If you've been around these parts in the last six months or so, you'll know that I've had a number of serendipitous moments with the author, Georges Simenon. Before I went to Brussels last November a quick bit of research into Belgian writers led me to him and to his short novel, The Blue Room. I quickly devoured that novel and made a mental note to look in Simenon's other work, but, as usually happens, I got caught up in other things and Simenon slipped to the back of my mind.
It seems that he wasn't happy to wait patiently at the back of my mind until I eventually remembered how good The Blue Room was and set out to read more, because all of a sudden (or so it seemed), he was everywhere. His name popped up in articles I read, he was talked about at events I attended, I found at least one of his Maigret novels in every bookshop I visited, and I even went to a talk about his work at LSE's literature festival. Coincidence much? I think not.
So, I duly followed the signs and turned to a couple of random Maigret novels that I had been offered for review (serendipity at work again): Maigret's Holiday and Maigret Sets a Trap (which has now been adapted for TV). Well the rest, as they say, is history. From where I'm sat I can see a small stack of Simenon's work that I've found in various secondhand bookshops and I know there is yet another waiting for me on my kindle. I'm completely addicted.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I turned the first page of Maigret Sets a Trap. I knew from reading The Blue Room that Simenon has a unique and truly recognisable style, and I wondered whether this would be different in his Inspector Maigret series. It wasn't. Simenon has a really stripped back writing style; his work is blunt, it's sparse, and there is not one unnecessary word. I think it is particularly impressive for a crime/mystery writer to achieve such deceptively simple prose, but still manage to set the scene and build tension wonderfully.
Onto Maigret the character. I'm not sure I truly have a sense of Maigret the man yet, at least not to the point that I would recognise him as a character without it being indicated (as I do with, for example, Peter Wimsey or Miss Marple). All I know so far is that he loves to smoke, loves to drink, is very well regarded and known, is quite brusk in his manner, keeps things to himself until it's necessary to reveal them, and has a somewhat gruff yet lovable demeanour. I have to say, I'm very excited about getting to know him more.
I breezed through both these novels in less a week. They are short, yes, but I found myself hooked on Simenon's every word, so much so that I could hardly bear to put the book down. Out of the two I think I slightly preferred Maigret's Holiday, purely because I get the impression that it follows a slightly different structure to the others. I also loved the relationship between Maigret and his wife in this novel. She's nothing but a shadow/a disembodied alcohol holding hand in Maigret Sets a Trap so I was pleased her role was fleshed out a little more.
One thing that's difficult to comment on is Maigret's detection style as much of the actual detecting seems to go on in his head. He's like Sherlock in that respect, minus the need to showcase his talents. I actually quite like that finding out whodunit isn't always necessarily the focal point of the novel. It seems that the journey to catching the criminal once they're known is important, as is their motive. I'm interested to see if this is the same in other Maigret novels or if these two are unusual.
Penguin are republishing all seventy-five Maigret novels in new translations. I believe #31 My Friend Maigret was released earlier this month. Check them out here, they're fantastic and the covers are to die for.
If you've not read any of Simenon's work then all that's left to say is: read it. If you have read his work, whether his Maigret series or not, then I'm dying to know what I should read next!
Thanks go to Penguin Books at the team at Peters Fraser and Dunlop for the review copies. As ever, opinions and enthusiasm all my own.