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Thursday 23 May 2024



Georges Simenon’s Maigret and the Idle Burglar was published in 1961 and translated in 1963 from Maigret and the Lazy Burglar.

It’s winter in Paris. Maigret has been called out to a murder and his wife advises him to ‘dress up warmly. It’s freezing hard’. Simenon captures the scene with a few pen-strokes: ‘Drawing back the curtain, he saw frost-flowers on the window. The street lamps had the special brightness that only comes with intense cold, and along the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir there was not a soul to be seen or a sound to be head – just one lighted window, in the house opposite; must be someone ill there’ (p3).

The call-out is unofficial as this is Inspector Fumel’s case.

Fumel’s marriage is on the rocks and he has a mistress. He ‘always had a soft spot for women, in spite of all the trouble they had brought him’ (p114)

Maigret is still fuming about how the Ministry of the Interior organisation has changed – ‘the whole bunch of college-educated law-givers who had taken it into their heads to run the world according to their own little ideas’ (p3).

The face of the dead man was bludgeoned. However, Maigret recognises a tattoo. Eventually, the man is identified as a burglar who Maigret had interviewed on several times. Maigret’s superiors are eager to dismiss the killing as an underworld vendetta, something the police should not concern themselves with: ‘Let ’em kill one another, down to the last man. That’ll save the hangman trouble and the taxpayers money’ (p52). Besides, it was not his case. They were more anxious that he track down the perpetrators of several post office robberies.

As usual, there are a number of fine turns of phrase from Simenon; here’s one: ‘Typewriters clicked like falling hailstones’ (p105).

While leading his team to track down the robbers, Maigret also spends time on finding out who was responsible for killing the burglar. In his investigations he meets a number of interesting characters, all sympathetically described.

Editorial comment:

Maybe changed in translation, but I thought that capital punishment in France at the time was not by hanging but by guillotine (two were executed by this method in 1961). The death penalty was abolished in 1981, ratified in 2007.

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