. She has died from shock at seeing a false report in a newspaper announcing the death of her son Maurice. The investigation focuses on the immediate entourage of the countess: the son, who always seems to need money, Jean Métayer, the secretary and lover of the countess, and Gautier, the estate manager, and his son. The crime and its motive are finally uncovered during a dinner party organised by Maurice.

Comments: The Saint-Fiacre Affair/L’Affaire Saint-Fiacre features a nod to the classic British Golden Age crime novel, with all the various suspects assembled by the detective for a summation and the identification of the culprit. Also, the plot is resolved without the intervention of the law – Maigret is not officially working on the case. It is a minor Maigret novel, but as entertaining as ever, and it is celebrated among Maigret fans because of the biographical details revealed about the inspector’s childhood.

The Flemish House/Chez les Flamands, 1932, translated by Shaun Whiteside (also translated as Maigret and the Flemish Shop)

Plot: The daughter of a night watchman in Givet has disappeared. The young woman, Germaine Piedboeuf, has had a child by Joseph Peeters. She never found acceptance among the group of Flemish people and there is a rumour that some rich shopkeepers arranged her disappearance. Maigret goes to Givet in a private capacity at the request of Anna Peeters. He gets to know Joseph, Anna’s brother; Maria, his young sister, who is a primary school teacher; and his mother. It seems that the Peeters family played no part in the affair. Germaine’s body is found in the river Meuse, with the skull smashed in, and a bargeman is suspected of the murder. When he finally solves the crime, Maigret decides to keep quiet about it, because he has not been officially appointed to investigate it. He allows the real perpetrator to leave for Paris, while the bargeman is still at large.

Comments: The Flemish House/Chez les Flamands is another example with Maigret behaving as Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was occasionally wont to do: dispensing his own justice and not acting within the confines of the law. Although prefiguring anything that Simenon himself might have encountered, there is a pre-echo here of bitterness over linguistic issues in another country: much of the conflict in the novel comes from those who fight resolutely for the use of their own language and consider that it is being subsumed by what they see as a foreign tongue. There are also elements of class divide: the plot hinges on the notion that a wealthy family is being spared justice for crimes they have committed and on the resentment this creates.

The Madman of Bergerac/Le Fou de Bergerac, 1932, translated by Ros Schwartz

Plot: On his way to the Dordogne to take a holiday, Maigret sees a man jump out of a train as it slows down. He immediately follows him and is wounded. While recovering in hospital in Bergerac he learns that there have been several crimes committed locally by someone suspected of being a madman, and he realises that he himself may have been attacked by the man. There is general panic in the town, and Maigret helps the local authorities from the confines of his hospital bed. The corpse of a man called Meyer is found in a wood, and Maigret decides to concentrate his investigation on a group of local dignitaries. This reveals the true identity of Meyer and the person who killed him.

Comments: This is a novel in which Simenon utilises a device also adopted, in different eras, by Josephine Tey and Håkan Nesser. The notion of a detective conducting a ‘long-distance’ investigation by proxy is not a new one, but in the hands of a reliable practitioner it is still a fecund one – think also of Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme. The fact that Maigret undertakes the entire investigation from a hospital bed seems to emphasise his genius for intuition.

The Misty Harbour/Le Port des Brumes, 1932, translated by Linda Coverdale (also translated as Death of a Harbour Master, Maigret and the Death of a Harbour Master and The Port of Shadows)

Plot: Yves Joris, a former merchant sea captain, and now harbour master at the small port of Ouistreham on the English Channel, is found after he disappeared for seven weeks, but he has lost his memory. He has obviously been wounded and looked after. Maigret takes him back to Ouistreham, where he dies of strychnine poisoning just after his arrival. The inspector comes up against a wall of silence. Joris seems to have had some connection with Ernest Grandmaison, a rich shipowner and a former convict. Grandmaison’s suicide prompts people to start talking. It seems that Joris had helped a criminal escape and had been wounded in the process. The person who wounded him feared being recognised by Joris and killed him.

Comments: A justly celebrated Simenon novel, with a memorable evocation of a foggy seaport. The fog becomes an understated metaphor for the cover-up of human motivations.

Liberty Bar/Liberty Bar, 1932, translated by David Watson (also translated as Maigret on the Riviera)

Plot: An alcoholic Australian, William Brown, is stabbed to death in Antibes, on the French Riviera. Maigret attempts to reconstruct the events leading up to the crime, and meets Brown’s mistress, Gina, and her mother, Jaja, who owns the Liberty Bar. Here he also meets Sylvie, a young prostitute, and her pimp Joseph. He also encounters the victim’s son, Harry, who is trying to track down a will. Not for the first time Maigret uncovers a double crime. Prison is the just desert in one case, but Maigret allows Brown’s killer to go free. He has his reasons.

Comments: Making the most of its unusual setting on the Côte d’Azur, Simenon allows – not for the first time – Maigret’s sense of pity to override his respect for the law. Although this is one of the author’s favourite notions, it never comes across as simply a re-treading of a familiar theme; there is always something new each time it appears.

Lock No. 1/L’Écluse nº ١, 1933, translated by David Coward (also translated as The Lock at Charenton and Maigret Sits It Out)

Plot: Old Gassin falls off the gangway of his barge after a drunken evening. As he is trying to get out of the water, a man grabs hold of him. It is shipowner Émile Ducrau. When both men are finally fished out it is discovered that Ducrau has been stabbed and the police are alerted. Maigret concentrates especially on the background of Ducrau, and discovers that he is the father of Aline Gassin, a woman with mental health issues and the mother of a young boy. The tension mounts when Ducrau’s son Jean commits suicide and an assistant lockkeeper is found hanged. The final confession brings with it a sense of release for the murderer.

Comments: The novel is deliberately disturbing in terms of its unflinching portrait of the nature of the relationships involved. The ominous, brooding feel of the piece is accentuated by the character of Ducrau, who ensures that his business is run in precisely the fashion that he dictates; both this fact and his uncompromising attitude render him unpopular in the community. He is disliked by both his bullied family and his servants, and it is hardly a surprise that there are those who wish him ill. The fact that such figures are something of a cliché in the crime fiction universe does not prevent Simenon from giving us a prime example.

Maigret/Maigret, 1934, translated by Ros Schwartz (also translated as Maigret Returns)

Plot: A certain Inspector Lauer, who is Maigret’s nephew, is in a delicate professional situation. He was unable to prevent the murder of a man he had under surveillance, Pepito, the boss of a bar called the Floria. Furthermore, he is the prime suspect because of the way he panicked. While enjoying his retirement on the banks of the Loire, Maigret is visited by his nephew, who begs for his help. Maigret agrees, but encounters difficulties with his former colleagues. It proves to have been a gangland killing to silence Pepito.

Comments: This novel is unique in the Maigret series, with the former chief inspector solving a crime in his retirement. Simenon in fact intended it to be the last of the series; he wanted to devote himself entirely to the writing of romans durs. After 1933 he wrote no Maigret novels for five years, although he did write some short stories featuring the detective.

Cécile Is Dead/Cécile Est Morte, 1942, translated by Anthea Bell (also translated as Maigret and the Spinster)

Plot: For six months Maigret has been visited frequently by a 28-year-old spinster, Cécile Pardon, who lives with her aunt and is convinced that strangers have been regularly breaking into their house. No evidence is found to support her claims. But one day, when she is due to visit Maigret, she does not turn up. When Maigret goes to the house he finds that the two women have been strangled. During his investigations he brings to light the fact that the aunt was once the owner of a house of ill repute that was visited by some suspicious characters. One of these is a certain Charles Dandurand. It becomes clear that the same person did not murder both women.

Comments: Dissenting voices have observed that the novel’s plot is confusing, but Cécile Is Dead/Cécile Est Morte also contains much of that haunting Parisian atmosphere that true Maigret aficionados relish. There is also a strong sense that Simenon is a novelist firmly in the realist tradition, with the setting here crucial to an understanding of the characters.

The Cellars of the Majestic/Les Caves du Majestic, 1942, translated by Howard Curtis (also translated as Maigret and the Hotel Majestic and The Hotel Majestic)

Plot: Maigret is asked to conduct a discreet investigation into the murder of an American woman, Mrs Clark, because she was the wife of an important American industrialist. She was found strangled in the staff changing room of the Hotel Majestic. Interest focuses first of all on a hotel employee, Prosper Donge, and his mistress Charlotte. But the next day there is another murder: that of the hotel porter. Against Maigret’s advice, the examining magistrate has the couple arrested. Maigret then discovers that the American woman had formerly been Donge’s mistress and that there is a child from that relationship. Someone had been blackmailing Mrs Clark, imitating Donge’s handwriting, and her arrival in Paris threatened to unmask the criminal.

Comments: ‘Try to imagine a guest, a wealthy woman, staying at the Majestic with her husband, her son, a nurse and a governess… In a suite that costs more than a thousand francs a day… At six in the morning, she’s strangled, not in her room, but in the basement locker room.’ The daily life of a grand hotel is very convincingly conveyed, especially from the quotidian perspective of those who work there. Maigret soaks up the atmosphere and discovers the murderer through his intuitive grasp of psychology.

The Judge’s House/La Maison du Juge, 1942, translated by Howard Curtis (also translated as Maigret in Exile)

Plot: Maigret is a superintendent at Luçon and goes to solve a crime at the village of L’Aiguillon. A retired judge has discovered the body of an unknown man in his house. The judge has a son, Albert, and a daughter, Lise. He lives with his daughter, who has an intellectual disability and is taken advantage of by the young men in the village. One of these men, Marcel Airaud, disappears as soon as Maigret arrives. The judge eventually confesses to Maigret that 15 years before he murdered his wife’s lover. The judge is arrested and Maigret discovers that the man found dead in the judge’s house was a psychiatrist. The situation appears even more complex when it is revealed that Lise is pregnant. All these facts are woven neatly together in the conclusion, though in a rather complex way.

Comments: Difficult to follow at times, but if you love the crime fiction genre, this is a book that should be in your library – The Judge’s House is an authentic Simenon classic. It is also evident here that the ethos of the book is very French; although Simenon occasionally adopted the accoutrements of the Golden Age of the British detective story, they were always seen through a Gallic prism.

Signed, Picpus/Signé Picpus, 1944, translated by David Coward (also translated as To Any Lengths and Maigret and the Fortuneteller)

Plot: A frightened bank clerk comes to Maigret with a piece of blotting paper, which he has found in a restaurant. On it the following words are written back to front: ‘Tomorrow afternoon on the stroke of five I am going to kill the fortune-teller.’ The police wait for possible bad news and wonder whether it is all a hoax. Confirmation arrives. When Maigret arrives on the scene he finds not only the dead fortune-teller but also a confused old man waiting patiently. He does not believe that the old man is the culprit, but Maigret does discover that the man changed his identity to help a widow get round the law. Then someone discovered what he was up to…

Comments: Simenon wrote this novel in 1941, and – rather like Charles Dickens – he serialised it in 34 instalments between December 1941 and January 1942. The following year, he opted to auction the manuscript, with proceeds going to benefit prisoners of war. The selling point here – and a particularly noteworthy element – is the edgy confrontation between Maigret and the examining magistrate, along with a curious and rather unique approach to the consciousness of its leading character, which Simenon permits us to enter.

Inspector Cadaver/L’Inspecteur Cadavre, 1944, translated by William Hobson (also translated as Maigret’s Rival)

Plot: A man is run over by a train in a small town in the Vendée. A rich property owner, Monsieur Naud, whose father-in-law is a judge in Paris, asks Maigret to investigate the affair, because the rumour is spreading that he caused the man’s death. Maigret encounters a private detective called Cavre, a former detective from his own department who is nicknamed ‘Inspector Corpse’ (because of the similarity between his real name and the French word for corpse, ‘cadavre’). As ever, Maigret is not happy investigating the lives of people in high society. It turns out that the murdered man has seduced a young girl, who is pregnant by another man, and that there has been a general attempt to cover up the whole business. Maigret is sickened by the facts he uncovers and returns to Paris without making an arrest.

Comments: Another example of a favourite Simenon theme: Maigret passing judgement himself and thereby affecting the fate of the culprit. As Thomas Narcejac noted in The Art of Simenon, the writer was a ‘connoisseur of souls’, constantly showing a sense of compassion for those he writes about. Simenon admired and quoted the phrase: ‘Understand and do not judge.’

Félicie/Félicie Est Là, 1944, translated by David Coward (also translated as Maigret and the Toy Village)

Plot: Maigret goes to investigate the murder of a retired accountant living on the Jeanneville estate, a few miles from Paris. He was shot in his own bedroom at point-blank range. It is a pretty ideal little world, which seems unreal to Maigret – like a toy village, in fact. He becomes fascinated by the character and behaviour of the old man’s servant, Félicie, who is in love with the victim’s nephew, Jacques. This young man is badly wounded in the Place Pigalle, but refuses to explain the circumstances. Félicie fears that he may be the murderer, but Maigret discovers that the events have more to do with the suspicious company he has been keeping. Jacques knows too much about someone’s past criminal activities.

Comments: Félicie/Félicie Est Là is a charming and unusual novel with the main focus on the complex personality of the eponymous Félicie, who lies, contradicts herself, indulges in bizarre flights of the imagination and craves sympathy and understanding. The novel is a good starting point for those new to Simenon.

Maigret Gets Angry/Maigret Se Fâche, 1947, translated by Ros Schwartz (also translated as Maigret in Retirement)

Plot: While in retirement, Maigret is asked by Bernadette Amorelle to investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding the drowning of her granddaughter, Monita. He goes to Paris and along the Seine to investigate the girl’s wealthy family background. He meets Bernadette’s son-in-law, Ernest Malik, who turns out to have been to the same school as Maigret. Eventually he discovers that Monita was provoked into suicide by the revelation that she was in love with her own half-brother. This leads to a further death, from anger and a desire for revenge. All kinds of family secrets come to light, including adultery and an obsession with money.

Comments: Maigret finally manages to establish some kind of order in a family torn apart by passion and resentment, who have nevertheless struggled to maintain an appearance of respectability – a theme that recurs frequently in many of Simenon’s romans durs.

Maigret in New York/Maigret à New York, 1947, translated by Linda Coverdale (also translated as Maigret in New York’s Underworld and Inspector Maigret in New York’s Underworld)

Plot: While Maigret is enjoying his retirement on the banks of the Loire, he is contacted by a young man who is worried about his father, Joachim Maura, known as John, a New York businessman, who, from his letters, seems to be in some distress. Maigret agrees to go with the young man to New York to investigate. There, with the help of his friend Captain O’Brien of the FBI, he discovers some unsavoury facts about Joachim Maura’s background. Some gangsters know these facts too and are blackmailing him. Maigret manages to get the gangsters arrested but he remains uneasy about his role in the whole affair.

Comments: Many aficionados are uncomfortable with Maigret venturing beyond his usual territory – and the detective himself doesn’t seem to enjoy his trip very much. At the end, he is thinking more about the need to thin out his melon plants back home in Meung-sur-Loire. Much play is made with the very different approaches to enforcing the law in the two countries; the fact that Maigret has no authority in a foreign country is also a key element – Maigret demonstrates a certain impatience when lectured on the virtues of the American system. Caveats aside, it’s a diverting outing.

Maigret’s Holiday/Les Vacances de Maigret, 1947, translated by Ros Schwartz (also translated as A Summer Holiday, No Vacation for Maigret and Maigret on Holiday)

Plot: While Maigret and his wife are on holiday in Les Sables d’Olonne, Madame Maigret has to go into a convent nursing home for an operation on her appendix. While she is there a fellow patient, a certain Hélène Godreau, dies of a suspected skull fracture. Maigret’s curiosity is aroused and he gets to know the brother-in-law of the victim, Dr Bellamy, who is known to be a jealous husband. The following night a young girl called Lucile is murdered and her brother Émile disappears mysteriously. It appears that the doctor’s wife and Émile have been having an affair. Linking the crimes is a web of passions and jealousies.

Comments: Is this a too neatly tied-up mystery? It’s still a cherishable entry, with Maigret conducting his investigations unofficially. The character of the doctor in the narrative is very well realised. The psychological undercurrents of crime are central to the narrative here, particularly as evidenced in the different responses Maigret obtains from the witnesses compared with those gathered in the official investigation.

Maigret’s Dead Man/Maigret et Son Mort, 1948, translated by David Coward (also translated as Maigret’s Special Murder)

Plot: An unknown man feels that his life is in danger and seeks the protection of the police, but Inspector Janvier cannot find him again. The following night the man is murdered. Maigret takes the case personally, regarding it as his murder. In the course of his investigations, he pursues a yellow Citroën, which leads him to the café in Charenton where the dead man, Albert, was the landlord. One suspect is chased by the police but is killed by his fellow crooks. Maigret, however, is able to identify the dead suspect and get on the trail of the so-called ‘Picardy Killers’. Albert, it seems, knew more than was good for him.

Comments: Uncharacteristically, Maigret comes across in this novel very much as a man of action; it is an interesting change of pace, although some have criticised the evocations of Parisian locations as rather sketchy by Simenon’s usual standards.

Maigret’s First Case/La Première Enquête de Maigret, 1949, translated by Ros Schwartz

Plot: The story is set in 1913, when Maigret was still secretary to a superintendent in a small Paris police station. A young flautist informs the police that he has heard gunfire in a large townhouse, but when Maigret accompanies him there they can find no evidence of anything unusual having happened. The behaviour of the owners, a family called Gendreau-Balthazar, seems suspicious to Maigret, and he carries out a discreet investigation. He discovers that the Count d’Anseval was murdered because he refused to marry Lise Gendreau-Balthazar. There is a cover-up and an attempt to make the crime look like self-defence.

Comments: In this novel, we have a notable theme: it may be the first time in his career, but certainly not the last, that Maigret is disgusted at the behaviour of the French upper classes. This is not a typical Maigret investigation, but the future chief inspector is already revealing his talent for psychological intuition. The novel, which also provides insights into the life of the newly married Maigrets, ends with Maigret being appointed an inspector.

My Friend Maigret/Mon Ami Maigret, 1949, translated by Shaun Whiteside (also translated as The Methods of Maigret)

Plot: Maigret is being visited by Inspector Pyke of Scotland Yard, who has come over to study French methods of detection. His routine is disturbed by a telephone call from the Mediterranean island of Porquerolles, where an old tramp, Marcellin, has been murdered. The night before, he had been heard talking to people about his ‘friend Maigret’. Maigret is glad to get away from Paris for a while, although the prospect of taking Inspector Pyke with him does not please him. They discover that a blackmail racket is behind the murder.

Comments: The backdrop of a small island with only a limited number of suspects may be a hoary cliché of crime fiction, but Simenon renders the seaside atmosphere, with its small square and café, irresistible. He is particularly acute at realising a locale where time seems to stand still and human action is stymied. Maigret is obviously ill at ease throughout in the presence of Inspector Pyke, but the juxtaposition of the two characters serves to highlight the differences in their methods: the plodding logic of the Englishman and the unconventional intuitive methods of the Frenchman. Might this be an example of détente?

Maigret at the Coroner’s/Maigret Chez le Coroner, 1949, translated by Linda Coverdale (also translated as Maigret and the Coroner)

Plot: Maigret has been invited by the FBI to observe an investigation in the USA. A woman called Bessie has been murdered near Tucson, and five young airmen are being interrogated by the coroner. After interviewing several witnesses, it is discovered that the young woman had gone out with all five of the airmen and was mortally wounded while trying to resist the advances of one of them, who was determined to have his way with her.

Comments: Maigret is present only as an observer and even has to leave before the jury reaches its decision; many readers have therefore found the outcome rather disappointing. However, the novel, which has a sometimes dizzying complexity, provides interesting insights into the organisation of the American justice system. Maigret at the Coroner’s/Maigret Chez le Coroner depicts the contrasts between a variety of aspects of life in the USA and France – something that Simenon explores elsewhere. This aspect adds an intriguing level of interest, not only for French and American readers.

Maigret and the Old Lady/Maigret et la Vieille Dame, 1950, translated by Ros Schwartz

Plot: Valentine Besson, an old lady, tells Maigret of her belief that the poison that killed her servant, Rose, was really intended for her. Suspicion falls on the old woman’s children, but then another death occurs: Valentine kills Rose’s brother, whom she apparently mistakes for a prowler. All is not quite what it seems in the old lady’s family.

Comments: Maigret and the Old Lady/Maigret et la Vieille Dame has a rather contrived plot, but the character of the eponymous old lady is very convincing.

Madame Maigret’s Friend/L’Amie de Madame Maigret, 1950, translated by Howard Curtis (also translated as Madame Maigret’s Own Case and The Friend of Madame Maigret)

Plot: The police arrest a Belgian bookbinder called Steuvels following the appearance of some anonymous letters. They find blood and human remains in his house. But Steuvels denies everything, and the investigation makes no headway. When Maigret’s wife comments on the strange behaviour of a young woman whom she often meets in a public garden, he is able to spot a link between two cases. The young woman is involved with a gang who killed a rich Italian widow, whose son-in-law is also an accomplice of the gang. It turns out that Steuvels also has links with the gang.

Comments: The connections between two cases in Madame Maigret’s Friend/L’Amie de Madame Maigret are intriguingly developed, and the novel is memorable for the important role of Madame Maigret – Simenon was well aware of her importance.

Maigret’s Memoirs/Les Mémoires de Maigret, 1950, translated by Howard Curtis

Plot: Having settled into retirement, Maigret decides to write his memoirs and compare his own memories with the portrait of him provided by a certain novelist called Georges Simenon. There is no plot as such, no mystery or its investigation: the reader is simply provided with reflections on various stages of Maigret’s life, filling in a few gaps here and there in what can be learned from reading the novels. Maigret takes issue with some of Simenon’s opinions and depictions of him and adds a few thoughts on the life of a policeman and the nature of justice. It is also a book about writing, about distinctions between art and reality: a fictional character talks about himself as though he were real, and the real author is introduced as a character in this fiction.

Comments: A charming book, utterly different from all the other Maigrets, but it should be pointed out that it will be of interest only to those who have read a large number of the Maigret novels before coming to it. Simenon’s avoidance of the demands of the standard police procedural may not please all readers, but he introduces an element here that is frequently to be found in his work: an apparent randomness that finally translates into a kind of resolution. Critics of the novel have pointed out that an opportunity is missed here – what Maigret did during the years of the Nazi occupation is not discussed – but when one considers the more controversial aspects of his creator’s past, it is perhaps not surprising that this issue is not addressed.

Maigret at Picratt’s/Maigret au Picratt’s, 1950, translated by William Hobson (also translated as Maigret in Montmartre and Inspector Maigret and the Strangled Stripper)

Plot: The action centres on a small nightclub called Picratt’s in Montmartre. A striptease artist called Arlette informs the police that she has overheard two men planning to murder someone they refer to as ‘the countess’, and the name Oscar was mentioned. The police do not really believe there is anything in her story, but shortly afterwards she herself is found murdered. Working together again with the lugubrious Inspector Lognon, Maigret now takes Arlette’s story seriously. Sure enough, it is not long before a countess is found murdered. And a crook called Oscar does seem to play an important role in the affair.

Comments: Most critics and fans agree in their high estimation of this novel, with its vibrant evocation of the iconic Parisian district of Montmartre. Simenon is not sentimental in his treatment of the area; he sees it as a place where human sympathy is sometimes in short supply and the exploitation of its residents is rife, something that those same residents simply accept as a fact of life. There is a particularly surprising element, given the writer’s customary empathy with society’s outcasts: the treatment of a character’s homosexuality is notably unsympathetic. This is not necessarily unusual in novels of the period, but the indirect condemnation of a characteristic such as this is unusual for Simenon.

Maigret Takes a Room/Maigret en Meublé, 1951, translated by Shaun Whiteside (also translated as Maigret Rents a Room)

Plot: After a robbery a young delinquent called Émile disappears. Then Inspector Janvier is badly wounded while watching the young man’s lodgings in the Rue Lhomond. But it does not seem likely that a young man who had robbed a till with a toy pistol would shoot a policeman with a real gun. As Madame Maigret is away in Alsace visiting her sister who is due to have an operation, Maigret decides to take a room in the same building so that he can watch and question everybody. The young man is eventually found staying with his landlord. It turns out that someone misunderstood why Janvier was watching the house.

Comments: Simenon is a master at evoking the teeming life of Parisian lodging houses, and Maigret Takes a Room/Maigret en Meublé is a prime example of this skill. Maigret arrests the would-be murderer rather reluctantly after hearing the full story. An interesting touch is the fact that we are shown in some detail Maigret’s attitudes to women other than his long-suffering wife; his courtesy and veiled flirtations perhaps do not correspond to interactions between the sexes in the twenty-first century, but, in providing a picture of a certain kind of honourable man in a different era, these elements make the book particularly valuable.

Maigret and the Tall Woman/Maigret et La Grande Perche, 1951, translated by David Watson (also translated as Maigret and the Burglar’s Wife and Inspector Maigret and the Burglar’s Wife)

Plot: A former prostitute, Ernestine, whom Maigret had arrested in the past comes to see him because she is worried about her husband. She goes by the nickname of La Grande Perche (roughly equivalent to ‘Beanpole’). Seventeen years before, when Maigret was an inexperienced policeman, she had removed all her clothes in an attempt to prevent him taking her to the police station. Now her husband, Alfred (known as ‘Sad Freddie’), who is an unlucky burglar specialising in safecracking, has had a rather unfortunate experience while breaking into a house: he came across the blood-soaked body of a woman. He has therefore decided to go into hiding rather than get involved in a murder enquiry. According to Ernestine, the house belonged to a wealthy dentist living near the Bois de Boulogne. Maigret visits the dentist, Guillaume Serre, who has been living with his mother and his wife, who seems to have decided to leave him the very night of the attempted burglary. Finally, a whole string of murders is uncovered.

Comments: A particularly accomplished entry, with Maigret pitted against a very canny opponent. The treatment of Madame Maigret may not chime with contemporary attitudes, given that she puts up with all of her husband’s absences and demands with nary a complaint, but she is always a fully drawn character. And the fact that the inspector takes his wife for granted is one of the character traits that prevents him from being too saintly a figure – which would be boring!

Maigret, Lognon and the Gangsters/Maigret, Lognon et les Gangsters, 1951, translated by William Hobson (also translated as Inspector Maigret and the Killers and Maigret and the Gangsters)

Plot: Inspector Lognon is as unlucky as ever. He still seems unable to advance his career. One night he witnesses an attack and perhaps a murder; this seems to be the chance he has been waiting for. He decides to act alone against some formidable American gangsters. But Maigret is called in and undertakes the investigation with the help of Lognon and the FBI. Two of the gang are caught and arrested and there is news of another murder, probably by the same gang, in the USA.

Comments: For once, Lognon decidedly proves his worth. Without his dogged persistence the police would not have known about the two murders that occur. Maigret is hurt and annoyed by the disrespectful attitude of the American police, which spurs him on to wind up the case successfully.

Maigret’s Revolver/Le Revolver de Maigret, 1952, translated by Siân Reynolds

Plot: A young man wants to discuss something with Maigret at his home, but finding that he is not there, he manages to steal his revolver. Shortly afterwards, Maigret encounters a man called Lagrange who is worried about the disappearance of his son, and he realises that there is a link between the two incidents. It turns out that Lagrange is in fact a blackmailer who has also become a killer. Maigret manages to prevent a final tragedy, but it is difficult to prove the guilt of the person who is really behind it all.

Comments: One aspect of this novel that makes it unique for the anglophone reader is that part of the story takes place in London, where Maigret is helped by an old acquaintance, Inspector Pyke of Scotland Yard. In the course of his investigation, Maigret develops an almost fatherly affection for the young thief he is pursuing – a not uncommon response for the policeman. While a certain dry humour runs through many of the Maigret novels, it is more pronounced here, and the exhausted Maigret in a sweltering London is a nice touch, particularly as everyone around him tries to persuade him that the weather is uncharacteristically pleasant. Similarly, humour is found in Maigret having to smoke a cigar in the Savoy Grill as permission to use his pipe is withheld. Simenon incorporates a nicely French scepticism about restrictive British licensing laws (although a great deal of drink is consumed in the course of the novel).

Maigret and the Man on the Bench/Maigret et l’Homme du Banc, 1953, translated by David Watson (also translated as Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard and The Man on the Boulevard)

Plot: Louis Thouret is murdered in a cul-de-sac in Paris. There is no apparent motive for the crime. The man’s wife proves to be contemptuous of her husband, and while she can readily identify the body, she admits to being puzzled by the fact that he was wearing light brown shoes and a garish tie she had never seen before. Maigret discovers that Thouret only pretended to go to work every day and had in fact been made redundant three years earlier. He had been surviving by committing burglaries.

Comments: Maigret and the Man on the Bench/Maigret et l’Homme du Banc provides a fascinating and thorough treatment of a common Simenon theme: the desperate attempt to escape from failure and a dull, uninteresting life. If the mechanics of the plot – involving an implausible money-making scheme – don’t quite stand up to scrutiny, the same could just as easily be said of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose plotting in his Sherlock Holmes stories sometimes strays from the credible.

Maigret Is Afraid/Maigret a Peur, 1953, translated by Ros Schwartz (also translated as Maigret Afraid)

Plot: Maigret is returning from an international police conference and decides to take a detour to visit an old friend, the magistrate Chabot, in the country town of Fontenay-le-Comte. His friend is mystified by a series of murders, which have all been committed using the same weapon but with victims who appear to have been chosen at random. One was an old aristocrat, another a midwife and one was an old drunkard. Although he is not officially involved, Maigret helps the local police, who are baffled by the case. Maigret is intrigued by the crimes, especially when he discovers that one of the victims was the brother-in-law of a certain Hubert Vernoux. He fears that there may be further murders, including his own.

Comments: Some have found this novel disappointing because Maigret remains somewhat aloof and distanced from the events, but there are many subtle Simenon characterisations to enjoy. In fact, Simenon makes the fact that Maigret is not officially working on the investigation a key plot point, along with the inspector’s unwillingness to offer advice to the detectives on the case – although, inevitably, there are people (notably in the town involved) who come to appreciate his input. Once again, sympathy for the poor is an important theme.

Maigret’s Mistake/Maigret Se Trompe, 1953, translated by Howard Curtis

Plot: A former prostitute, Louise Filon, is murdered in the sumptuous apartment that she has been living in for the past two years. There are no obvious clues at first so Maigret investigates the lives of her clients. Two men in particular interest him: her lover and the man who has been supporting her financially. Both of these are prime suspects because it is discovered that Louise was pregnant. The final resolution to the mystery is brought about by a confession.

Comments: In Maigret’s Mistake/Maigret Se Trompe, the detective conducts an admirably rigorous investigation, and there is an intriguing contrast drawn in the social backgrounds of the two suspects.

Maigret Goes to School/Maigret à l’École, 1953, translated by Linda Coverdale

Plot: The novel takes place in the small village of Saint-André-sur-Mer, near La Rochelle. Gastin, the schoolteacher, is accused by the local police of killing the old postmistress, Léonie Birard, by shooting her. Everyone despised her because she was especially spiteful and malicious, taunting the children and slandering their parents. Gastin begs Maigret to prove his innocence by finding the real killer. Taking a sort of working holiday, Maigret moves into the small village. The victim lived quite close to the school, which was why Gastin is an obvious suspect, although he claims that he was not there at the time. Maigret solves the mystery by befriending one of the local children.

Comments: Maigret defies public opinion in the village of Saint-André-sur-Mer and follows his usual intuitive methods. The novel is memorable for the subtle relationship between Maigret and a local schoolboy, whom he interrogates with understated sensitivity.

Maigret and the Dead Girl/Maigret et la Jeune Morte, 1954, translated by Howard Curtis (also translated as Maigret and the Young Girl and Inspector Maigret and the Dead Girl)

Plot: A young girl is murdered in Inspector Lognon’s sector, but as usual for the hapless inspector, Maigret takes over as it appears to be a complicated case. After conducting a very long investigation, Maigret discovers that the girl died following a series of unfortunate circumstances. She had received a letter informing her that she would inherit a large fortune from her father, a criminal who was dying. But the letter was intercepted.

Comments: As usual, Maigret’s methods are shown to be very effective, unlike Inspector Lognon’s plodding and routine approach. Maigret, in contrast, discovers the truth by attempting to understand the victim’s personality. More than in most Maigret novels, the detective encounters a series of blind alleys as he attempts to learn about the background of the young murder victim. The slow accretion of facts here is handled with Simenon’s customary authority.

Maigret and the Minister/Maigret Chez le Ministre, 1954, translated by Ros Schwartz (also translated as Maigret and the Calamé Report)

Plot: Maigret is asked by a minister to conduct a discreet enquiry to find a document, the Calamé Report, which has gone missing. The material would be political dynamite if it got into the wrong hands because it proves government responsibility for a major disaster. However, the press somehow learns of it, probably from the person who stole it, and the minister finds himself in an embarrassing situation. It appears that another unscrupulous politician is behind it all.

Comments: In Maigret and the Minister/Maigret Chez le Ministre, Maigret does not prove to be very successful, demonstrating his basic humanity (and fallibility), but the novel provides a devastating condemnation of the duplicity of political life – which seems as topical as ever.

Maigret and the Headless Corpse/Maigret et le Corps sans Tête, 1955, translated by Howard Curtis

Plot: Various parts of a man’s body are fished out of the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris after they foul the propeller of a barge, but the head is missing. Maigret pursues his investigations in the area around a small bistro frequented by seamen and dockers on the Quai de Valmy. The owner of the bistro has gone missing. The headless corpse is finally identified by a scar. It proves to be the bistro owner, Omer Calas, and suspicion focuses on his wife and her lover, who had had a violent argument with Calas concerning an inheritance.

Comments: Simenon audaciously makes the crime in this novel almost incidental to his intriguing study of relationships, handled with characteristic authority. Maigret’s preoccupation with a suspect goes beyond normal curiosity into something slightly unhealthy here – something that Madame Maigret remarks on.

Maigret Sets a Trap/Maigret Tend un Piège, 1955, translated by Siân Reynolds

Plot: Five women have been horribly murdered in the streets of Montmartre. Feeling angry and weary, Maigret decides to set a trap to try to catch the killer. A huge police operation is conducted but somehow the criminal manages to escape. However, a young policewoman in plain clothes who acts as bait manages to grab a button from her attacker’s coat. A young man called Marcel Moncin is arrested, but then a sixth crime is committed.

Comments: Maigret Sets a Trap sees the inimitable inspector facing a seemingly unstoppable serial killer. The novel explores the author’s central theme of the individual forced to act in extraordinary ways in the face of adversity.

Maigret’s Failure/Un Échec de Maigret, 1956, translated by William Hobson

Plot: An old acquaintance of Maigret’s, an industrialist named Ferdinand Fumal, asks for protection after receiving anonymous letters. Despite the fact that Maigret has him watched, he is found dead the next day. In the course of his investigations, Maigret discovers that the man was detested by his staff and despised by his family. There appears to be an enormous number of suspects and the investigation makes slow progress, with Maigret unravelling the mystery rather belatedly.

Comments: Demonstrating that Simenon is perfectly prepared to be critical of his largely sympathetic hero, in Maigret’s Failure/Un Échec de Maigret, the detective’s delay in solving the mystery is undoubtedly caused by his lack of concern about the victim, whom he disliked. While Simenon’s criticisms of his hero are rarely overt, Maigret is never presented as a secular saint but as a man with faults and foibles – one of the reasons, in fact, why readers find him such a sympathetic figure.

Maigret Enjoys Himself/Maigret S’Amuse, 1957, translated by David Watson (also translated as Maigret’s Little Joke and None of Maigret’s Business)

Plot: While taking a holiday on doctor’s orders, but staying in Paris, Maigret is intrigued by an investigation being conducted by one of his inspectors, Janvier. It concerns the suspicious death of Evelyne, wife of a certain Dr Jave. She should have been on the Côte d’Azur and not in Paris at all. Maigret does not want to interfere directly in Janvier’s case, so he sends him anonymous messages; these provide some help and eventually enable Janvier to discover how she was murdered and who did it.

Comments: In this intriguing outing, Maigret follows the case at a distance and gathers his information by reading newspapers, taking some desultory walks in Paris and making a few anonymous phone calls. He obviously enjoys conducting an investigation in this playful way, contrasting with his methods as detailed in other novels.

Maigret Travels/Maigret Voyage, 1958, translated by Howard Curtis (also translated as Maigret and the Millionaires)

Plot: Colonel Ward is found drowned in his bath in a luxury suite in the Hôtel George V, and his mistress, the Countess Palmieri, attempted suicide the previous night. Maigret makes enquiries about the countess’s second husband, Joseph Van Meulen, a Belgian industrialist, and investigates the countess’s shady past. The colonel’s third wife also comes under suspicion.

Comments: Class is a recurrent theme in the Maigret novels, and in Maigret Travels/Maigret Voyage, Maigret – as is his wont – feels ill at ease in the world of high society, but he persists in employing his usual investigative methods.

Maigret’s Doubts/Les Scrupules de Maigret, 1958, translated by Shaun Whiteside (also translated as Maigret Has Scruples)

Plot: Xavier Marton, a salesman of toy electric trains in a large store, believes that his wife Gisèle is planning to murder him because he has found zinc phosphide in the broom cupboard. After being contacted by Marton, Maigret is also approached by his wife. Maigret’s investigation implicates two other people: Marton’s sister-in-law Jenny and an acquaintance of Gisèle, who is also her lover. Soon Marton is found poisoned. It turns out, however, that a fatal error has occurred.

Comments: Many readers feel that Maigret’s Doubts/Les Scrupules de Maigret concerns itself more with psychological investigation than with questions of justice, but this could be said of many of Simenon’s works, and it is hardly a criticism. There is also a strange pre-echo of Philip K. Dick’s novella ‘The Minority Report’, since Maigret finds himself investigating a crime that has not yet happened. There is also an unusual subplot involving the subtle ageing of both Maigret and his wife, with each beginning to suspect that the other is keeping a serious illness hidden from their partner.

Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses/Maigret et les Témoins Récalcitrants, 1958, translated by William Hobson

Plot: An industrialist called Lachaume has been murdered in bed at his home in Ivry. The family owns a company making butter biscuits, and Lachaume was once a household name. The family lawyer is immediately called in and it is agreed to put up a wall of silence against all investigation. Maigret, however, will not be put off and eventually rules out the theory of burglary, believing that the culprit is to be found in Lachaume’s immediate entourage. The focus narrows when it is discovered that the family business is on the verge of bankruptcy.

Comments: Maigret is not in a good mood during this case, for various reasons: his wife has just reminded him that he will be retiring in two years; his old office stove has been taken away; the new examining magistrate, Angelot, is breathing down his neck; and the Lachaumes are defensive and refuse to talk. It requires a great deal of his famed patience to discover the culprit. One of the most compelling Maigret outings.

Maigret’s Secret/Une Confidence de Maigret, 1959, translated by David Watson (also translated as Maigret Has Doubts)

Plot: A manufacturer of pharmaceutical products, Adrien Josset, is suspected of having killed his wife Christine. The couple did not get on very well, and Josset had a mistress. Despite the evidence against him, Maigret is convinced that Josset is innocent; however, he cannot find the real murderer and only discovers who it is too late.

Comments: Confiding in his friend Dr Pardon proves to be a mistake on Maigret’s part this time. There is an ideological stand here: the novel can be read as a firm statement against capital punishment. Maigret’s Secret is an examination of the ways in which justice works – or, more pertinently, sometimes fails to work – and of how an innocent man can lose everything when the machinery of justice breaks down.

Maigret in Court/Maigret aux Assises, 1960, translated by Ros Schwartz

Plot: Maigret has to give an account in court of an investigation conducted several months previously, concerning the murder of Léontine Faverges and Cécile, the young girl who lived with her. Certain clues and an anonymous accusation seem to indicate that Léontine’s nephew, Gaston Meurant, is responsible, but he is acquitted due to a lack of sufficient evidence. Maigret decides to pursue the investigation further and considers the role of Ginette, who married Meurant and has a background in the world of cabaret, and that of her present lover. The novel ends with a rather ironic twist.

Comments: Apart from the fascination of the story itself, the novel is provocative in its intelligent reflections on the processes of justice – and their limitations.

Maigret and the Old People/Maigret et les Vieillards, 1960, translated by Shaun Whiteside (also translated as Maigret in Society)

Plot: The old Count Armand de Saint-Hilaire is found dead, shot many times, in the study of his home near the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Maigret discovers that there had been a platonic relationship between the old count and Princess Isabelle, who has been recently widowed. They had planned to marry when she became free. In the meantime they had written to each other and observed each other occasionally from a distance. There seem to be no obvious suspects in the case, and the surly old housekeeper does not exactly help Maigret in his enquiries. When the truth finally comes to light, it is moving and sad.

Comments: Maigret feels considerable relief when this case is over. It is implied that the rarefied concept of love in this highly impressive novel seems almost unreal to him. In his collection of notes entitled When I Was Old (Quand J’Étais Vieux), Simenon wrote of this novel: ‘I think it’s the best of the Maigrets.’

Maigret and the Lazy Burglar/Maigret et le Voleur Paresseux, 1961, translated by Howard Curtis (also translated as Maigret and the Idle Burglar)

Plot: A burglar, Cuendet, is found dead in the Bois de Boulogne. The magistrates do not consider it an urgent case. Maigret, who is called in by another inspector, decides to focus on the victim’s personality and discovers that the burglar had committed a final crime just before his death. For embarrassing personal reasons, a cover-up became necessary.

Comments: Even though Maigret eventually discovers the truth, he fails to convince the examining magistrate, despite the existence of material evidence. Throughout the whole novel there is a slight sense of despair in the confrontation between the police and the justice system.

Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse/Maigret et les Braves Gens, 1962, translated by Ros Schwartz (also translated as Maigret and the Black Sheep)

Plot: René Josselin, a quiet retired man, is killed in his home by two bullets. His son-in-law, who had spent part of the evening with him, had left him alone. Maigret begins to suspect that the murderer is someone close to the old man, and so he investigates the situations of the widow, Francine, and his younger brother, who has led a dissolute life and has frequently pressed René for money. Maigret eventually discovers the criminal, to whom a rather rough justice is meted out.

Comments: An unusual novel in the Simenon canon reveals Maigret adopting a slightly different approach: rather than focusing on the psychology of the murderer, the detective seeks to discover the weak spot in the life of a middle-class family, with Simenon providing a cool examination of the French bourgeoisie.

Maigret and the Saturday Caller/Maigret et le Client du Samedi, 1962, translated by Siân Reynolds

Plot: The owner of a small decorating business, Léonard Planchon, a nervous man with a hare lip, tries to call on Maigret on a Saturday, to no avail. He finally tracks him down at his home and reveals that he plans to murder both his wife, Renée, and her lover, the foreman of the business. Maigret promises to help, but one day later Planchon disappears, and Maigret feels that Renée and her lover must know something. Then Maigret discovers a document that appears to be forged, and which provides a motive for murder.

Comments: It is Maigret’s sympathy for the victim that drives the investigation. As in so many cases, he comes up against the examining magistrate, who has little confidence in his methods. Not for the first time in Simenon’s work, there is a sense that the Maigret novels could be described as anti-Agatha Christie, in that they avoid such tropes as the final dramatic revelation of the guilty party. With Maigret, the natural order – in which justice is re-established – is allowed to take its time.

Maigret and the Tramp/Maigret et le Clochard, 1963, translated by Howard Curtis (also translated as Maigret and the Dosser and Maigret and the Bum)

Plot: Some boatmen on the Seine pull a badly injured tramp from the water. Maigret tries to find the owners of a red car that was observed near the scene, but this does not yield any leads. Subsequently, it turns out that the tramp used to be a doctor, but he had decided to get away from it all. When the man recovers, he tells Maigret that he witnessed a murder, which is why someone tried to kill him. There is an ironic twist when the murder victim is finally discovered.

Comments: The loss of status is an unusual theme in Simenon, but in many ways one of the most interesting aspects of this novel is the treatment of the doctor who becomes a tramp. The book also provides an intriguing example of the theme of flight, which characterises many of Simenon’s romans durs.

Maigret’s Anger/La Colère de Maigret, 1963, translated by William Hobson (also translated as Maigret Loses His Temper)

Plot: The owner of a cabaret, Émile Boulay, is found strangled. He seems to have been leading a normal family life, but Maigret discovers that he had recently withdrawn a large sum of money from his bank account and that he had encountered some shady dealings. For this knowledge he was silenced.

Comments: Given the moral compass of his character, it is perhaps no surprise that the reason Maigret loses his temper is that someone associates his name directly with a case of corruption.

Maigret and the Ghost/Maigret et le Fantôme, 1964, translated by Ros Schwartz (also translated as Maigret and the Apparition)

Plot: Maigret wakes to the news that the hapless Inspector Lognon has just escaped an attempt on his life. He had been conducting surveillance of a couple, Norris Jonker, an art collector, and his wife Mireille. A young beautician has also disappeared. The only clue that Maigret has is a single word that Lognon was able to utter as he was brought out of the operating room: ‘ghost’. Maigret eventually discovers that he is dealing with art forgers and attempted blackmail.

Comments: Maigret and the Ghost/Maigret et le Fantôme is not highly regarded by some connoisseurs, but the interest of a Simenon novel is always in the detail, which is as keenly observed here as ever, even if this isn’t vintage Simenon.

Maigret Defends Himself/Maigret Se Défend, 1964, translated by Howard Curtis (also translated as Maigret on the Defensive)

Plot: Maigret is awakened at night by a telephone call from Nicole Prieur, the daughter of a high government official. She is in a panic. After listening to her he settles her in a small hotel for the night. The next day he is summoned by the prefect of police because the young girl has accused him of attempting to seduce her. His job is on the line and he is suspended from duty. Maigret becomes suspicious of a dentist who knows the young woman and decides it is time he got his teeth checked! It turns out that his investigation of another crime is being given an inaccurate slant, and someone is trying to push him out.

Comments: Apart from being a rather unusual case, this novel also presents an intriguing portrait of a very intelligent murderer. Sexual abuse and accusations are a truly incendiary subject, with the appallingly low rate of rape convictions leading to such slogans as ‘Believe Women’, suggesting that accusations of harassment or assault should always be taken at face value, with the onus on the accused male to prove their innocence. Simenon, addressing the issue before it became so polarised, is able to offer a more balanced picture than might be acceptable today when a more Manichaean view of such issues holds sway.

Maigret’s Patience/La Patience de Maigret, 1965, translated by David Watson (also translated as The Patience of Maigret and Maigret Bides His Time)

Plot: An underworld contact of Maigret’s, Manuel Palmari, is found murdered. He had been tracked by the police for about 20 years, but they never managed to convict him. Maigret himself knew Palmari to be behind a string of jewel robberies but was never able to catch him. In the course of his investigation, Maigret questions all the inhabitants of the apartment block and discovers some interesting links between them, but not in time to prevent another death.

Comments: Maigret’s Patience/La Patience de Maigret is rightly considered a classic Maigret case, with rich and pointed descriptions of Paris.

Maigret and the Nahour Case/Maigret et l’Affaire Nahour, 1966, translated by William Hobson

Plot: Maigret is summoned in the middle of the night by his friend Dr Pardon, who has been looking after a woman who was lightly wounded by a gunshot as she was about to take a flight for Amsterdam. In the morning, a wealthy Lebanese gambler, Félix Nahour, is found murdered in a hotel room. Maigret discovers that the two cases are connected. The wounded woman, Lina, is Nahour’s wife, and she was trying to run off with her young lover. Nahour’s secretary, Fouad Ouéni, also seems to play a sinister role in the affair.

Comments: As with so many of the novels, the strength of this one lies in the psychological study of the murderer, one of the key attributes of Simenon as a writer.

Maigret’s Pickpocket/Le Voleur de Maigret, 1967, translated by Siân Reynolds (also translated as Maigret and the Pickpocket)

Plot: While travelling on a bus, Maigret has his wallet stolen, but the following day the pickpocket contacts him. He proves to be a journalist and would-be screenplay writer who is suspected of the murder of his wife and who wants Maigret to prove his innocence. Maigret mingles in the world of filmmakers, discovering that the wife had been the lover of a film director. He follows several false trails but arrives finally at the simple truth.

Comments: Many feel that Maigret’s Pickpocket/Le Voleur de Maigret is not one of the most accomplished entries in the series, but there is the customarily adroit characterisation to enjoy.

Maigret in Vichy/Maigret à Vichy, 1968, translated by Ros Schwartz (also translated as Maigret Takes the Waters)

Plot: While Maigret is taking the cure at Vichy, a middle-aged woman of independent means, Hélène Lange, is murdered. The local chief of police is an old acquaintance of Maigret and asks him to help solve the mystery. The woman’s sister tells them that Hélène had a lover but hides some facts about their background. Maigret uncovers a case of deception that goes back many years.

Comments: The atmosphere of the spa town is charmingly conjured in Maigret in Vichy/Maigret à Vichy, and Madame Maigret proves to be very helpful in solving the case.

Maigret Hesitates/Maigret Hésite, 1968, translated by Howard Curtis

Plot: Maigret is warned by an anonymous letter that a crime is going to be committed. When he investigates the household of the lawyer Parendon, nothing appears to be out of order, except that the couple do not get on very well. But three days later the lawyer’s secretary is found with her throat cut. Maigret reproaches himself for not being able to prevent the murder.

Comments: The memorable description of Paris in springtime is to be expected, but it’s the account of an unhappy love that registers here with genuine poignancy. If, perhaps, the accusation might be made that things are wrapped up in rather cursory fashion, a particular virtue of the novel is the fact that in Maigret Hesitates/Maigret Hésite, the detective is not presented as an always wise and perceptive observer of human nature – he is more adrift than usual when finding himself in a different stratum of the class system. The novel, too, is notably sharp in its depiction of the functioning of a household, drawing more general aperçus about the ways in which families work than might normally be expected in a crime novel.

Maigret’s Childhood Friend/L’Ami d’Enfance de Maigret, 1968, translated by Shaun Whiteside (also translated as Maigret’s Boyhood Friend)

Plot: A former school friend of Maigret, Léon Florentin, seeks the detective’s help: his mistress Josée has been murdered. Maigret discovers that she had four other gentleman friends who supported her financially, but that Florentin was her special lover. Although Florentin pretends to commit suicide and tells many lies, Maigret does not believe he is capable of murder. It seems, however, that he tried blackmailing one of Josée’s gentlemen.

Comments: Maigret is hampered rather than helped by the presence of someone he knows from his schooldays – someone he had never really liked very much. Standard issue Maigret, but as skilfully written as ever.

Maigret and the Killer/Maigret et le Tueur, 1969, translated by Shaun Whiteside

Plot: A young student, who hangs around seedy bars and has a passion for recording the conversations he hears, is murdered. An anonymous caller claims responsibility. Maigret tries to make contact and to persuade the person to come forward, but he finds he has a pathological killer on his hands.

Comments: As so often with Simenon, the backbone of the novel is its disturbing, and multifaceted, depiction of a pathological mind.

Maigret and the Wine Merchant/Maigret et le Marchand de Vin, 1970, translated by Ros Schwartz

Plot: One of the richest wine merchants in Paris, Oscar Chabut, is found dead outside an elegant house used for discreet sexual rendezvous. Maigret discovers that the man’s family is not particularly upset by their loss. The murder seems like an act of jealousy among rivals, but when Maigret investigates some of the reasons why Chabut was generally disliked, the identity of the killer becomes obvious.

Comments: The focus of the novel is on the psychology of humiliation, and how it can turn to anger and an act of revenge. Simenon handles the theme, of course, with assurance.

Maigret’s Madwoman/La Folle de Maigret, 1970, translated by Siân Reynolds (also translated as Maigret and the Madwoman)

Plot: An old woman, Léontine Antoine, is not taken seriously by the police when she complains that someone seems to be persecuting her. She is continually finding household items shifted around. But then she is found dead. Maigret can find no obvious clues, although there is evidence of a firearm having been in the house. Attention is focused on the old lady’s niece, Angèle, and her lover, who has connections with gangsters. A very unusual revolver is at the heart of the mystery.

Comments: Critics have long been divided about this novel: some find it lacks verisimilitude in its plotting, while the crime writer Edmund Crispin declared it ‘one of the very best of the recent Maigret stories’. Maigret’s Madwoman/La Folle de Maigret has, in fact, been notably lucky in its various translations, with the most recent by Siân Reynolds being one of the most nuanced and intelligent.

Maigret and the Loner/Maigret et l’Homme Tout Seul, 1971, translated by Howard Curtis

Plot: A tramp with well-manicured nails, Marcel Vivien, is killed in a derelict house in the Les Halles district of Paris. The man’s wife proves hostile to Maigret’s attempts to unravel the past of this former cabinetmaker. He discovers that the man had given up everything for the sake of a young girl called Nina, who then left him for a man called Mahossier. There then followed a chain of events that lasted over 20 years, resulting eventually in Vivien’s death.

Comments: As is the case in many other novels, Simenon was clearly more interested in the life of a man who gave up his ordinary existence for an ideal than in the resolution of the murder mystery.

Maigret and the Informer/Maigret et l’Indicateur, 1971, translated by William Hobson (also translated as Maigret and the Flea)

Plot: A restaurant owner in Montmartre, Maurice Marcia, with gangland connections, is murdered. Maigret has had his suspicions about him for a long time but has not been able to prove anything. He finally gets a tip-off from an informer, who is eventually identified as a former pimp. The information proves to be reliable.

Comments: Maigret and the Informer/Maigret et l’Indicateur is noteworthy for the introduction of a new character among the inspectors: a certain Inspector Louis, widowed, dressed in black and melancholy, but who knows his district well. In some ways it could be said that Maigret does not really solve the mystery: if it had not been for the informer, he might never have made any headway, but fallibility in his protagonist is a frequent Simenon ploy.

Maigret and Monsieur Charles/Maigret et Monsieur Charles, 1972, translated by Ros Schwartz

Plot: Rather belatedly, Nathalie Sabin-Levesque asks Maigret to find her husband, who has been missing for over a month. Maigret investigates the family situation and discovers that husband and wife did not get on at all well. The husband, Gérard, spent much of his free time in bars and cabarets, where he was well known and liked as ‘Monsieur Charles’ (‘a young man who would never grow old’). Meanwhile, his wife had become completely dependent on alcohol and was also deceiving her husband with a barman called Jo Fazio. Then Gérard’s body is fished out of the Seine. Gradually, Maigret unravels a sad story of two ruined lives.

Comments: The revelation of the truth in the novel is brought about not by deduction or even by interrogation but by Maigret putting his psychological insight to practical use and exerting pressure on the suspect to act rashly (rather like Inspector Porfiry and the killer Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment). This was to be not only the last of the Maigret series but also the final novel Simenon completed. After this, he devoted himself to dictating his memoirs. The book is a fitting and accomplished end to the Maigret series.

The Maigret Short Stories

The short stories featuring Maigret in earlier English editions have complex individual publication histories; the limited space here makes it unfeasible to trace them all. They were all originally published together in French, but without ‘La Pipe de Maigret’, in Les Nouvelles Enquêtes de Maigret in 1944. Most of them were written in 1936 and 1938. They did not appear together in English until their publication in the collection Maigret’s Pipe, without the story ‘Jeumont, 51 Minutes Wait!’, in the Harcourt/Harvest editions in the 1970s. The stories, which include some of his most interesting, are: ‘Death Penalty’ (‘Peine de Mort’); ‘Mr Monday’ (‘Monsieur Lundi’); ‘Jeumont, 51 Minutes Wait!’ (‘Jeumont, 51 Minutes d’Arrêt’); ‘The Open Window’ (‘La Fenêtre Ouverte’); ‘Madame Maigret’s Admirer’ (‘L’Amoureux de Madame Maigret’); ‘The Mysterious Affair in the Boulevard Beaumarchais’ (‘L’Affaire du Boulevard Beaumarchais’); ‘Two Bodies on a Barge’ (‘La Péniche aux Deux Pendus’); ‘Death of a Woodlander’ (‘Les Larmes de Bougie’); ‘In the Rue Pigalle’ (‘Rue Pigalle’); ‘Maigret’s Mistake’ (‘Un Erreur de Maigret’); ‘The Old Lady of Bayeux’ (‘La Vieille Dame de Bayeux’); ‘Stan the Killer’ (‘Stan le Tueur’); ‘The Drowned Men’s Inn’ (‘L’Auberge aux Noyés’); ‘At the Étoile du Nord’ (‘L’Étoile du Nord’); ‘Mademoiselle Berthe and her Lover’ (‘Mademoiselle Berthe et Son Amant’); ‘The Three Daughters of the Lawyer’ (‘Le Notaire de Châteauneuf’); and ‘Storm in the Channel’ (‘Tempête sur la Manche’).

Death Threats and Other Stories, translated by Ros Schwartz

Comments: Just when Simenon aficionados were adding to their shelves the last couple of volumes of Penguin’s very welcome new translations of all the Maigret novels, here comes a surprising and equally welcome codicil. Death Threats and Other Stories is a new selection of stories featuring Simenon’s doughty French copper, and the key selling point here is that three of the stories are being published in English for the very first time. The subjects include an internecine conflict in a Parisian family, a possible murder in a hotel in Cannes and an explosive three-way relationship in a bucolic Loire setting. With translations by the ever reliable Ros Schwartz, this is a collection to be cherished, and I was glad to see my old literary editor from the Independent, Boyd Tonkin, adduced to sell the collection. ‘Not just the world’s bestselling detective series,’ Boyd says, ‘but an imperishable literary legend… Maigret exposes secrets and crime not by forensic wizardry, but by the melded powers of therapist, philosopher and confessor.’ Trust Mr Tonkin to come up with such a penetrating aperçu for the appeal of Maigret. The volume includes: ‘The Improbable Mr Owen’ (‘L’Improbable M. Owen’, 1938), ‘The Men at the Grand Café’ (‘Ceux du Grand Café’, 1938), ‘The Man on the Streets’ (‘L’Homme dans la Rue’, 1940), ‘Candle Auction’ (‘Vente à la Bougie’, 1941) and ‘Death Threats’ (‘Menaces de Mort’, 1942).

The New Investigations of Inspector Maigret, translated by Howard Curtis and Ros Schwartz

Comments: These new translations had not appeared at the time of writing, so I asked translator Howard Curtis for his comments: ‘There were a whole bunch of Maigret short stories that first appeared in French periodicals from 1936 to 1939, some of which were collected in the 1944 volume Les Nouvelles Enquêtes de Maigret, two in Maigret et les Petits Cochons sans Queue in 1950, and the others uncollected. The translation by Ros Schwartz, which came out from Penguin in 2021 under the title Death Threats, contains three uncollected stories and the two from Maigret et les Petits Cochons sans Queue. Of the 17 stories in Les Nouvelles Enquêtes de Maigret, I’ve translated nine and I believe Ros Schwartz has translated the other eight. They are due to be published together by Penguin some time in 2022.’

Death of a Nobody/On Ne Tue Pas les Pauvres Types, 1947

Plot: A quiet and self-effacing man is killed in his own home. There seems no obvious reason for killing such a poor man, but Maigret discovers that he has been leading a double life.

Comments: The notion of leading a double life is a theme that recurs again and again in Simenon’s works, and notably figures in the best of the romans durs.

Maigret’s Pipe/La Pipe de Maigret, 1947

Plot: Madame Leroy seeks Maigret’s help when she discovers that someone is searching her house when she is away. The following night her son Joseph disappears at the very same time as Maigret’s pipe! Maigret discovers that Joseph has links with a crook who is looking for something in the house.

Comments: This pithy short story is not without humour. Needless to say, Maigret solves the crime… and gets back that celebrated pipe.

Maigret and the Surly Inspector/Maigret et l’Inspecteur Malchanceux, 1947 (also published as Maigret et l’Inspecteur Malgracieux)

Plot: A message comes through on a public emergency telephone. Someone shouts ‘Merde to the cops!’ and then there is a shot. A body is subsequently discovered near the Rue Caulaincourt. When Maigret arrives on the scene, he is handed the dead man’s wallet, which reveals that the victim is a 38-year-old diamond broker. Inspector Lognon hopes the case might help him make a mark, but Maigret is always hovering in the background. When the mystery is unravelled as an insurance fraud, Maigret does his best to give Lognon the credit and invites him to dinner. But Lognon remains surly to the last.

Comments: The story is memorable for the introduction of Inspector Lognon, who also appears in six Maigret novels. He is nicknamed ‘malchanceux’ (unlucky) because he never seems to get any good cases that would help him gain promotion. His colleagues also describe him as ‘malgracieux’ (clumsy or ungainly) because of his dour and sombre manner. On its original publication in French, this short story was included together with three others: ‘The Evidence of the Altar-Boy’ (‘Le Témoinage de l’Enfant de Choeur’); ‘The Most Obstinate Customer in the World’ (‘Le Client le Plus Obstiné du Monde’); and ‘Death of a Nobody’ (‘On Ne Tue Pas les Pauvres Gens’). Their English translations have complex individual publication histories, but they were first published together in English with five other Maigret stories in the volume entitled Maigret’s Christmas.

A Maigret Christmas/Un Noël de Maigret, 1951, translated by David Coward (also translated as Maigret’s Christmas)

Plot: A young girl, Colette Martin, living near the Maigrets, tells her neighbour that she saw Santa Claus in her room on Christ-mas Eve. Her Aunt Loraine follows the neighbour’s suggestion and asks Maigret’s advice. He discovers that the ‘Santa Claus’ in question was in fact a murderer with an ulterior motive. And Aunt Loraine proves not to be as innocent as she may look.

Comments: An intriguing little tale set in and around Maigret’s apartment. The volume Un Noël de Maigret originally contained this story and two others.

The Romans Durs

The term ‘roman dur’, which was used by Simenon himself to refer to all those novels that he regarded as his specifically literary works, is difficult to render precisely in English. This is because its meaning in French is also not precise. Simply calling them Simenon’s ‘serious’ novels is clearly inadequate, because it suggests that there must be something ‘unserious’ about the Maigret novels – which is demonstrably not the case. The word ‘roman’ translates easily enough as ‘novel’, but of the various possible meanings of ‘dur’ (‘hard’, ‘tough’, ‘heavy’, ‘hard-going’, ‘harrowing’, etc.), one term alone is not suitable to describe all the Simenon novels. What the author was probably trying to suggest is that these novels reflect disturbing aspects of life in a frank and unflinching way. As he was using a term that he had coined, it seems wisest to retain the French expression. There are precedents enough in the field of appreciation of the arts (‘film noir’, ‘art nouveau’, ‘montage’, etc.). So ‘roman dur’ it is.

As with the Maigret novels, I have used the recent Penguin translations where they exist and have included the names of Penguin’s translators. For older translations, however, finding precise details is more tricky and translators have not always been credited in the past – and it should be noted again that older translators such as Sainsbury were not necessarily always faithful to the originals. In any case, I apologise in advance to any translators for not mentioning them in all instances. As well as the titles listed below, there are also several romans durs as yet untranslated into English.

The Man from Everywhere/Le Relais d’Alsace, 1931, translated by Stuart Gilbert

Plot: In a quiet Alsatian village a crime is committed for which a notorious international criminal known as ‘The Commodore’ is thought to be responsible. He was hoping to find anonymity in this out-of-the-way setting, but he cannot escape his former identity. Monsieur Labbé of the Paris Sûreté arrives, but he finds he is no real match for the master criminal.

Comments: This was in fact the first novel without the character of Maigret that was written under Simenon’s real name. It is regarded by many as a classic, and a key demonstration of the author’s considerable reach. It was two years after Maigret’s initial appearance that Simenon wrote The Man from Everywhere/Le Relais d’Alsace, and his mastery of the vagaries of human psychology was already apparent.

The Mystery of the Polarlys/Le Passager du Polarlys, 1932

Plot: The story takes place on board a thousand-ton steamer, the Polarlys, which travels between Hamburg and Kirkenes in Norway. The voyage begins with the mysterious murder of a young Parisian woman, Marie Baron, and as the voyage progresses amid northern blizzards, the Norwegian captain feels that the evil eye is on his ship.

Comments: Although Maigret is not present, many have felt that The Mystery of the Polarlys/Le Passager du Polarlys has many of the rigorous characteristics of a Maigret novel.

The House by the Canal/La Maison du Canal, 1933

Plot: The story takes place in the small village of Neeroeteren in Belgium, near the border with Holland, in the province of Limburg. A young orphan girl goes to live with her cousins in the village. While one of the cousins is trying to embrace the girl he accidentally kills a young boy. Two other tragic incidents follow.

Comments: This novel has a distinctly personal feel, perhaps due to the fact that it takes place in Simenon’s mother’s birthplace, an element that clearly energised the writer. The inner life of the troubled heroine is sensitively handled, while the emotional brutality of other characters registers with genuine force.

Mr Hire’s Engagement/Les Fiançailles de M. Hire, 1933, translated by Shaun Whiteside

Plot: A young woman has been found murdered in the Villejuif area of Paris, and the police soon suspect a man who lives alone not far from the scene of the crime. This is Monsieur Hire, who has already been in prison on a vice charge and has made a living in various dubious ways. He spies on a young woman in the room opposite and gradually develops strong feelings for her. He also discovers that the real murderer is none other than the girl’s boyfriend. He dreams of marrying her and escaping to Switzerland, but the novel ends tragically.

Comments: A brilliantly conceived and written novel, told from the perspective of its protagonist. The evocations of Parisian streets and bars are powerfully but economically realised through details of sounds, light and smells.

Tropic Moon/Le Coup de Lune, 1933, translated by Marc Romano/Stuart Gilbert

Plot: The novel takes place in Libreville, French Equatorial Africa (Gabon). A mild young man, Joseph Timar, who is new to the continent, gets involved with Adèle, who has a dubious past. She is a ruthless but good-hearted woman; she has, however, killed a young black man.

Comments: There is a critique in Tropic Moon/Le Coup de Lune of French colonialist rule folded into the standard plot – specifically of the state’s willingness to twist the facts to defend itself. The issues are handled with intelligence and assurance but are not allowed to overwhelm the exigencies of the plotting.

The People Opposite/Les Gens d’en Face, 1933, translated by Siân Reynolds (also translated as The Window Over the Way)

Plot: Adil Bey has been assigned as Turkish Consul in Batumi, Georgia – part of the USSR. He finds himself in a sparsely furnished apartment and in a job made impossible by Soviet bureaucracy. No one will tell him how his predecessor died. Turkey’s status in world affairs leaves him the subject of mockery from both locals and other ex-pats. He takes solace in his secretary Sonia, who lives with her sister and her husband (a member of the secret police) in the flat opposite his own.

Comments: This is a bleak psychological study humming with suspicion and disquiet, a searing account of the Soviet state, highlighting the fear, suspicion and alienation that ultimately allowed the USSR to control its people. The People Opposite/Les Gens d’en Face is an exceptional tale of betrayal set in Soviet Georgia. It is Simenon’s most starkly political work – and the political context at the time of writing makes this an important read, this novel reminding the reader of some of the reasons why former Soviet countries want to fight for their independence. Simenon’s background as a journalist undoubtably helps him set the scene of this novel with expert precision. He writes in the introduction that Adil Bey was partly inspired by a consul he met in northern Russia, and that the events were based to some extent on fact. As Simenon writes: ‘I have written a novel. Batumi is a real place. The people are real. The story is real. Or rather, every detail is real, but the whole thing is invented. No, every detail is invented and the whole thing is real.’

The Night Club/L’Âne Rouge, 1933, translated by Jean Stewart

Plot: Set in Nantes, the novel focuses on life in a nightclub called ‘L’Âne Rouge’ (The Red Donkey). A young journalist, Jean Cholet, hangs around there among second-rate artists and gets to know a young woman called Lulu, who sings in the club. He drinks to forget his restrictive family life; he has a mother who is always complaining and a father whom he regards as a failure. But when his father suddenly dies, it provokes an unexpected crisis in his life.

Comments: This novel reveals various themes in Simenon’s own life, with many aspects autobiographical. This is especially true of the character of the young journalist, who is fascinated by the seedy aspects of life and who has a weak mother and a father who dies unexpectedly. The story, however, is set in Nantes rather than Liège.

The Woman of the Grey House/Le Haut Mal, 1933

Plot: Germaine Pontreau has her heart set on owning the property that has just been inherited by her son-in-law, Jean Nalliers. She has decided to get rid of him; she regards him as just a nobody, and pushes him from a window on their farm. She then covers up the crime as an accident, which she is able to do convincingly because Jean suffered from epilepsy (‘le haut mal’ of the French title). Suspicions, however, are aroused.

Comments: This novel is part murder mystery and part a study in criminal psychology.

The Man from London/L’Homme de Londres, 1934, translated by Howard Curtis (also translated as Newhaven–Dieppe)

Plot: Louis Maloin is signalman at Dieppe harbour station. From his signal box he can watch both the trawlers out at sea and the movements of people in the town. One evening he witnesses a murder take place directly below him on the quayside. He goes to investigate and manages to get hold of the suitcase that the murderer has stolen from his victim. It is full of money. From that moment on he is involved, and it will lead him to violence.

Comments: Admirers enthusiastically acknowledge The Man from London/L’Homme de Londres as classic Simenon, with its creative use of the port atmosphere and the Newhaven–Dieppe ferry, even if it is not quite as accomplished as such romans durs as The Blue Room/La Chambre Bleue. Crime was his métier, but Simenon was personally proud of his romans durs, which he considered to be more significant and more philosophical than the Maigret novels.

The Lodger/Le Locataire, 1934

Plot: A Turkish tobacco exporter, Élie Nagéar, is travelling to Brussels. During the voyage he becomes the lover of a young woman, Sylvie Baron, who has been working in a cabaret in Cairo. In Brussels his business does not do at all well and he kills a rich Dutchman and robs him. He then goes to join Sylvie and her mother at Charleroi. The mother finds out what Élie has done and cannot understand how a man like him could have resorted to murder.

Comments: As so often, the psychological study of the murderer is the main focus of this novel.

One Way Out/Les Suicidés, 1934

Plot: The novel recounts the story of a young bank clerk and his 17-year-old girlfriend, who cannot get married because of his poor financial situation. The girl’s father is very hostile towards him, and this provokes him to set fire to the man’s house. The couple flee to Paris, but more disasters follow, and they feel that the only true escape for them is suicide (as, indeed, the original French title made clear from the start).

Comments: One of the bleak, unsparing Simenon novels that truly merit the term roman dur.

The Pitards/Les Pitard, 1935, translated by David Bellos (also translated as A Wife at Sea)

Plot: The captain and owner of the freighter Le Tonnerre de Dieu (meaning, rather dramatically, ‘God’s Thunder’) is setting out on his first voyage in the newly acquired vessel. Commander Lannec has bought it with money provided by his wife and mother-in-law. They are making their way from Rouen to Reykjavik. His wife Mathilde (whose maiden name is Pitard) has insisted on being on board, but she has a rather abrasive manner and in the narrow confines of the ship this soon leads to tension between them. The weather gets bad and Lannec cannot stand the way his wife treats him any more. To make things worse, his wife accuses him of just marrying her to get the Pitards’ money. This all leads to a tragic conclusion.

Comments: Simenon here uses many of his own experiences of seafaring in these northern waters.

The Disintegration of J. P. G./L’Évadé, 1936, translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury

Plot: A German teacher in a school in La Rochelle suddenly starts behaving oddly and worries those around him. Just recently he has started to spend a lot of time in cafés with a young manicurist from a local hairdresser’s. It turns out that Guillaume is an ex-convict who was arrested for murder and that the girl, Mado, is a prostitute who helped him to escape from Guiana. The teacher is completely distraught and fears discovery by the police. He also feels he could not cope with the family crisis that would ensue if the truth came out. He seeks to avoid the situation by fleeing to Paris.

Comments: It is something of a pity that The Disintegration of J. P. G./L’Évadé has not been more readily available, as it treats with rigour the theme of an extreme state of mind, which Simenon anatomised very successfully in some of his most acclaimed novels. The ethos of the crime novel – Simenon’s other discipline – pervades the book to its advantage.

The Long Exile/Long Cours, 1936, translated by Eileen Ellenbogen

Plot: A young woman, Charlotte Godebieu, has killed her former lover and employer and decides to flee with a friend, Joseph Mittel, to South America. They get a passage on board a freighter used by smugglers. The long journey is difficult, especially for Joseph, who has been relegated to the boiler room. But Charlotte soon manages to improve her status by becoming the captain’s mistress. Captain Mopps leaves them both to their fate in Colombia, where they have to survive among the indigenous population. To add to their concerns, Charlotte discovers she is pregnant. A change comes in their lives with the arrival of a letter from Captain Mopps, but it is not all to be for the good.

Comments: An involving – if unambitious – read, with a plot reminiscent of some of the popular novels that Simenon used to churn out before Maigret made him famous.

The Breton Sisters/Les Demoiselles de Concarneau, 1936, translated by Stuart Gilbert

Plot: A rich fisherman, Jules Guérec, driving home after enjoying himself in a nearby town, knocks down a little boy, who subsequently dies. He flees the scene of the accident and is too afraid to tell the police or admit it to his two sisters. Torn by guilt, he attempts to help the boy’s family financially without telling the mother that he was responsible. Eventually, he even thinks of marrying the mother but comes up against the opposition of his two sisters, one of whom guesses the truth about what happened and tells the boy’s mother. Guérec can no longer cope with the strain.

Comments: The novel deals intelligently with a theme to be found in several other Simenon novels: the results of attempting to avoid responsibility for a crime.

Aboard the Aquitaine/45° à l’Ombre, 1936, translated by Paul Auster and Lydia Davis

Plot: The novel takes place on board the liner L’Aquitaine, which plies between the Congo and Bordeaux. Dr Donadieu is the resident doctor on board and enjoys observing the lives of the passengers who make up a microcosm of colonial society. There is no real plot as such in this novel, which consists of a series of incidents, such as a child’s illness, the behaviour of one of the officers, and an affair between a steward and a passenger.

Comments: The main interest of Aboard the Aquitaine/45° à l’Ombre lies in its depiction of the decline of French colonial society, seen from the point of view of the doctor. The novel is the final entry in the author’s trio of African works (the other two are Talatala and Tropic Moon), and even for an author as economical as Simenon, it’s clearly an exercise in focused concision. It is really no more than a novella, and its setting – entirely confined to the voyage of the steamer, making its way back to France from various colonial ports of call along Africa’s west coast – suggests that Simenon wrote the whole thing in the space of a single similar voyage of his own. Also commendable is the avoidance of dramatic incident for its own sake; the low-key narrative here pays dividends for the reader prepared to concentrate and winkle out the book’s hidden gems. Nothing much happens on the voyage, but this tale of a ship’s doctor who can’t help caring deeply about his transient patients manages to root about in more dark nooks and crannies of human nature than many works ten times its length.

The Shadow Falls/Le Testament Donadieu, 1937, translated by Stuart Gilbert

Plot: The novel plots the decline and break-up of a family after the death of the old ship owner, Oscar Donadieu (no relation to the doctor of the same name in the previous novel, Aboard the Aquitaine). His body is found in a pool in the port of La Rochelle, and murder is not ruled out. His four children and wife are surprised by the terms of his will: none of them will inherit anything until the last of them comes of age. So from then on the various family members fight for control of the family business. The family begins to disintegrate under a sequence of scandals, malpractices and attempts to settle scores. At the end, the youngest child, named after the old man but known to all as Kiki, and who has been in the background all along, returns. He has rejected everything that the family stands for.

Comments: This is one of Simenon’s longest novels, and one of the few in which he endeavours to depict a whole range of characters with equal intensity. Characters who initially appear to be secondary come into their own eventually in the narrative. His sense of atmosphere and place never fails him, and if at times the behaviour of some members of the central family borders on farce, it is the absurdity of the ‘human comedy’ that is being depicted, which is why perhaps this novel, more than any other of his works, has often been compared to the work of Balzac – and there are also echoes of Flaubert.

The Murderer/L’Assassin, 1937

Plot: A 45-year-old doctor in the Dutch town of Sneek decides to murder his wife and her lover, a lawyer, and then commit suicide. He manages to kill the couple but not himself. He starts rumours that the couple have run off together and then quite openly conducts an affair with his servant, Neel. But when the bodies are discovered, suspicion naturally falls on him. There is, however, no real evidence against him. As time goes by, the servant takes the place of his wife and the local inhabitants avoid him. The doctor has to face the emptiness of his life.

Comments: The Murderer/L’Assassin is utterly compelling and represents Simenon at his most accomplished. The reader sees everything from the point of view of the murderer – a strategy that Simenon pulls off with some panache.

Talatala/Le Blanc à Lunettes, 1937, translated by Stuart Gilbert

Plot: A French coffee planter, Ferdinand Graux, nicknamed by the natives ‘Talatala’ (‘the white man with the spectacles’), owns a plantation in the Belgian Congo. He has been leading a quiet solitary life until one day a private aeroplane is forced to make a landing nearby. The wife of an English diplomat, a certain Lady Makinson, is on board, and he falls in love with her, abandoning completely his fiancée back in France. The scene changes to Istanbul, but the novel ends back in the Congo again.

Comments: Unusually for Simenon, the novel deals with a clash between passion and reason, ending with an unpredictable resolution.

Home Town/Faubourg, 1937, translated by Stuart Gilbert

Plot: After an absence of 24 years, René de Ritter, who has had various dealings with the underworld, returns to his home town in the company of Léa, a prostitute. At first he does not reveal his identity, but he soon starts visiting members of his family and other acquaintances to try to squeeze money out of them. He even marries a woman he had known formerly, while the prostitute has an affair with a hotel owner. This casual lifestyle is doomed to end in tragedy.

Comments: With considerable aplomb, the novel blends straight narration with flashbacks in cinematic style. And – speaking of cinema – Home Town/Faubourg was a particular favourite of the French Nouvelle Vague director Claude Chabrol, whose dyspeptic world view and anatomisation of the French bourgeoisie echoed similar preoccupations on the part of the novelist. (Chabrol once remarked: ‘My readings? I read all of Simenon, and when I’m done, I start all over again.’)

Blind Path/Chemin sans Issue, 1938, translated by Stuart Gilbert

Plot: Two young white Russians have a close friendship dating back to the October Revolution. One day one of them is attracted to a woman, which leads to the break-up of their friendship.

Comments: The focus is on the friendship of the two protagonists. The final scene, in a night shelter in Warsaw, between Vladimir and the young man whom he has betrayed, is very impressively realised.

The Survivors/Les Rescapés du Télémaque, 1938, translated by Stuart Gilbert

Plot: Pierre and Charles Canut are the sons of a sailor who died in a shipwreck many years before. The last survivor of the incident is murdered, and it seems that Pierre, a popular local captain of a trawler, will be charged with committing the crime. Charles decides to try to discover the identity of the real murderer.

Comments: The style here is often reminiscent of a Maigret mystery, although the master investigator is conspicuously absent. There is a surrogate sleuth in the person of the sometimes successful, sometimes maladroit Charles, who finds himself investigating several suspects, including the dead man’s alienated wife and more recent romantic entanglements. Charles is a nicely drawn character, and Simenon is as sure-footed as ever in his treatment of the uninspiring small-town milieu.

The Green Thermos/Le Suspect, 1938, translated by Stuart Gilbert

Plot: A moderate anarchist, Pierre Chave, tries to persuade a younger friend to give up his plan to blow up an aircraft factory at Courbevoie.

Comments: Terrorism is not a common theme in Simenon’s writings, but he manages to brilliantly conjure the interaction of contemporary anarchist circles in Paris. There are pre-echoes here of the Swedish duo who virtually forged the Nordic noir literary movement in the Scandinavian countries, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – specifically their novel The Terrorists.

Poisoned Relations/Les Sœurs Lacroix, 1938, translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury

Plot: Two sisters, Mathilde and Léopoldine (Poldine) Lacroix, live together in a house in Bayeux. One is married and the other is a widow, but they both love the same man, the husband of Mathilde. The atmosphere of the household is full of hatred and mistrust, and the children live in a constant state of fear. It does not come as a surprise to read that someone has discovered arsenic in the soup.

Comments: A harrowing story with scarcely a single likeable character, but which draws the reader on by a compulsive need to know what is going to happen.

Banana Tourist/Touriste de Bananes, 1938, translated by Stuart Gilbert

Plot: This novel is in fact a sequel to The Shadow Falls. Young Oscar Donadieu (known as Kiki in the first novel) is on his way to Tahiti, after rejecting all that his dead father stood for. He lives in a remote, abandoned hut on the island with a Tahitian prostitute, Tamatéa. He becomes revolted by the life of the colonial community in Tahiti, and gradually becomes disillusioned too with his own attempt to return to nature.

Comments: This is the only novel that Simenon ever wrote as a sequel (apart, perhaps, from some of the Maigret titles). One could argue that the title says it all: ‘banana tourist’ was the nickname the local people gave to those idealists who came to Tahiti in search of a simple life close to nature. The story only reinforces the pessimism of the original The Shadow Falls, and, as so often with Simenon, societal comments find their way into the narrative.

Monsieur La Souris/Monsieur La Souris, 1938 (also translated as The Mouse)

Plot: A tramp nicknamed ‘Monsieur La Souris’ (literally ‘Mr Mouse’) finds a sum of money near a corpse and hands it over to the police, without giving any further details of how he found it. He hopes that he will get the money back if it is not claimed.

Comments: The story is pure Maigret in spirit – in fact, it even features two of Maigret’s inspectors, Lognon and Lucas. The outcome is unique among Simenon’s works, the writer’s move away from his signature character having the effect of energising his work.

Chit of a Girl/La Marie du Port, 1938, translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury (also translated as Girl in Waiting)

Plot: Marie Le Flem is the 17-year-old daughter of a fisherman who has just died in Port-en-Bessin. She gets a job as a waitress in a local café. She is generally bad-tempered, but shrewd and determined to get what she wants. Her older sister, Odile, is more good-natured and has a lover, Chatelard, who owns the café as well as a local cinema in Cherbourg. He believes he can easily win Marie’s affections too, but she is coolly indifferent to him. He teases and taunts her, all to no avail. Complications ensue when Marcel, a new admirer of both girls, arrives on the scene.

Comments: The novel is attractive for the rich description of a fishing port, for which Simenon is so famous.

The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By/L’Homme qui Regardait Passer les Trains, 1938, translated by Siân Reynolds

Plot: The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By shows a man who is very much involved in society, a respectable family man, until the shipping firm where he is managing clerk collapses just before Christmas. A barrier falls in Popinga’s mind and there emerges a calculating paranoiac, capable of random acts of violence, capable even of murder. As he feels himself drawn to Paris on Christmas Eve he enters into a disturbing game of cat and mouse with the law. Rushing towards his own extinction, he is determined to be recognised, for the world to appreciate his criminal genius.

Comments: Simenon’s early thrillers show the sophistication and themes that made him famous. His characters are shrewdly accurate portraits of ordinary people and how they can be driven to extraordinary behaviour. Simenon’s psychological portrayals of loneliness, guilt and innocence are at once acute and unsettling. Here, the psychological progression from a kind of normalcy to a bizarrely heightened consciousness in the unlucky protagonist is handled in the most authoritative of fashions.

The White Horse Inn/Le Cheval-Blanc, 1938

Plot: The Arbelet family stays at the White Horse Inn in Pouilly and discovers that an old night watchman is an uncle of Madame Arbelet.

Comments: Not vintage Simenon. The novel’s main interest is found in its depiction of the local culture.

Three Crimes/Les Trois Crimes de Mes Amis, 1938, translated by David Carter

Plot: In 1922, impoverished art student Joseph Kleine is residing in the student quarter of Liège. When his corpse is found attached to the handle of a church door, it transpires that the night before he had been drinking with Georges Simenon. (The author was then working on the Gazette de Liège as a junior reporter, writing daily reports on incidents logged in local police stations.) What follows is as strange as anything in Simenon’s actual fiction.

Comments: This was written in Paris in January 1937 and is included in this section as it is routinely categorised as a novel, but in reality it is a memoir, an autobiographical fragment in which Simenon even uses the real names of the people involved. The title Three Crimes is inaccurate: there were five crimes, murders committed by someone Simenon knew. Despite the interest here, Simenon had not yet mastered the autobiographical skills he was later to perfect, and the fragmentary nature of the book will not be to every taste.

The Krull House/Chez Krull, 1939, translated by Howard Curtis

Plot: A German cousin of the Krull family, Hans, arrives at the family home, which is above the family’s grocery business. Hans seduces the young daughter of the family and is suspected by the community of having killed a girl whose corpse is found in the canal, but suspicion soon passes to his studious cousin Joseph.

Comments: A disturbing portrait of a family who are insecure because of their essential foreignness. Hans unsettles them all even more, and they clearly all want him to leave. The theme here of the scapegoat has broader cultural and social implications in this Simenon novel that is worth seeking out among the non-Maigret entries.

The Burgomaster of Furnes/Le Bourgmestre de Furnes, 1939, translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury

Plot: The burgomaster of Furnes, Joris Terlinck, is a strong, authoritarian figure. A young man, to whom he refused to give any money, commits suicide. The many ordeals he goes through do not soften or humanise him: his wife is very ill and dies; his daughter suffers from a mental illness and is finally sent to a mental hospital; and the local council is firmly opposed to him. But he does not yield.

Comments: The Burgomaster of Furnes/Le Bourgmestre de Furnes is a fascinating psychological study, not readily available for some considerable time.

The Family Lie/Malempin, 1940

Plot: Dr Malempin, who works in Paris, is preparing to leave on his holidays, but discovers that his son is suffering an attack of diphtheria. While watching over his son during his illness, the doctor recalls his own past and especially his relationship with his own father.

Comments: A warm and affectionate study, rare for Simenon.

The Strangers in the House/Les Inconnus dans la Maison, 1940, translated by Howard Curtis (also translated as Stranger in the House)

Plot: A former lawyer, Hector Loursat, has shut himself away from the world in a large house, where he spends his time getting drunk. One evening he hears a gunshot and finds a corpse in his attic. He learns from the examining magistrate that his daughter Nicole and her friend Émile Manu are somehow involved in the death of this stranger, who appears to be a criminal. When Émile is arrested, Loursat decides to take on his defence and makes a brilliant speech defending the younger generation and pointing out the parents’ responsibility for their children.

Comments: A deservedly well-known novel, which deals with some important themes and includes a psychological study of alcoholism and the nature of parental responsibility. Of the non-Maigret books, The Strangers in the House/Les Inconnus dans la Maison is perhaps a work to be recommended to those unwilling to tackle Simenon’s prodigious body of work in its entirety but who are seeking a representative novel.

Justice/Cour d’Assises, 1941, translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury

Plot: Petit Louis leads a life of petty crime. His speciality is conducting affairs with lonely, middle-aged women. He also gets involved in a gang’s robbery of a post office. At the time of the story he is living with a mature wealthy woman and a young prostitute. But the girl’s ‘protector’ comes out of prison, and Louis returns home to find the middle-aged woman murdered. In a panic he gets rid of the body, but the police are soon on his trail.

Comments: The processes of justice and the nature of guilt are adroitly handled central themes. A legal trial forms an important part of the novel.

The Country Doctor/Bergelon, 1941 (also translated as The Delivery)

Plot: Élie Bergelon is a local doctor of no particular talent. One day he accepts an offer made by a certain Dr Mandalin and passes some of his patients on to Mandalin. But a woman giving birth and her child die because Mandalin is drunk. The husband of the woman threatens to kill Bergelon, who then takes flight through France and Belgium.

Comments: The novel features the familiar Simenon themes of disappointment with life and attempts to escape from an unbearable reality.

The Outlaw/L’Outlaw, 1941, translated by Howard Curtis

Plot: Two refugees from Central Europe, Stan and Nouchi, are desperately looking for work in Paris. Stan hits upon the idea of tipping off the police about a Polish gang of criminals in order to get the reward, but it does not work. Despair finally drives Stan to murder.

Comments: Possibly dispiriting in its effect, this is the story of an individual’s rather sad and hopeless plight. It does, however, demonstrate the author’s clear sympathy for those who life has treated badly and whose futures are bleak.

Black Rain/Il Pleut Bergère…, 1941, translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury

Plot: Jérôme Lecoeur recalls his childhood in a small village in Normandy at the end of the nineteenth century, telling the story of his family and the search for an anarchist.

Comments: Told in the first person, some have found similarities between Black Rain/Il Pleut Bergère… and the autobiographical novel Pedigree, although the presentation of the protagonist’s consciousness is subtly different.

Strange Inheritance/Le Voyageur de la Toussaint, 1941, translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury

Plot: The young Gilles Mauvoisin returns to La Rochelle on the eve of All Saints Day (Toussaint) after the recent accidental death of his parents. He inherits his uncle’s business but is disgusted to discover all the scheming that has been going on in the family. He decides to escape abroad with Colette, the young widow of his uncle.

Comments: Strange Inheritance/Le Voyageur de la Toussaint, is close in theme, treatment and setting to The Shadow Falls. The central character, Gilles, is comparable to Kiki in that novel. The writer Graeme Macrae Burnet – who has told me of his love for Simenon’s work – has an ambiguous attitude to this novel. He said: ‘Any one of the multiple plot lines would more than suffice for an entire Simenon novel, yet they are all part of the tapestry of Strange Inheritance. The cast of characters, too, is larger than in most of Simenon’s books, but bigger is not necessarily better. Which is not to say that Strange Inheritance is a bad book – it isn’t – but while it is about 25 per cent longer than the average roman dur, the extra length still isn’t sufficient to adequately explore the various narrative strands. It has the feel of a sprawling family saga, but not the stamina. It’s as if Simenon wanted to break free of his single character study formula, but not of his punishing 11-day writing schedule. But there’s still plenty of good stuff here.’

Ticket of Leave/La Veuve Couderc, 1942 (also translated as The Widow), translated by John Petrie

Plot: Jean has been released from prison after serving five years for murder. He gets a job as a farmhand with a widow called Madame Couderc, who is known as Tati. She lives together with her old father-in-law who lets her run the farm in return for sexual favours. Jean also becomes her lover but is soon attracted to a young girl living nearby, Félicie. Uncontrollable jealousy and violence erupt.

Comments: André Gide compared the novel to Camus’ influential L’Étranger, as Jean is also a man who can never overcome his strangeness in the community. The book is indeed a stunning accomplishment, not least for its vivid descriptions of country life and atmosphere. One has the feeling that not a single word is superfluous.

Young Cardinaud/Le Fils Cardinaud, 1942, translated by Richard Brain

Plot: Hubert Cardinaud returns to his house one Sunday after church to find that his wife Marthe has left him, taking the housekeeping money with her, but leaving their two children in his care. Cardinaud sets out to find her, and discovers that she has gone off with a rather disreputable individual.

Comments: Yet another novel about flight, but this time from the point of view of the person left behind. A central theme is also the problem of human communication.

The Trial of Bébé Donge/La Vérité sur Bébé Donge, 1942 (also translated as I Take This Woman), translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury

Plot: Madame Donge, who is known by the nickname Bébé, tries to poison her husband, François, with arsenic while they are staying in their country house. But the husband recovers and she is arrested for attempted murder. The husband tries to understand his wife’s behaviour and reflects on their life together. Meanwhile, Bébé is put on trial.

Comments: The Trial of Bébé Donge/La Vérité sur Bébé Donge is an unusual novel in that the crime leads to better understanding between the victim and his would-be murderer. Perhaps this aspect is one of the reasons why this novel was re-published in 1999 in France in a special edition designed for secondary school pupils, with extensive critical commentaries. Read Simenon to become a better human being?

Uncle Charles/Oncle Charles S’Est Enfermé, 1942, translated by Howard Curtis

Plot: Returning home, bookkeeper Charles Dupenn locks himself in his attic and ignores his wife and his grown-up daughters, who try to ascertain the reasons for his behaviour. His bullying brother-in-law Henri Dionnet, who runs a wholesale grocery business in Rouen, may offer a clue to Charles’ behaviour.

Comments: Masterfully constructed (as so often with Simenon), this is a cogent demonstration of how few good deeds go unpunished in life. Characterisation is economical but drawn with great skill.

The Gendarme’s Report/Le Rapport du Gendarme, 1944, translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury

Plot: A man is found badly wounded on a farm near Fontenay-le-Comte. He has also lost his memory. He knows he is there to seek out the Roy family, but does not know why. The local policeman gradually discovers some secrets about the family, which leads to acts of violence.

Comments: The Gendarme’s Report/Le Rapport du Gendarme is a familiar, but satisfying, mixture of police investigation and psychological insight – a familiar combination in Simenon’s work, but nearly always a sure-fire one.

Across the Street/La Fenêtre des Rouet, 1945, translated by John Petrie

Plot: An ageing spinster called Dominique has nothing better to do than spend her time watching what her neighbours are up to. One day she sees her neighbour Antoinette Rouet deliberately leave her husband in agony, when he is clearly suffering a heart attack. The young widow wastes no time in acquiring various lovers, and Dominique witnesses everything that is going on. But the whole affair makes Dominique acutely aware of the failure of her own life and leads to tragic consequences.

Comments: A sensitive study of a failed life – a theme that clearly attracted Simenon, who was always ready to examine the darker undercurrents of an individual’s life, aware of what he perceived as such character failings beneath his own success.

Monsieur Monde Vanishes/La Fuite de Monsieur Monde, 1945, translated by Jean Stewart

Plot: On his forty-eighth birthday, Norbert Monde, head of a well-respected firm in Paris founded in 1843 by his grandfather, married twice, decides to give it all up and disappears with quite a large sum of money. He starts a new life in Marseille with a girl called Julie, who is a cabaret artiste. After he has his money stolen, Julie gets him a job in a rather shabby restaurant checking the orders. By chance he encounters his first wife, Thérèse, who is companion to a flamboyant middle-aged woman known as ‘The Empress’. His wife has become a cocaine addict; Norbert decides to help her and also makes a decision about the future course of his own life.

Comments: In Monsieur Monde Vanishes, Simenon produces a study of bourgeois alienation, the story of a man who flees the stifling respectability of his life and enters a world of drug takers and dance-hall hostesses – where he can finally realise his ambition: to become an ordinary man in the street. The vision of the underworld on the Riviera conjured by Simenon here has few equals in French fiction.

The First-Born/L’Aîné des Ferchaux, 1945 (also translated as Magnet of Doom)

Plot: Dieudonné Ferchaux sets off in the company of his secretary, Michel Maudet, on a voyage from Paris to Panama. The old man is being sought by the police for the murder of three native people in the Congo some years earlier. The two men do not trust each other and decide to separate. But Maudet is planning to rob his boss, and violence ensues.

Comments: According to Simenon, this largely successful novel was inspired by a real event. Dealing with Simenon’s conflicted protagonist Michel Maudet moving from resentment to murder, this is one of the writer’s least compromising novels.

The Couple from Poitiers/Les Noces de Poitiers, 1946, translated by Eileen Ellenbogen

Plot: Twenty-year-old Gérard Auvinet marries Linette, who is already pregnant. They leave Poitiers and go to Paris, where they experience many disappointments. When Linette gives birth to a girl, Gérard has to take up a job in the provinces.

Comments: Some may find the initial sections of The Couple from Poitiers/Les Noces de Poitiers uninvolving, but Simenon inexorably exerts a grip in this tale of a couple facing a choice between risking tragedy and accepting a dull but safe existence.

Three Bedrooms in Manhattan/Trois Chambres à Manhattan, 1946, translated by Marc Romano and Lawrence G. Blochman (also translated as Three Beds in Manhattan)

Plot: An actor, François Combe, who was famous in France, has been living in New York for the past six months. He is trying to forget a scandal he was involved in. One day he meets a woman called Kay in a bar. She is a divorcee and also just hangs around in bars. They spend the night together and then find it difficult to separate.

Comments: Slight spoiler alert: Three Bedrooms in Manhattan/Trois Chambres à Manhattan is one of the rare romans durs by Simenon that have an upbeat ending. It appears that the events are based closely on the meeting between Simenon and Denyse Ouimet.

The Mahé Circle/Le Cercle des Mahé, 1946, translated by Siân Reynolds

Plot: A French country doctor, brought up in a province peopled by his inescapable family, the Mahé circle of the title, goes on holiday to the south of France. A chance call on a sick woman there triggers an obsession. Haunted by a glimpse of her daughter, he struggles to survive between his conventional life, dominated by his remarkable mother, and the dazzling otherness of the south.

Comments: One of the previously untranslated romans durs, John Banville recently put this among his top five Simenon novels, calling it ‘enigmatic, brooding and wholly convincing’. Translator Siân Reynolds said to me: ‘My own view is that it can stand comparison with Camus’s L’Étranger: the illness and death of the mother, told in agonisingly sober prose, lie at the centre of the novel.’

Act of Passion/Lettre à Mon Juge, 1947, translated by Louise Varèse

Plot: Charles Alavoine, a medical doctor, has killed his mistress, Martine, and writes a letter to his examining magistrate, whose duty is to collect testimonies and evidence but who does not prosecute or defend him in his trial. The novel consists entirely of this letter, in which Alavoine attempts to understand his own violent act. He reviews his life, from his childhood in the Vendée, through the experience of his father’s death from alcoholism, being cared for by an overprotective mother, suffering the death of his first wife, and marrying the dominant Armande. He then makes the acquaintance of Martine, but becomes jealous of the eventful life she has led. How he comes to murder her is the crux of the whole novel.

Comments: Act of Passion/Lettre à Mon Juge is a major novel, written in the first person. Simenon manages not only to make the narration utterly convincing but also conjures up the presence of the other major characters with haunting precision, including the examining magistrate himself. Comparisons have been made with the writings of Albert Camus, and many critics regard it as Simenon’s one indisputable masterpiece.

The Ostenders/Le Clan des Ostendais, 1947, translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury

Plot: Fleeing from the Germans in May 1940, a Flemish master fisherman sets off with his family and sailors on board five trawlers. They eventually seek refuge in La Rochelle, but when the occupying troops arrive, the local French inhabitants are not too happy with the situation. Then three of the boats are destroyed by mines.

Comments: An intriguing novel, valuable for what it reveals of Simenon’s wartime experiences. He was officially in charge of organising accommodation for Belgian refugees in the very area where the novel is situated.

The Fate of the Malous/Le Destin des Malous, 1947

Plot: Eugène Malou, a property developer, commits suicide by shooting himself in the head. The shadow of this event hangs over the family for a long time. The youngest son, Alain, seeks to discover what his father was really like.

Comments: A moving, unsentimental story of Simenon’s protagonist Alain’s journey of discovery into fraught territory, during which he learns not only truths about his father but also about himself.

The Stowaway/Le Passager Clandestin, 1947

Plot: A certain Major Owen discovers a woman stowaway on board a cargo ship bound for Tahiti. They both have the same goal in mind: to find the heir of a wealthy movie mogul.

Comments: Simenon (with some relish) channels the exotic, implausible world of the popular novel, less rigorous than his own.

The Reckoning/Le Bilan Malétras, 1948

Plot: A wealthy retired retailer, Jules Malétras, has got married again, to Hermine de Dodeville. But he also keeps Lulu, a former servant, as his mistress. One evening when she refuses to yield to his desires, he strangles her without intending to. With the help of one of the young woman’s friends, he gets rid of the body and decides not to give himself up to the police. Eventually, he comes to ponder over his whole life.

Comments: There is no intricate plot in this novel; the focus, rather, is on an assessment of a human life. The word ‘bilan’ in the French title has associations with a balance sheet, and is therefore particularly apt for a review of a shopkeeper’s life.

The Snow Was Dirty/La Neige Était Sale, 1948, translated by Howard Curtis (also translated as The Snow Was Black, The Stain on the Snow and Dirty Snow)

Plot: Frank Friedmaier lives with his mother, the manageress of a brothel, in an unnamed European town during the occupation in the Second World War. Just for the pleasure of it he stabs a non-commissioned officer to death and steals his revolver. Soon he commits another murder. He also wins the affections of Sissy, the daughter of his neighbour, but promptly passes her on to someone else. He is arrested by the occupying forces and undergoes a remarkable transformation.

Comments: The Snow Was Dirty/La Neige Était Sale is one of the most harrowing of Simenon’s novels, focusing on a decidedly unsympathetic central character, but the narrative holds the reader’s attention inexorably throughout. André Gide described it in a letter to Simenon as a ‘remarkable’ book.

Pedigree/Pedigree, 1948, translated by Robert Baldick

Plot: This is the most autobiographical of Simenon’s novels, although the author himself did not like it described as such. It tells the story of the childhood in Liège of Roger Mamelin, from his birth in 1903, the same year as Simenon, to the end of the First World War. The novel evokes very vividly the experiences of growing up and all the sights and sounds of the city of Liège. Several characters can be recognised as portraits of the author’s family. Many critics have felt that this work provides the key to understanding Simenon.

Comments: In his preface to the novel, Simenon stresses that it was written in a completely different fashion to his other works, and notes that it is completely unique in his output. He also explains how it was written at the encouragement of André Gide. Above all, while recognising that the central character has much in common with himself as a child, he still wanted it to be considered a novel: ‘I would not even wish the label of autobiographical novel to be attached to it.’ To make the distinction clear, he added: ‘In my novel, everything is true while nothing is accurate.’

I asked my colleague Andy Lawrence (who I often commissioned in my days of editing Nordic Noir magazine) to talk about Simenon’s Pedigree:

‘Intended as the first volume of a trilogy, Pedigree stands apart from the rest of Simenon’s output. Borne out of a long-standing ambition to write an extraordinary novel and a response to a personal crisis, the prolific author’s magnum opus is a fictive redrafting of a memoir that has yet to be translated into English. After an accident chopping wood, Simenon experienced acute chest pains. Fearful that he might have broken a rib, he visited a radiologist in Fontenay-le-Comte. Misreading an X-ray, the radiologist told Simenon that because his heart was enlarged he would be dead within two years. For decades this misdiagnosis and the subsequent decision to write a memoir so that his son would know about his lineage was an accepted part of Simenon’s mythology. Pierre Assouline’s biography claims that the spectre of death was lifted two weeks later when Simenon consulted several doctors who advised that the initial prognosis may have been due to wrongly positioned photographic equipment. This reminder of mortality occurred during a period of renewed literary activity.

‘After an abortive attempt to retire Inspector Maigret, Simenon sought to cement his literary reputation with a series of “romans durs”. Determined to transcend the confines of genre fiction, the books written immediately after the publication of Maigret (Maigret Returns) were bleak studies of deviancy without the prospect of redemption. Declining sales for the romans durs forced Simenon to revive his most famous character. In the early days of the Second World War, as the conflict spread to Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, he completed work on Cécile Is Dead/Cécile Est Morte before being appointed “High Commissioner for Belgian Refugees for the Département of Charente-Inférieure”. Before the war, Simenon had mentioned in correspondence his ambition to write a different form of novel. Contractually committed to writing three Maigret novels, he had to wait until the manuscripts had been delivered before commencing work on what was intended as his signature work. The recent misdiagnosis and France’s occupation may have preyed heavily on Simenon’s mind as he sat down to create a historical account of his family. Dedicated to his son Marc, the finished text was eventually published as Je Me Souviens. It remains one of the few Simenon books not translated into English.

‘After reading Je Me Souviens prior to publication, André Gide advised Simenon to abandon the book and redraft all material as fiction. The revised text was published in 1948 and is an essential read to understand the biographical significance of themes prevalent throughout the romans durs and Maigret novels. Chronicling a family in the Belgian city of Liège during the years 1903 to 1918, Pedigree’s length, time taken to write, subject matter and narrative structure mark it out as an atypical entry in the Simenon canon. Simenon typically wrote a novel in seven to ten days. The writing of Pedigree represented an exorcism, possibly a painful one. In a break from his ritualised routine it took him two years to finish the novel. A further five years would pass before it was published. Confronting his feelings about people and a city that he had left behind in 1922, Simenon may have intended to finally purge himself from the influence of a life that continuously manifested itself through his novels.

‘In a repeat of the furore that greeted the publication of Je Me Souviens, Simenon was hit by several lawsuits from people who felt they had been libelled. Pedigree’s second edition removed offending passages and left blank spaces. The available version is sans the visibly noticeable blank spaces but has not restored the offending passages. Simultaneously Bildungsroman and a roman-fleuve, Pedigree largely corresponds with what is known about Simenon’s early life. The chronology of certain events have been rearranged while others are purely fictitious. While some characters remain relatively unchanged from their real-life counterparts, others are composites or inventions. The absence of Simenon’s brother has provided scope for analysis by numerous biographers. Representations of Christian Simenon appear in several Maigret novels, most notably Pietr the Latvian/Pietr-le-Letton. His exclusion is either revisionism as wish-fulfilment, an acknowledgement of irreconcilable differences, or an attempt to avoid controversy concerning allegations that Christian collaborated with occupying forces during the war. Demonstrating that Liège’s inhabitants, weather and topography would appear repeatedly in transposed form throughout the Maigret novels, Pedigree is also a portrait of influences and obsessions that remained with Simenon for the rest of his life.’

The Bottom of the Bottle/Le Fond de la Bouteille, 1949, translated by Cornelia Schaeffer

Plot: Set in Arizona, this novel tells of a respectable lawyer, Patrick Martin Ashbridge, who encounters his brother Donald, who has just escaped from prison. He takes him in and conceals his true identity from his family and friends, eventually helping him to escape across the border to Mexico. But the story ends tragically for the lawyer.

Comments: The fascination of the novel lies in the relationship of the two brothers who have lived utterly different lives. As so often elsewhere, Simenon demonstrates that the conflicted family remains particularly fertile territory for the drama of his fiction.

The Hatter’s Ghosts/Les Fantômes du Chapelier, 1949, translated by Howard Curtis (also translated as The Hatter’s Phantoms)

Plot: An apparently respectable hat-maker in La Rochelle, Léon Labbé, is gradually revealed to be a serial murderer, having killed six women. Initially, there is no apparent link between the killings, although one becomes obvious as the novel progresses. Labbé’s neighbour, the tailor Kachoudas, becomes convinced that the hatter is indeed the murderer, and he stalks his neighbour, not daring to take any action. Labbé writes confident and taunting letters to the local newspaper. He wants people to understand that the murders are necessary; indeed, the reader discovers that there is a twisted logic to them. But the hatter begins to lose control of his well-ordered world and becomes paranoid – the ghosts are really other people as he sees them.

Comments: A concise but utterly assured novel, notably difficult to put down. Although it is written in the third person, everything is told from the point of view of the eponymous hatter. One finishes the novel with the feeling of having experienced directly the mind of a deranged man rather than just reading about him. The detail of the backstreets and cafés of La Rochelle is also hauntingly realised. Howard Curtis’s new translation is due in 2022.

Four Days in a Lifetime/Les Quatre Jours du Pauvre Homme, 1949, translated by Louise Varèse

Plot: This novel tells the story, in two parts, of the general decline of François Lecoin, from being unemployed to getting involved in a blackmailing racket.

Comments: A truly misanthropic novel with no gleam of hope, describing with rigour a failed life that ends in tragedy. Despite this, the experience of reading Four Days in a Lifetime/Les Quatre Jours du Pauvre Homme is not a downbeat one.

The Burial of Monsieur Bouvet/L’Enterrement de Monsieur Bouvet, 1950, translated by Eugene MacCown (also translated as Inquest on Bouvet)

Plot: An elderly man suddenly falls down dead on the banks of the Seine, witnessed by many people. And one man takes a photograph. It seems that the man has no family, but the photograph appears in the press and his wife and daughter appear on the scene. It turns out that he had lived under various different identities and had led a very eventful life. The burial is delayed until as much can be discovered about him as possible.

Comments: The Burial of Monsieur Bouvet/L’Enterrement de Monsieur Bouvet represents Simenon at his most subtle and perceptive. It is a moving story of selfish interest and simple human love. The final sequence is especially well written, with telling circumstantial detail. Although not a Maigret novel, the investigation into the old man’s identity is largely conducted by one of the detective’s right-hand men, Lucas. The novel is particularly effective in its steady revelation of incident, and points are made about the nebulous nature of identity via the eponymous Bouvet’s reinvention of his life.

The Heart of a Man/Les Volets Verts, 1950, translated by Louise Varèse

Plot: Émile Maugin is a famous actor of both stage and screen and has lived life to the full, not only working hard but also drinking and having countless lovers. He is cynical and appears distant to many, but after a strong warning from his heart specialist, he reviews his life and finds he feels an intense sense of guilt that he cannot fathom. He continues to make the most of his time, but questions himself and wonders when the moment of death will come.

Comments: An astringent and powerful novel, with many insights into ways in which actors create characters. There are many parallels with the psychology of the writer. It also has something distinctively Kafkaesque in the imaginary ‘trial’ sequences, and especially in the final stages of the actor’s life. It is a pity that the English translation of the original title distracts attention from the mysterious symbolism of the ‘green shutters’, which haunt the novel and are central to an understanding of it.

Aunt Jeanne/Tante Jeanne, 1951, translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury

Plot: An old woman returns to her home village near Poitiers after a 40-year absence. Instead of the warm welcome she expected, she discovers that her brother has committed suicide and her sister-in-law has become an alcoholic. She endeavours to hold the family together for the sake of the children.

Comments: Aunt Jeanne/Tante Jeanne is another example in Simenon’s work of conflict within a deeply dysfunctional family, with an attempted redemption.

The Girl in His Past/Le Temps d’Anaïs, 1951, translated by Louise Varèse

Plot: Albert Bauche has been married to Fernande for five years. He kills his rival Serge Nicolas, unaware that his wife was the man’s mistress and had used her influence to get him his job.

Comments: Another treatment of a key Simenon theme: an individual trying to escape from an unsatisfying life. The reader gains a keen understanding of the criminal through an account of his past life.

A New Lease of Life/Une Vie Comme Neuve, 1951 (also translated as A New Lease on Life)

Plot: An unmarried 39-year-old accountant, Maurice Dudon, steals money from his boss to visit a certain Madame Germaine. One day he is knocked down in a road accident, and this changes his life. He attempts to make a completely new start, but the past soon catches up with him.

Comments: Obsessions die hard, and the wheel of fate comes full circle in this assured novel. The accountant Maurice is a fully fleshed, multifaceted creation.

The Girl with a Squint/Marie qui Louche, 1951, translated by Helen Thomson

Plot: The novel follows the lives of two childhood friends who try to escape from their poor backgrounds, and the action takes place between the years 1922 and 1950. Sylvie is the more reckless of the two and manages to establish a life of reasonable affluence. But Marie leads a quiet and reserved life with a modest job. After losing touch with each other for many years, the two friends decide to try living together again.

Comments: A novel that is characteristic of Simenon’s interest in contrasting two completely different characters – a recurrent motif in his work.

Belle/La Mort de Belle, 1952, translated by Louise Varèse

Plot: Spencer Ashby, a history teacher in a market town in the USA, is accused of murdering a young girl who has been staying with him and his wife. He feels increasingly humiliated by the endless police interrogations and by his dismissal from the college. He begins to behave more and more like a guilty man, although he is in fact innocent. Completely demoralised, he begins to do things that are out of character, and eventually lives up to the suspicions that people have of him.

Comments: What is the extent of our potential criminality? This is the question posed in Belle/La Mort de Belle, a particularly mordant novel with its revelation of the incipient criminal within all of us.

The Brothers Rico/Les Frères Rico, 1952, translated by Ernst Pawel

Plot: The novel focuses on the three Rico brothers, who are members of the Mafia and who get involved in settling scores in a ruthless spiral of violence.

Comments: An atypical novel, memorable for its preoccupation entirely with the Mafia, strikingly characterised (albeit with a Gallic tint). The Brothers Rico/Les Frères Rico became well known through the celebrated US film version in 1958.

The Magician/Antoine et Julie, 1953, translated by Helen Sebba

Plot: Antoine, a conjuror, and Julie are married. But Antoine is an alcoholic. One evening, while he is out drinking, Julie has a sudden attack of angina. But it takes a further attack to disturb his conscience.

Comments: It has been noted by several commentators that the effects of alcohol on a relationship was a theme close to Simenon’s heart, as communicated wryly to me by his UK editor, Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson.

The Iron Staircase/L’Escalier de Fer, 1953, translated by Eileen Ellenbogen

Plot: The novel begins in the bedroom of an apartment over a stationery suppliers where the fortyish Étienne muses on a recent heart attack. His wife Louise manages the shop, frequently ascending the eponymous spiral iron staircase to find out how Étienne is faring. What follows is as disturbing as it is unexpected.

Comments: An unsparing examination of a bourgeois marriage, The Iron Staircase/L’Escalier de Fer has echoes of Patricia Highsmith in its rigorous, coolly observed portrait of a relationship.

Red Lights/Feux Rouges, 1953, translated by Norman Denny

Plot: The protagonists, Steve, and his wife, Nancy, leave Long Island to collect their children from summer camp in Maine. But Steve is envious of Nancy’s excellent job and resents her sarcasm. Alcohol accentuates his feelings of inadequacy. Then Nancy disappears…

Comments: A quotidian world of gas stations, diners and rundown seaside towns is conjured with maximum vividness in an impressive novel.

The Fugitive/Crime Impuni, 1954 (also translated as Account Unsettled)

Plot: The novel starts in the 1920s in Liège with a young Polish student, Élie, who is in love with Louise, but who cannot stand the attentions paid her by the rich and handsome young Romanian Michel. One foggy night, Élie guns Michel down. The scene then changes to 25 years later in Arizona, when Élie meets the man he thought he had killed.

Comments: This is of particular interest because of the sharp contrasts between the characters of the two men, between two different periods, and between two completely different countries. In this novel, Simenon is once again more interested in the rigorous exploration of the characters’ lives – in this case, Élie’s – than in the exigencies of the crime novel. Another familiar theme is the stultifying nature of a mundane bourgeois existence.

The Watchmaker of Everton/L’Horloger d’Everton, 1954, translated by Norman Denny (also translated as The Watchmaker and The Clockmaker)

Plot: Dave Galloway, a watchmaker in a village in New York State, has been devoted to his son Ben since his wife left him. One night the 16-year-old Ben does not come home. Shortly afterwards, Dave is shocked to learn that his son is being sought by the police for murder. When his son is imprisoned he decides to help him, but Ben is indifferent to his interest and does not want to see his father. Despite the pain his son’s attitude causes him, Dave identifies with his son and tries to understand him.

Comments: The Watchmaker of Everton/L’Horloger d’Everton is one of Simenon’s most moving novels about the relationship between father and son, written with great sensitivity.

Big Bob/Le Grand Bob, 1954, translated by Eileen M. Lowe

Plot: A doctor tries to understand the death of a friend, ‘Le Grand Bob’, who seemed so happy and full of life. It is not clear at first whether the death was an accident or suicide.

Comments: Big Bob/Le Grand Bob is a poignant story with strikingly realised tragic elements.

The Witnesses/Les Témoins, 1955, translated by Moura Budberg

Plot: A magistrate at the court of assizes, Xavier Lhomond, has the job of investigating the soundness of the evidence against a man appearing before the court, and notices similarities with his own situation. He has a wife with cardiac problems, which forces him to be absent too often.

Comments: A subtle analysis of responsibility and guilt.

The Rules of the Game/La Boule Noire, 1955, translated by Howard Curtis

Plot: Connecticut businessman Walter Higgins is suffering a midlife crisis. Despite his comfortable lifestyle and affectionate family, he feels alienated from everything around him. What follows involves no specific crime, but it is equally life-changing for the protagonists.

Comments: Yet another demonstration of Simenon’s sympathy for – and understanding of – the problems of a seemingly normal individual. The author is able to make minor catastrophes for his characters have the resonance of events on a far grander scale.

The Accomplices/Les Complices, 1956, translated by Bernard Frechtman

Plot: Joseph Lambert is responsible for a bad road accident, in which several children are killed. He is accompanied by his secretary, Edmonde, who is also his lover, when the accident happens and he decides to drive off and not give himself up to the police. He can be certain of Edmonde’s silence, and is not particularly concerned at first, but gradually he becomes filled with remorse, and feels that there can be only one solution.

Comments: Less celebrated than it should be, The Accomplices/Les Complices is a powerfully written, utterly convincing study of an individual who is racked by remorse.

In Case of Emergency/En Cas de Malheur, 1956, translated by Helen Sebba

Plot: Lucien Gobillot is a prominent defence lawyer who married the widow of his former boss and who moves in the best social circles. One day a young prostitute, Yvette, asks him to defend her and also offers herself to him. He fights off her advances at first but eventually gives in. He provides Yvette with her own apartment, but then learns that a spurned lover is threatening her. Tragedy ensues.

Comments: The novel is written in the form of a diary, a kind of secret report on the protagonist, or a ‘dossier’. This means that the reader has the illusion of experiencing the events as they happen. One of the themes of the novel is that there are still so many unanswerable questions about people’s motivations. A justly famous book, which was also made into a successful film.

The Little Man from Archangel/Le Petit Homme d’Arkhangelsk, 1956, translated by Siân Reynolds

Plot: Jonas Milk, a timid, 40-year-old bookseller and a Russian Jew, is living happily with his young wife, Gina, when one day she disappears. It seems likely that the young woman has gone off with a lover, but Jonas does not want to discuss the matter and is suspected of killing her.

Comments: The Little Man from Archangel persuasively presents the reader with the tale of a tragic miscarriage of justice and the overwhelming wave of memories it triggers of lost family, scattered during the traumatic events of the Russian Revolution.

The Son/Le Fils, 1957

Plot: On the death of his father, Alain Lefrançois starts telling his own 16-year-old son the story of his life. He is haunted by a secret that he shared with his father, who considered himself responsible for the death of Alain’s pregnant girlfriend. In writing this confession to his son, he hopes to gain his son’s understanding.

Comments: The Son/Le Fils is persuasive, especially as a study of the relationships between three generations of a family.

The Negro/Le Nègre, 1957, translated by Helen Sebba

Plot: The corpse of a black man is found one winter’s morning by a railway embankment. It is suspected that he fell from the late-night train from Amiens, but Théo, the keeper of a small station nearby, saw the figure of the man, in full moonlight, going away from the embankment towards the village. It is obvious, therefore, that he met his death by some other means, but only Théo has knowledge of this evidence. The Cadieu brothers seem likely to be implicated in the affair, and Théo sees his chance to change his dreary life once and for all with the help of a little blackmail.

Comments: Critics have been sharply divided about this work, some classing it as a minor work, others considering it a convincing psychological study of a man desperately trying to escape from a boring life in which he feels inferior to others.

The Premier/Le Président, 1958, translated by Daphne Woodward

Plot: A former président du Conseil, retired following an electoral defeat, is writing his memoirs in his clifftop home in Normandy. He dreams of returning to power through a government crisis. He has one hope: he has a hold over his former secretary, Chalamont, who is said to be forming the next government. Chalamont once betrayed him and the country, and the former premier still has the man’s written confession. Will he do a deal?

Comments: It is unusual for Simenon to set a novel entirely in the world of politics, but his portrait of the ageing statesman desperately wanting to cling on to the influence he used to wield is very convincing.

Striptease/Strip-Tease, 1958, translated by Robert Brain

Plot: A group of strippers are employed by a low-rent Cannes nightclub, run by the husband-and-wife duo of Monsieur Léon and former prostitute Madame Florence. The ex-pimp Léon forces a new stripper into sex as a condition of employment. But Maud, the new arrival, is to bring about irrevocable change in the exploitative set-up.

Comments: A cool and unsentimental vision of lives lived at the very edge, with the hopeless aspirations of the strippers cruelly crushed. One of Simenon’s most uncompromising novels.

Sunday/Dimanche, 1959, translated by Nigel Ryan

Plot: Émile is married to a domineering older wife. It is her family who own the inn, ‘La Bastide’, which they run together near Nice. Émile is the chef but feels like a servant. To assert his independence he takes a maid as his mistress, but he is still continually humiliated by his wife. Finally he hatches a plot to poison her, but he reckons without his wife’s own ingenuity.

Comments: Although set on one day, the narrative concurrently reveals events from the past. It is a masterly study of a mind obsessed.

The Grandmother/La Vieille, 1959

Plot: A grandmother agrees to spend her last years with her granddaughter, a famous parachutist. Being very much alike, however, the two women are soon at loggerheads.

Comments: Unusual among Simenon’s works for having two female protagonists. A riveting study of loneliness and the problems of communication.

The Widower/Le Veuf, 1959, translated by Robert Baldick

Plot: A 40-year-old man tries to understand why his wife has committed suicide alone in a Paris hotel room. Investigating her past, he discovers that she was keeping something secret from him.

Comments: The Widower/Le Veuf deals in authoritative fashion with the not uncommon habit among Simenon characters of leading a double life.

Teddy Bear/L’Ours en Peluche, 1960, translated by Henry Clay

Plot: A famous gynaecologist leads a dull family life, which he attempts to escape from through his relationship with his secretary, Viviane. He also has a brief affair with a woman called Emma, the ‘Teddy Bear’ of the title, but when she is rejected by the gynaecologist’s circle she commits suicide. He becomes dominated by a sense of responsibility for Emma’s death, and his despair eventually turns into aggression.

Comments: Teddy Bear/L’Ours en Peluche is a sombre and unremitting novel, but compelling and ingeniously written to the very end.

Betty/Betty, 1961, translated by Ros Schwartz

Plot: A young woman of 28, Élisabeth (Betty) Étamble, is forced to leave her husband by her in-laws, who consider her conduct to be scandalous. She escapes into a sleazy world of drug addicts and drunks, and finally takes refuge in a hotel with a doctor’s widow called Laure Lavancher, in whom she confides everything. Laure’s decision to help Betty has a tragic outcome.

Comments: A haunting story turned into a successful film by Claude Chabrol, a filmmaker who demonstrated a markedly similar ethos to Simenon, as mentioned elsewhere in this study.

The Train/Le Train, 1961, translated by Robert Baldick

Plot: Marcel Féron flees the German invasion in the spring of 1940 with his pregnant wife and four-year-old daughter. He becomes separated from his family while being evacuated by train. He meets a young Jewish girl, Anna, and they become lovers. When the train arrives in La Rochelle, Marcel and Anna meet again in a camp, but Marcel soon learns that his wife is not far away and has given birth. He decides to go back to his wife. But later, when he and his family are together again in the Ardennes, the Jewish girl reappears, needing his help.

Comments: The setting of the novel is utterly convincing and no doubt owes much to Simenon’s own experiences of helping refugees during the war.

The Door/La Porte, 1962, translated by Daphne Woodward

Plot: Bernard, a war invalid, who has lost his hands, lives with his wife Nelly in Paris. One day he finds his wife in the arms of their neighbour, a young, handicapped man. This, not unnaturally, induces a severe emotional crisis in Bernard.

Comments: Simenon’s work – frequently bleak – does not come much bleaker than this unsparing novel. One, perhaps, for aficionados rather than casual readers.

The Others/Les Autres, 1962, translated by Alastair Hamilton (also translated as The House on Quai Notre Dame)

Plot: A 40-year-old art teacher, Blaise Huet, is writing a journal. The death of an uncle and the unexpected return of a cousin lead him to reflect on his life.

Comments: The Others/Les Autres is a markedly concise novel, but it manages to reflect within its brevity the internecine conflicts within a provincial family.

The Patient/Les Anneaux de Bicêtre, 1963, translated by Jean Stewart (also translated as The Bells of Bicêtre)

Plot: A wealthy press mogul, René Maugras, is in the hospital at Bicêtre, after becoming unwell in a restaurant. He is paralysed but gradually regains contact with the world around him. He reviews his life, his successes and failures, and also his marriage to Lina, who has long been an alcoholic.

Comments: A familiar theme of a man in crisis reviewing his life, but this novel has an upbeat quality that makes it strangely uplifting.

The Blue Room/La Chambre Bleue, 1964, translated by Linda Coverdale

Plot: A self-regarding, womanising man and a sensuous but manipulative woman meet eight times in 11 months in the blue room of the Hôtel des Voyageurs, for erotically abandoned afternoons. But the sexual passion changes into something else when their long-term plans come into conflict. Soon, the hapless Tony is caught in the nightmare of a double murder.

Comments: The Blue Room is a concise masterpiece of psychological crime writing. After its initial publication, the book was fated to remain inexplicably out of print for over 35 years before a welcome reappearance. Wry and economical, the novel is a good entrée to Simenon’s complex universe. The real strength of this novel is in the profound study of the psychology of the murderer, utterly convincing, and characteristic of some of the most accomplished romans durs.

The Man with the Little Dog/L’Homme au Petit Chien, 1964, translated by Jean Stewart

Plot: Félix Allard has come out of prison and leads a quiet life with the company of his little dog, expecting that he will die soon, as his doctor has predicted. He writes down an account of his life in a school exercise book, including a report on how he worked as a clerk, made some success of himself, and finally murdered his wife’s lover.

Comments: For most readers the ending of this novel is a shock. It is simultaneously beautifully ironic.

The Little Saint/Le Petit Saint, 1965, translated by Bernard Frechtman

Plot: The novel traces the development of a painter, Louis Cuchas, and his art, and reveals how he remained faithful to his childhood experiences.

Comments: The Little Saint/Le Petit Saint is rare among Simenon’s works in showing how a man raises himself above his environment and attains some measure of greatness.

The Venice Train/Le Train de Venise, 1965, translated by Ros Schwartz

Plot: Justin Calmar is asked by a stranger on board a train from Venice to deliver a briefcase to an address in Lausanne. He agrees, only to find that he is holding a fortune in currency, but has a corpse on his hands. He decides to keep the money but not tell his wife and family about it. His reward is only lies and fear.

Comments: The strength of The Venice Train/Le Train de Venise lies in its keen analysis of anxiety.

The Confessional/Le Confessionnal, 1966, translated by Jean Stewart

Plot: The story focuses on the completely dysfunctional family of a dentist. The constant disagreements between the parents cause great distress to the schoolboy son, André, who seeks comfort in the arms of a girl from a more stable background.

Comments: It has been claimed that the novel reflects many of the personal problems in Simenon’s own family.

The Old Man Dies/La Mort d’Auguste, 1966, translated by Bernard Frechtman

Plot: When Auguste, the owner of a restaurant in Les Halles, Paris, dies, his three sons fight each other for their inheritance. A shock is in store for them.

Comments: A highly accomplished novel about a family dominated – and twisted – by selfish avarice.

The Cat/Le Chat, 1967, translated by Bernard Frechtman

Plot: After losing their spouses, Marguerite and Émile marry each other out of the need to avoid loneliness. But they begin to loathe each other. One day Émile’s cat is poisoned and, suspecting Marguerite of having done it, Émile refuses to speak to her. From then on they only communicate through notes, although they discover that they cannot actually bring themselves to separate. The future is indeed bleak.

Comments: A very disturbing book, providing little comfort. Somehow a relationship survives on purely negative feelings. The couple is held together by their own emptiness. Brilliantly honest about a human relationship at its worst. Jean Gabin and Simone Signoret interpreted the characters with great conviction in the film version.

The Neighbours/Le Déménagement, 1967, translated by Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson (also translated as The Move)

Plot: The director of a Paris travel agency, Émile Jovis, leaves his apartment in the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois and moves to a modern apartment in the suburbs. But the walls are very thin, and he overhears the conversations of his new neighbour, who turns out to be the owner of a striptease club. This is a whole new sleazy world for Émile, and he becomes drawn into the clutches of a gang of crooks.

Comments: The novel is provocative for its contrast between traditional values and the amoral modern world.

The Prison/La Prison, 1968, translated by Lyn Moir

Plot: The wife of the director of a weekly magazine has killed her own sister. The director is mystified and tries to find out why she did it. The two sisters never liked each other, but there is something in their past that fired their common hatred.

Comments: The past rears its ugly head to rob the present of meaning and purpose. Yet another Simenon novel in which the central character discovers the pointlessness of his own existence.

The Hand/La Main, 1968, translated by Linda Coverdale (also translated as The Man on the Bench in the Barn)

Plot: Two couples returning from a reception in a snowbound Connecticut, USA, have to abandon their car, which gets stuck in a snowdrift. When they arrive at the house of Donald Dodd, it is discovered that one member of the group, Ray, has disappeared. Donald pretends to go off searching for him but in fact hides in the barn. Two days later Ray’s body is found, but Donald does not consider himself responsible for his friend’s death. Eventually Ray’s widow becomes Donald’s lover, but the affair ends tragically.

Comments: A novel written in the first person, a mode that Simenon handled with casual mastery; it is another attempt on the part of a murderer to understand his own behaviour. It is also a novel set entirely in the USA; but unlike others that feature an American setting, it was written many years after Simenon’s actual stay there.

November/Novembre, 1969, translated by Jean Stewart

Plot: The usual dismal weather in November reflects the mood in the Le Cloanec family. Each member of the family lives in his or her own world: the mother is a drunkard, the father is sullenly absorbed in his work, and the children are struggling with their adolescent crises. A pretty young Spanish maid, Manuela, disturbs the household by dispensing her favours to the son, and eventually to the father. But one day Manuela disappears.

Comments: The novel is about a family that was heading for disaster in a variety of fashions; Manuela just happens to be the catalyst. Only one character, the daughter Laura, manages to rise above it all; she is also the narrator.

The Rich Man/Le Riche Homme, 1970, translated by Jean Stewart

Plot: Victor Lecoin, a prosperous mussel cultivator, lives in Marsilly and is envied by his neighbours as ‘the rich man’. He is married to Jeanne, but indulges himself in various amorous adventures, which everybody knows about. He falls in a big way for their new maid Alice, but then Alice is found murdered.

Comments: A central theme of The Rich Man/Le Riche Homme is the short-lived nature of happiness.

The Disappearance of Odile/La Disparition d’Odile, 1971, translated by Lyn Moir

Plot: An 18-year-old girl, Odile Pointet, decides to leave her family house in Lausanne for Paris. In a letter to her brother she tells him she is contemplating suicide. He promptly sets out to find her. She meets up with a young medical student who saves her from a suicide attempt by using a tourniquet, and he gives her new hope.

Comments: This is a rare example of the saturnine writer allowing hope to be born in the midst of despair. All the more ironic, when one considers that his own daughter, Marie-Jo, would commit suicide only a few years later.

The Glass Cage/La Cage de Verre, 1971, translated by Antonia White

Plot: Émile Virieu, 44 years old, is a proof corrector at a printers and works in an office that is a kind of glass cage; this gives him a certain sense of security. But suddenly his world is turned upside down by his brother-in-law’s suicide. Émile becomes emotionally unstable and cannot control his feelings, which has lethal effects.

Comments: The Glass Cage/La Cage de Verre traces the slow but sure progress from repression of all feelings to pathological behaviour.

The Innocents/Les Innocents, 1972, translated by Eileen Ellenbogen

Plot: Georges Célerin, a jeweller, has been living an apparently normal family life, but after his wife is accidentally run over and killed in the Rue Washington, it is revealed that she had been deceiving him for 18 years, and with someone he knew very well.

Comments: The Innocents/Les Innocents is the last of the romans durs, and although there are no new departures thematically – in fact, it returns to a favourite Simenon theme: the effect on others of the revelation that someone has been leading a double life – it is a masterly piece. The perfect finis to a superlative series.

Other Short Story Collections

The Little Doctor/Le Petit Docteur, 1943, translated by Jean Stewart

Contents: ‘The Doctor’s Hunch’ (‘Le Flair du Petit Docteur’); ‘The Girl in Pale Blue’ (‘La Demoiselle en Bleu Pâle’); ‘A Woman Screamed’ (‘Une Femme a Crié’); ‘The Haunting of Monsieur Marbe’ (‘Le Fantôme de M. Marbe’); ‘The Midwinter Marriage’ (‘Les Mariés du 1er Décembre’); ‘The Corpse in the Kitchen Garden’ (‘La Mort Tombé du Ciel’); ‘The Dutchman’s Luck’ (‘La Bonne Fortune du Hollandais’); ‘Popaul and his Negro’ (‘Le Passager et son Nègre’); ‘The Trail of the Red-Haired Man’ (‘La Piste de l’Homme Roux’); ‘The Disappearance of the Admiral’ (‘L’Amiral a Disparu’); ‘The Communication Cord’ (‘La Sonnette d’Alarme’); ‘Arsenic Hall’ (‘Le Château de l’Arsenic’); ‘Death in a Department Store’ (‘L’Amoureux aux Pantoufles’).

Comments: A collection of rather more light-hearted stories featuring Jean Dollett, the ‘Little Doctor’ of the title, who discovers he has a passion and a genius for investigation.

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