I have been fully immersed in books for Paris in July 2022. It is wonderful to delve into a theme and stay there for awhile. Just as I do with every “challenge”, I found a wonderful author who is new to me. This year, it is Georges Simenon, who is certainly not new to very many. His Maigret novels are well-known, and well-loved, with, I can see, good reason.
Detective Chief Inspector Maigret works at the Police Judiciare in Paris. In this particular novel, Maigret And The Reluctant Witnesses, he is not only solving a case, but working out his imminent retirement and his advancing age.
When he leaves home, his wife reminds him not to forget his umbrella, and he’d better wear a scarf, for it was raining while coming home from the cinema the night before and he’d acquired a stiff neck. Now he feels old.
While arresting a man whose great passion is to sleep in rich people’s domiciles while they are away, using their kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom, a call comes in from the prosecutor’s office to say that a man named Leonard Lachaume has been shot. Lachaume…the name brings back the memory of his childhood, where the village grocer sold “cellophane-wrapped biscuits labeled: Lachaume Biscuits. There were Lachaume sweet butter biscuits and Lachaume wafers, both of which, as it happened, had the same slightly cardboard taste.”
Maigret and Janvier head out to the Quai de la Gare, Ivry, where the incident happened and find a once impressive house, with a three-story brick and stone facade. It has since fallen into disrepair, and becomes almost a character in itself with its foreboding.
“Everything was decrepit, the house’s contents as well as its occupants. The family and the house had turned in on themselves, taking a hostile appearance.” (p. 45)
The family who resides there is most odd: a very elderly father and his wife, their son Armand and his wife, Paulette, and a hunchbacked woman who is their maid. The oldest son, Leonard, is lying upstairs in his bed with a gunshot wound in his chest.
The interview which Maigret conducts is most artful, as are his following strategies to solve the murder, for each of the family members is most unwilling to share anything but the most obvious information. Even that is given in one sentence responses, the conversation of which is delightful to read. I can imagine Maigret’s mounting frustration, as I feel it within myself, in trying to uncover the secret they are hiding within their family.
There is none of the contrived drama, the manipulation of facts or theories, which I find so prevalent in today’s mysteries. I was drawn back to my time in France, with the lovely bistros, the telephone booths in glassed walls called cabins, the mirrors behind the bars. Like Maigret, I often long for the charm of the past while being forced to manage the present day changes. I look forward to reading more of his mysteries, and fortunately, there are many to discover.