FFB: Maigret and the Headless Corpse

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.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

The rest of the Friday Forgotten Book posts
can be found at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinaise

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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8 Responses to FFB: Maigret and the Headless Corpse

  1. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Good choice. I’ve read all the Maigrets that have been translated, and while some are better than others, they are all worth reading.

  2. I remember this one with special affection as it was my first ever Maigret – I’m pretty sure I still have the paperback somewhere. ‘Introspective’ is absolutely the right for this series – really enjoyed the review.


  3. Patti Abbott says:

    Glad to see you liked it, Rick. Afraid we had some unhappy reviewers today.

  4. I have the same reaction as you do to Simenon’s work, Rick. I’ve read dozens of his books, but I still have dozens of books unread on my shelves. I’m trying to read three or four Simenons per year to make them last. Jeff Meyerson has read over 100 Simenons. He’s way ahead of me!

  5. Richard says:

    Sergio, thanks for the compliment on the review.

    Patti, I’ve liked, some more, some less but liked, all of the Maigret novels and short stories I’ve read. Perhaps my favorite is a short story collection, Maigret’s Pipe, but I wanted to read one I hadn’t read this time.

    George, he’s way ahead of us on lots of authors, I suspect.

  6. Yvette says:

    Love the title, Richard. Haven’t read this one (I don’t think) but my reading of Maigret began by chance.. I discovered I liked the short stories then bought a few of the novels in very nice trade paperback – and always meant to read more. Just never have. Enjoyed your review, by the way. This is one I might like to read one of these days.

  7. Never heard of this writer before today.

  8. Art Scott says:

    I remember the nice touch of cop lore in the opening, where Maigret, and every other cop, is surprised that the torso dragged up from the river is not a woman’s.

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