The Maigret Detective Series: Novels and Murder ...by ExperiencePlus! - Tuesday, July 27, 2010
The Maigret Detective Series: Novels and Murder Mysteries by Simenon
Alas, I hadn’t looked at Simenon in almost thirty years until I picked him up again last month (in English this time!). The reason I picked him up was that I remembered what an impact he had had on my understanding of French geography. Indeed, his descriptive skill at painting word pictures of French places has stuck with me all those years. Simenon will take you to the Dordogne (The Madman of Bergerac; Le Fou de Bergerac), to Alsace (Le Relais d’Alsace – in English The Man from Everywhere) and round and around Paris. He’ll take you on holiday (Maigret on Holiday / No Vacation for Maigret, Les Vacances de Maigret), to the Netherlands (A Crime in Holland / Maigret Abroad Un crime en Hollande) and to Manhattan as well (Three Beds in Manhattan – Trois Chambres á Manhattan and Maigret in New York’s Underworld – Maigret á New York).
It was more than thirty years ago when I decided I needed to learn some French. I spoke Italian fluently and had studied Spanish, German and Farsi (Persian). But six years of traveling in Europe and the Middle East had revealed a gap in my linguistic capabilities. Paola spoke fluent French and my brother and family lived in French-speaking Switzerland. I needed to fill the gap.
I began with an intensive French class at the University of Oregon. I learned the rules of pronunciation based on my understanding of Italian. I couldn’t be bothered with the correct endings of words, though, and learned not to take language classes for a grade as I always got a B because of my laziness with noun-verb agreements and verb tenses. I made progress in French but my progress slowed when my summer travels commenced. My French suffered because I wasn’t doing any writing in the language so I began to keep a journal in French. My vocabulary really began to grow, however, after I discovered Simenon.
If you don’t know Detective Maigret and you either need to learn French or will be traveling in rural France on a bicycle or walking tour, give George Simenon’s Chief Superintendent Maigret of the Paris police a try. You’ll find an easy and accessible key to French culture and geography embodied in the Maigret stories.
Georges Simenon was among the most prolific of 20th century writers. He published eighty-four Maigret detective novels and one hundred thirty-six other novels. He is a pleasure to read, whether you read him in French or one of the forty-nine other languages his books have been translated into. One reason he is fun to read is because he is easy to read, especially when you are traveling and might find your concentration broken up with short stints of reading time. Read Maigret on the plane, on the train, or after a long day on your bike or on the trail.
Maigret is based in Paris on the Quai des Orfevres on the Ile de la Cité right where the Boulevard St. Michelle comes off Paris’s Left Bank and becomes the Boulevard du Palais (of Justice). The Quai des Orfevres is "base" for Maigret as he roams Paris and all of France bringing low life criminals to justice. What Maigret sees in passing is what makes Simenon so much fun and such a great introduction to France and French culture.
Simenon’s writing is almost cinematic with each page comprising five slow motion frames from a film. In Maigret and the Hotel Majestic (1942, translated in 1977) Maigret borrows a bicycle during the course of one investigation:
"I can’t think," Maigret continued, "why everyone who lives in the suburbs doesn’t go by bicycle. It’s much more healthy and agreeable than going by bus or train!" They were entering the Bois de Boulogne. Soon they saw the shimmer of street lights reflected in the lake. And Maigret, too, was pedaling along with the regular rhythm of someone who is used to bicycling. Now and then there was the click of a gear".
Indeed, the character, Maigret, began his career as a bicycle patrolman before advancing up the ladder to become the premier detective for the Paris police force. Like Maigret’s familiarity with a bicycle as seen in the previous excerpt, Simenon’s descriptions allow the reader to become familiar with the details that make Maigret.
Simenon also had favorite places in Paris and throughout France and he was very skilled at setting the scene for his reader with telegraphic descriptions of those places:
"Is that you, Chief? . . . Janvier speaking. . . I’m calling from a café on the corner of Rue Lepic. . . . "
Maigret could see it all: the steep little street, the pushcarts piled high with fruit and vegetables, the housewives in their down-at-heel slippers, the colorful hubbub of Place Blanche, and, wedged between two small shops, the Hotel Beauséjour, which he had had occasion to visit in the course of duty more than once in the past.
If you know Paris or have your handy little Plan Guide Blay-Foldex map guide to Paris, you’ll know that Rue Lepic is where the Moulin Rouge is located in Montmartre.
Simenon is easy to read in French because of the style described above and his use of short sentences, simple paragraphs and an easy vocabulary (like Hemingway, perhaps?). I became so addicted to Maigret in French during the 1970s that I hoarded the little paperback volumes I picked up at kiosks in train stations. I found it to be perfect beach-time reading, train and plane reading, and bedtime reading.
Simenon spent part of 1928 and 1929 sailing the canals of France and the low countries, hence his books The Lock at Charenton ( L’Écluse No.1), The House by the Canal (La Maison du Canal) and The Crime at Lock 14 / The Triumph of Inspector Maigret (Le Charretier de la Providence). If you’re into sailing or barging there are even other barge books in the Maigret series.
If you like detective stories, you’ll enjoy the Maigret series. If you have never gotten into detective novels, you may still enjoy these. I don’t read any other mystery writer but I’ve certainly enjoyed my time with Simenon.