Commentary
11:03 am
Fri November 6, 2009

Uncommon Mystery - Maigret Loses His Temper

Murray, KY – As the weather gets colder many turn their attention indoors, to good food, drink and a few good reads. This is not unlike the usual interests of famous fictional detective, Commissaire Maigret, the lead character in George Simenon's long-running series. Commentator Michael Cohen peaks through the pages of one of his books.

It may be paradoxical to talk about one of Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret stories as an uncommon mystery. This one, Maigret Loses His Temper, from 1963, is, after all, the 62nd in the series about the Paris detective, eventually Chief Superintendent, who goes to work every day at the criminal investigation division, or S ret headquarters on the Quai des Orfevres, the wharf-side street named after the goldsmiths who used to have their shops there. It's common enough to find these Maigret mysteries on bookstore racks, after all. But there are some uncommon things about this particular Maigret mystery and about Maigret as a mystery detective.

Fictional detectives usually go against the grain a bit, but Maigret is as about as bourgeois as the bourgeois Frenchman gets. Unlike most fictional detectives, he has a happy married life, although, or perhaps because, his wife tends to feed him too much rich food. Maigret has been advised by his friend Doctor Pardon to "watch his liver," but he still allows himself an occasional ap ritif in addition to a glass of wine at mealtimes and a beer sometimes in the evening. And he hardly ever loses his temper, as he does in this book.

Maigret investigates the disappearance of a Montmartre night-club owner. Maigret studies his family situation very carefully: he has a wife, a former nightclub performer, who seems perfectly content in her role as mother and not jealous of her younger sister who was the victim's secretary. People at the night club tell him that the night club owner repeatedly tried to telephone someone the night of his disappearance, finally got through, and then walked slowly up the Rue Pigalle. Maigret walks slowly up the Rue Pigalle, thinking.

Eventually Maigret uncovers a scheme to defraud people suspected of crimes. A lawyer has come up with the brilliant plan of extorting money from these people by promising to pay off police and judges, but he only tries this on cases where he knows there is very little chance the police or prosecutor will pursue them. Maigret loses his temper because the lawyer has told his clients that Maigret is corrupt and takes bribes.

The Maigret stories are not ordinary police procedural, because the emphasis is not on the police work that is done, but rather on Maigret's own thought processes. We are let in on these in the early stages, and it is not so much the inferences he makes from the clues, but the way he identifies with the people in the investigation; for example, he tries to get inside the victim's wife's head to see how she reacts to his questions and whether she is jealous of her sister. His cases absorb him completely, not intellectually the way Sherlock Holmes's cases do, but emotionally. His talent is a perfect compassion. Although he despises the villain in this book, he nevertheless has managed to be him in the course of the investigation.

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