My second foray into Maigret has hooked me.
You may well know that Penguin are currently publishing translations of all 75 of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret novels at a rate of one per month in the UK (they’re up to 45 so far and they look brilliant), and their virtues are being extolled all over the place.
Reading the first, Pietr the Latvian, a couple of years ago, I was disappointed by abstruse plotting, clunky translation, and a rather forgettable protagonist. But maybe I was just in a bad mood, or maybe M. Simenon needed to warm up a bit, because my second attempt, The Late Monsieur Gallet, is better in every way.
The novel begins with a harassed Maigret being summoned to the quiet town of Sancerre on the banks of the Loire to investigate the murder by shooting and stabbing of a certain Emile Gallet in a local hotel. All that’s known about the deceased is that he’s a travelling salesman and an unremarkable suburban family man, but as the investigation gets going various oddities and inconsistencies in his back-story begin to come to light.
The story develops along standard crime fiction lines, with an autopsy, a visit to the relatives, interviews with suspects, the finding of clues, and a final revelation. But despite the familiar structure it stands out, mainly for having both a surprisingly neat solution and a well-drawn evocation of provincial interwar France at the height of summer, with overgrown footpaths, insects buzzing drowsily and beer glasses clinking on café terraces.
I was also pleased to find that I liked Maigret himself a lot more this time around. When I read Pietr the Latvian I found him to be a blank space at the centre of the novel, but here he is far more sympathetic and almost endearing as he lumbers around Sancerre, grudgingly at first and then more purposefully as he becomes increasingly invested in the case, developing a poignant fondness towards the mysterious dead man. He just seems to have a far more solid and imposing presence and a better-defined personality in this book.
It’s a very quick read at less than 200 pages, and it’s a testament to Simenon’s narrative skill that the plot details have stuck in my mind in spite of this. There are some nice touches of Gallic humour here and there, as well as some complex grey-shaded characters, and the translation somehow seems to flow better than before. All in all, The Late Monsieur Gallet is an enjoyable read, leaving me keen to try more titles in this enormous collection.
Penguin | 2013 | 176p | Paperback | Buy here