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Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses

If you are reading along with The Poisoned Martini, then perhaps this month you read a Georges Simenon mystery featuring the laconic Maigret, the French commissaire known for his cigars and love of a good stiff drink.  As a book discussion choice, it may be hard to come by enough copies of the same Maigret story for all readers in your group.  Beacuse of their general brevity and steady pacing, Simenon’s Maigret novels are ideally suited for leaving the selection to your groups members.  Let them read any title in the series—in many cases they might read more than one—and you have a lively discussion about the various adventures and mysteries solved by Maigret.

Book by Georges Simenon

With over 75 novels and over 25 short stories written between 1931 and 1972—just a portion of Simenon’s overall literary output—there’s plenty of titles to choose from.  For its selection, The Poisoned Martini read the 1959 novel, Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses (Maigret et les témoins récalcitrants).

“Families are by nature secretive.”  So says a line from the blurb on the Harvest/HBJ edition’s back cover.  This edition was translated from the French by Daphne Woodward.

Maigret is called to the crumbling home of the Lachaume family, known for their wafer-biscuits (petits-beurre) with a reputation dating back to the early 1800s.  Leonard Lachaume, the current head of the family business—the factory is adjacent to the home—has been found shot in his bed.  He lived in the Quai-side mansion with his aged parents, his preteen son, his brother and his brother’s wealthy wife, and a hunchbacked servant as old and decrepit as the house.

Maigret notes, “The curious thing was that there seemed to be no grief here, only a strange dejection, a kind of uneasy stupor.”

Unfortunately, early on, Maigret’s investigation flounders—or so he feels—because he is being watched by a young magistrate, Angelot—one of the new breed—and the Lachaume’s family lawyer, Radel.  Thus he is not able to ask the questions he would like nor get a feel for the inner workings of this strange, tight-lipped family.

Absent from the scene and discovered later in the course of Maigret’s investigations is Véronique Lachaume, the wayward daughter who would not be married off to a man she didn’t love.  She now leads a seemingly quiet life, independent of the family, and working in a certain kind of nightclub dressed as a man.  Lately, she’s been seeing a man, a ne’er-do-well, who has also been seen in the company of Pauline Lachaume, the wife of Leonard’s younger brother, Armand.

Maigret employs a fleet of detectives to gather intel. “Various inspectors, at least ten of them, were still going around in the rain, ringing doorbells, questioning people, trying to jog their memories.”  Maigret, meanwhile, tries to imagine the interpersonal relationships of the family and mulls over the evidence gathered.

Before you know it, an interview is arranged to be held in the examining magistrate’s office—not in the Quai des Orfèvres, the offices of the comissaire—to iron out certain tesitmony and get at the truth.  The case concludes tragically.

Veteran mystery readers may well see the direction of the story and guess at the solution correctly, if not quite grasping the significance of every clue.  The mystery is neatly plotted.  Here though, it is the the introspective Maigret and his blend of investigation that is both intuitive and methodical that headlines the tale.

Maigret is a part of that idiosyncratic type of classic detective so much apart of the golden age of mysteries.  He is perhaps best known to today’s mystery fans by his televised potrayals.  He was most famously played by British actor Rupert Davies in over 50 productions beginning in the 1960s, and most recently by Michael Gambon in the early 1990s.

Sadly, the books are often not readily available in current library collections as the need to withdraw to make room for new titles necessitates culling aging titles.  However, the books have been re-issued in recent years and dogged-searching will uncover them in larger library mystery collections and for sale in bookstores and online.  Any true fan of mysteries must experience Maigret.

Share your thoughts of Maigret titles you’ve read…

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Categorised in: Mystery, Reviews

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