this is the 90th in my series of forgotten or seldom read books
Maigret and the Headless Corpse by Georges Simenon, ©1955, translation by Eileen Ellenbogen © 1967, Harcourt Brace, Harvest Books 1968 mass market paperback, mystery, Chief Inspector Maigret, # 75 of 103 novels
Sometime around 1990 I’d read a couple of Maigret novels, liked them a lot and decided I’d buy all that were available in paperback at the time. Remember this was nearer the beginning of the buy it today because it may be out of print tomorrow era, and I figured having the books in hand was better than not.
I went to the bookstore, Bookstar (before it closed because a big Barnes & Noble opened across the street.) and told them I wanted to see Books in Print, then pointed to all of the available paperback Maigret novels and short story collections and ordered them all. It was 32 books, quite far from the 103 he wrote, but all of them available in paperback at the time. They went on a shelf, and I read one or two every couple of years, but there were so many other books… I got through less than half of them. Then came this Friday Forgotten Books author-specific event, and it was time and past time. I chose this one at random from the unread batch.
The dismembered body of a man is found in the Saint-Martin Canal. Maigret stops at a small café in the neighborhood near Quai de Valmy to use the phone, , and is intrigued by the proprietress, Aline Calas, who is unusually taciturn. He slowly begins to wonder if the body might be her husband, Omer Calas, supposedly away on a trip.
Simenon’s Maigret mysteries are unlike most of the mystery fiction I read in that they are more introspective. Maigret thinks his way, feels his way, relies on hunches and understanding the people, their backgrounds, what their lives have been like, what their values may be or have been. This is no hard-boiled stuff, no toss ‘em against the wall and get some answers rough stuff.
In this one, he is even more than usually reluctant to arrest the most obvious suspect, even in the face of mounting evidence and pressure from the prosecuting judge (a French version of the head DA).
A turn in the case late on provides a new motive, and in spite of his reluctance he makes a move. The ending may be a bit abrupt, but Simenon doesn’t waste any words with his endings or writing epilogs. Whereas many writers today, probably most, would be compelled to write just one more chapter, Simenon is content with his tale well told.
A fine novel. Every time I read one of these, I want to read another. This time I’ve promised myself I’ll do just that.
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The rest of the Friday Forgotten Book posts
can be found at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinaise