At 144 pages The Madman of Bergerac just fits the 150-page definition of a novella over at the Novellas in November reading challenge. It was first published in 1932 which makes it old and therefore a classic which is the challenge category for this week.
It’s also a fun read for fans of Inspector Maigret.
I’m not sure I’d send it along to anyone else.
This time around, Inspector Maigret is stuck recovering in a small-town hotel. Wounded trying to stop a passenger who leapt from a moving train while travelling through France on the overnight, he can’t help but become involved in investigating the larger crime responsible for the bullet he took. Although he must do so from the only available bed in the local hotel.
It’s a classic detective series set up. If there are enough books in a series, then there must be one where the detective has to solve a crime while stuck in bed. That the bed in this particular story is in a provincial French hotel adds to the fun. That Madame Maigret, who usually only makes a brief cameo appearance in the Inspector Maigret novels, comes to take care of Maigret while he recovers making her an important character for once also adds to the fun. She even gets to do a little investigating here, though she makes her disapproval clear.
Georges Simenon wrote nearly 500 books including 75 Maigret novels. He wrote 10 Maigret novels in 1931 alone. The last one was published in 1972. He once described his process in detail–I recall he said each Maigret took eight days to write. They are all about 140 pages long; Simenon wrote 60 to 80 pages a day. This makes the eight days claim easy to believe. Simenon described his writing style as a lack of literary pretense. He would revise his work by removing anything that struck him as at all literary. The result, in translation at least, is a very clean, matter-of-fact writing perfect for detective fiction.
The Maigret books are all very reliable. You can always count on a good story, clearly told. Brisk, entertaining writing. A slightly gruff detective who takes no guff and who always gets his man (or woman) in the end.