Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Back to the Classics #2

I read this book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020.

Genre Classic. My go-to genre is the mystery. I have a special liking for hard-boiled American, set in foreign places, and Erle Stanley Gardner, who stands in a class by himself (see this appreciaton).

Maigret Enjoys Himself – Georges Simenon (tr. David Watson, 2017)

In this 1957 outing, Chief Inspector Maigret, not getting younger, has had a couple health scares so he promises his wife and doctor to take a real vacation. He gives his office an address in the seaside town of Les Sables-d'Olonne, but remains in Paris, a staycation destination that I don’t think could be improved upon. His intention is to re-visit the spots he and Mme Maigret frequented early in their marriage and places they don’t usually visit such as the huge movie palaces on the Champs-Élysées.

But the old firehorse smells smoke when he reads in the papers of the Boulevard Haussmann affair. In a cupboard in the laboratory of society doctor Jave, the naked body of his wife Eveline has been discovered. An injection of digitalis caused her death, since Eveline suffered from low blood pressure and the injection slowed her heart down till it just stopped. The case is all the more odd since Eveline was supposedly on vacation on the Côte d'Azur with her husband who had arranged for a certain Doctor Négrel to substitute for him.

Steadily, Maigret becomes more and more intrigued about the investigation led by Inspector Janvier in his absence. It is strange to him to be aware of the case only through the papers just like a member of the general public. To his credit, he feels only a mild compulsion to show up at the Quaides Orfèvres, because he doesn’t want to undercut Janvier who is heading his first big case. Maigret, however, does send anonymous notes to Janvier to nudge him in this or that direction.

Besides the unique situation of Maigret being on holiday and getting info only from the media, two additional points make this novel better than the average Maigret mystery. One is that Mme Maigret has a strong presence. We get a sense of Simenon’s conception of a serenely happy marriage.

The other is that Simenon focuses on the victim more than usual. Eveline's behavior is at the center of the mystery. At the age of 13 she overheard the doctor telling her parents that she may not live a long time. So she wanted to drink deeply from the cup of life, down to the dregs, so to speak, when she compromises older married men in her hometown Concarneau. He father marries her off to the Parisian doctor Jave who is unaware of her unsavory reputation. Later frustrated both by her lovers and by her husband, she buys jewelry to fill the emotional void she feels.

So I think this novel would be a good choice for fans of mysteries set in France, fans of Simenon, and novices who don’t know which of the 75 Maigret novels to read.

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