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Saturday 4 May 2024

MAIGRET IN COURT - Book review

Georges Simenon’s Maigret in Court was published in 1960 (translated 1965).

Chief Inspector Maigret, 55, is attending court to give evidence. A woman and her child were brutally murdered in their flat. The accused is the victim’s nephew, a quiet picture-framer, Gaston Meurant. He is fortunate to be appearing before Judge Xavier Bernerie, ‘the most scrupulous and the most passionate seeker of the truth. Thin and in poor health, his eyes feverish, with a dry cough, he resembled a saint in a stained-glass window’ (p2).

Meurant’s wife Ginette was in the witness box too: ‘underneath her make-up (she) had the paleness of women who live in a hothouse atmosphere’ (p44).

In philosophical mode, Maigret compared his appearance in court with that of his friend, Pardon, the local GP, who constantly bemoaned the limited time allocated to each patient. ‘Each patient is a separate case, and yet I have to work on the conveyor-belt system...’ (p49). While for Maigret in court there’s a need to be concise: ‘The number of the witnesses is reduced to the minimum, as are the questions that are put to them... The case is merely sketched in with a few strokes; the people concerned are no more than outlines, caricatures almost...’ (p50).

In the event, Maigret cannot reconcile the violent portrait the court paints with the man his investigation revealed.

We again meet Maigret’s long-suffering confederates Janvier and Lucas; and Maigret is looking forward to retiring in two years with his wife.

This, like many of his works, is a slim volume, yet it is steeped in the minutiae of police procedurals and court procedures in France and makes riveting reading.

Simenon was a literary phenomenon, writing over 400 novels; he wrote 75 Maigret novels and 28 short stories featuring the detective. Simenon died in 1989, aged 86.

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