Maigret and the Death of A Harbor-Master

by Georges Simenon, © 1932, (first U.S. edition published 1942), Harvest Books paperback, translation by  Stuart Gilbert, mystery featuring Inspector Maigret

the 43rd in my review series of “forgotten” books

A man found wandering in Paris has been shot in the head, skillfully operated on, is recoverd from the wound but doesn’t seem aware of who he is and is unable to speak. Finally he is identified as the retired harbor-master of Ouistreham, Capt. Yves Joris. Among his letters has been found a bank statement showing someone has deposited 300,000 francs to his bank account.

Joris’ house-keeper, Julie Legrand, comes to Paris to take him home, and Maigret accompanies them back to Ouistreham. Early the next morning Maigret is called to the house: Capt. Joris has been poisoned, and dies within the hour. Julie’s brother, Louis Legrand (Big Louis) is an ex-con seaman who works on the costal trader Saint-Michel, which had been in port the night the Capt. initially disappeared.

Maigret visits the Saint-Michel, which has docked, and meets Louis and the vessel’s furtive Captain, Yves Lannec. Under suspicion but not arrest, Louis leaves. But why did he sleep on a dredger? Who did he meet there? Maigret asks questions, but no one is talking.

The Maigret books interest me on several levels. The French setting is quite different from my usual reading. The Maigret character is unlike others as well: he is methodical, introspective, plodding yet takes action – often violent – as required. He is very self-confident, not always justified, but it motivates him to take, or refrain from taking, action when presented with clues or changes in the situation.

There is a quality in the books which I can only describe as density, as if the weather, landscape, actions of the characters and responses by Maigret and the other officers stack layer on layer, as opposed to following nose to tail as in most mysteries. The conclusion of the book, the last clue, the final action – the finish – sits atop, like the highest stone in a dry-stacked wall.

If it’s been a while since you read a Maigret novel, this might just be a good time to lose yourself for a while in France, and in the mind of this fascinating character and in one of the many well-written novels about him that Georges Simenon wrote.

~  ~  ~  ~

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews
at her own blog, and
posts a complete list of participating blogs.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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11 Responses to Maigret and the Death of A Harbor-Master

  1. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Sadly, I’ve read them all.

  2. I’ve read about half the Maigrets. You provide an insightful analysis of their attraction, Rick. I try to read three or four Maigrets each year. I also enjoy Georges Simenon’s non-Maigret novels.

  3. I’m not sure about this one. I read a lot of Simenon in my early days, but that was aboutthirty-five/forty years ago.

  4. Richard says:

    Jeff – no reason not to revisit a few of them.

    George – thanks. I’m far from having read them all, having read only a half dozen or so. About ten years ago I decided I wanted the books and ordered every one of them in print in mass market paperback. Now I’m glad as they are in print, but much more expensive, most of them in trade paper, it seems.

    Randy – I often find it interesting to reread an author I did that with, since tastes change and opinions are informed by experience.

  5. Todd Mason says:

    I’ve yet to read a Maigret, but the French longform television series runs regularly on one of the networks I take care of, the small internationa-programming US public-broadcasting web MHz WorldView, and the adaptation of this one has run recently. Ever seen any of the films adaptations, with Bruno Cremer or others, and if so what did you make of them?

  6. Richard says:

    Todd – I saw a few of the episodes that were shown on Mystery! years ago, but recall little besides that I liked them and the actor playing Maigret. This book wasn’t one of the ones I saw, I’m sure of that.

  7. Todd Mason says:

    And that was one of the British series…

  8. I had about 30 Maigrets in paperback when I started to see Maigret hardcovers being sold at Library Book Sales. Cheap. So I started buying those. Someday I’ll have to sit down with a Maigret bibliography and see which books I’m lacking. I know Art Scott has a complete set.

  9. Steve Lewis says:

    An excellent review, with a couple of really good ways of describing the Maigret books to someone else, their innate density, and how he builds a case, layer by layer. I imagine the books move too slowly for some readers, but that’s their loss!

  10. Roddy Campbell says:

    There is an excellent Maigret site at http://www.trussel.com which contains a complete and reliable list of the Maigret novels in order of publication, as well as many fascinating features about Simenon .

  11. Richard says:

    Steve – thank you. Yes, the books can move slowly at times, but as you say, their loss if they skip them on that account. Perhaps a starting place for newcomers would be the short story collection, Maigret’s Pipe.

    Roddy – I’m familiar with it, but thanks for dropping in and leaving the comment so others can also be aware of it. You’re right, it’s very good.

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