Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon (Translated from the French by David Bellos)

peitr the latvian (1)

I was hoping to read one Maigret novel a month; read them all, though it would take over six years to do.   It may not come to pass.

A few months ago, Penguin announced they would be reprinting all 75 of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret novels.  Instead of releasing them all at once, they would release one a month, so that each one had a chance to be noticed on its own.

It hasn’t exactly worked out.  I did buy the first Maigret novel as soon as I saw it, and then ordered the next four only to find out that one was back ordered and the publication dates for the rest had all been delayed, very delayed.  What was supposed to be this month’s book won’t be out until December.

But, I do have the first four, so there will be a Monthly Maigret novel here at James Reads Books at least through July.

The first Maigret novel isn’t just a vehicle to introduce a new detective character, but, since introduce Maigret it does, I thought I’d concentrate on the character and the narrative voice this time around.  Here is a passage from chapter two that paints a very clear detective of Maigret, what makes him a stand out character and gives a nice introduction to the humorous edge of Simenon’s narrative voice:

Not that he looked like a cartoon policeman. He didn’t have a moustache and he didn’t wear heavy boots. His clothes were well cut and made of fairly light worsted. He shaved every day and looked after his hands.

But his frame was proletarian. He was a big, bony man. Iron muscles shaped his jacked sleeves and quickly wore through new trousers

He had a way of imposing himself just by standing there. His assertive presence had often irked many of his own colleagues.

It was something more than self-confidence but less than pride. He would turn up and stand like a rock with his feet wide apart On that rock all would shatter, whether Maigret moved forward or stayed exactly where he was.

Not a regular policeman–shaves every day and looks after his hands.  A large man who could easily pass as a common workman, but for his clean shaves and manicured nails.  Maigret really sounds like a response to Hercule Poirot to me, an anti-Poirot.  I’ve no idea if this is what Simenon had in mind or even if the time-line works. The first Maigret novel came out in 1930.

Maigret will continue to be the rock his opponents self-destruct upon for many novels to come.  By the end Pietr the Latvian more than one suspect fell victim to this strategy.  Remain a strong quite presence and eventually someone will begin talking.

That Maigret will solve the case, that the criminal will be brought to justice, is a forgone conclusion, but Simenon works within this framework, even as early as 1930, to bring his policeman to life through an acerbic commentary on the nature of police work.  His Maigret is…

a senior detective earning 2,200 francs a month who, when he’d solved a case and put criminals behind bars, had to sit down with paper and pencil and itemize his expenses, clip his receipts and documentation to the claim, and then go and argue it out with accounts.

I’m hooked.  Take me along for the ride Georges, months or years, however long it lasts.

2 thoughts on “Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon (Translated from the French by David Bellos)

  1. Thanks for the insights. I agree this first Maigret introduces the man very well. However, as a reader who is over 3/4ths of the way through the series, I’m confident you’re not likely to find iron muscles shaping his sleeves and wearing out his trousers again. In fact, Maigret becomes a heavy eater and drinker with only his walks to work to work a means of burning off calories. That said, what I like most of all about the series is the remarkable consistency in characters that Simenon maintains in so many stories over so many years without seeming too formulaic.

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