Maigret and the Tall Woman (Maigret 38) by Georges Simenon

The mystery of the missing corpse…

😀 😀 😀 😀

maigret-and-the-tall-womanOn a hot summer day in Paris when most people are on holiday, Maigret receives a visit from a tall woman who says he once arrested her. Ernestine tells him she is now married to a well-known safe-breaker, nicknamed Sad Freddie, who has been in and out of prison for years. On his latest job, according to the woman, Freddie discovered the body of a murdered woman in the house he was burgling, and has fled and gone into hiding, fearing he’ll be suspected of killing her. Ernestine wants Maigret to find the real killer so her husband feels safe to come home. The only problem is no murder has been reported…

It’s been many years since I last read a Maigret novel, but the recent Penguin re-issues in new translations have led to a spate of reviews around the blogosphere that piqued my interest in re-visiting him. Also, Inspector Maigret is one of Martin Edwards’ picks for his Top Ten Golden Age Detectives. This is the 38th in the series, so the character is well-established, and Simenon doesn’t spend much time in this one filling in details of his personal life. It works perfectly as a standalone, as I believe most if not all of them do.

Simenon creates an authentic picture of a semi-deserted Paris sweltering in a summer heatwave. Partly due to this, and partly just because he seems to like to drink, Maigret spends an inordinate amount of time popping into cafés for a little glass of wine, or beer, or Pernod – lots and lots of Pernod, in fact. I had to stand back in awe at his sheer capacity – not many men start the day with a glass of white wine before heading off to work, and it must surely be a French thing for the police office to have an account with the nearby café to have regular supplies of Pernod sent round during an investigation. One can’t help but feel Rebus would have been in his element over there…

Maigret's unostentatious little office in Quai des Orfevres, Paris.
Maigret’s unostentatious little office in Quai des Orfèvres, Paris.

However, joking aside, happily none of this constant imbibing leads to Maigret being a drunken detective – if anything, it all sharpens his brain. He is shown as doggedly persistent, worrying away at small clues until by sheer force of will he squeezes their meaning from them. The first thing he has to do in this case is establish that there has actually been a murder, and Ernestine helps by explaining how Freddie selects the houses he burgles. Even with this information, Maigret can find no victim and eventually begins to suspect that Ernestine is lying, or at least mistaken. But then he comes across a small inconsistency in the story of one of the people he has interviewed, and from there on it becomes a matter of breaking his suspect down through some pretty dodgy interviewing techniques – he’s not averse to a bit of mild psychological torture to achieve his ends. The eventual solution is not quite as straightforward as it seems as if it’s going to be, though, and along the way Simenon creates a chilling atmosphere of evil at work, and family dynamics gone horribly wrong.

Georges Simenon, looking not unlike my mental image of Maigret...
Georges Simenon, looking not unlike my mental image of Maigret…

Overall, I found this a thoroughly enjoyable read. It falls somewhere between novella and short novel in length, which again I think is standard for the Maigret series, so perfect to read in one evening. To contrast with the darkness of the crime, Maigret himself is rather laid-back and we get a great feeling of the delightful café culture of Paris. He loves his wife, and they regularly meet up (for drinks!) during the case – Maigret is quite capable of working all night if he has to, and making his men do the same, but he doesn’t let work absorb him to the extent of neglecting his family life. In truth, the detection element relies on little more than guesswork and it all works out a little too easily perhaps, but the story is interesting for all that. It’s well written with some humour to lighten the overall tone, and I found the translation by David Watson excellent. I’ll certainly be keen to read more of the series and happily recommend it to anyone who hasn’t tried Maigret before.

(This novel has been published in previous translations as Maigret and the Burglar’s Wife.)

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Penguin UK.

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42 thoughts on “Maigret and the Tall Woman (Maigret 38) by Georges Simenon

  1. Oooh! Definitely going to have to get my hands on the re-issued Maigret! I was thinking this after seeing Rowan Atkinson play him recently (brilliant!) and I like that the books are quite short as I haven’t got the time to invest in a full-on novel right now, but they would be the perfect little distraction. FF, you are a star!

  2. There’s just something about the Maigret series, isn’t there, FictionFan? I’ve always liked the way Simenon portrays France – his writing really has a sense of place and context. And I like the Jules Maigret character, too. As you, he has more than his share of Pernod, etc., but he’s not a drunken and dysfunctional sleuth. He’s brilliant, but without coming off as smug and superior. I’m glad you enjoyed this one.

  3. I love the Maigret series! I was introduced to it via PBS, which showed the Mystery series starring Michael Gambon as Maigret. So I had to find the books at the library! Like you, I haven’t read any in years. Your review makes me want to pick this book up. Yes, Simenon looks like I’d imagined Maigret. I wonder if Gambon was chosen for that reason.

    • Oh, I enjoyed the Michael Gambon version too! Actually he’s much more my idea of what Maigret is like than Rowan Atkinson, although Atkinson did it well, I thought. This was a good translation too – I have a feeling that when I read some years ago, the translation was a bit clunkier…

    • I read a few way back in the dark ages, but I have a feeling the translations were a bit clunkier back then. This new translation was very good. Worth digging out of the pile! 🙂

  4. The Paris setting sounds fantastic! The plot sounds interesting as well and a one sit evening read would be perfect…going to check this one out thanks:)

  5. I remember reading my father’s copies of these books way in the distant path and can’t say I remember much humour but then, perhaps my tastes were a little more giddy back then? In truth I think you’re right that the translations weren’t the best – I really should pick one of the newer ones up 😉

    • I definietley enjoyed this more than I when I read them before, so either it’s my taste that’s changed or the translation is better – maybe a bit of both! But they’re a great size for a one evening read – I think I’ll keep one or two on standby…

  6. I love Maigret, and these books are almost single-handedly responsible for my having any French left. This book is a particular favourite, but I never read a Maigret I didn’t like.

    • Yes, I really ought to try one in French sometime, though I fear my French is so rusty now it may be beyond resuscitation! But I’ll definitely read more of them in English…

  7. I’ve never even heard of these before! Think I’ve missed out, and will have to remedy this soon. If I had a glass of anything interesting before work I would get the sack, haven’t times changed…

  8. I enjoyed Maigret in video form. Have not read a book yet, but your review is encouraging. I do like the photo of his “office”! 🙂

    • There have been a few good Maigret adapatations over the years – I think the short length of the books makes them work really well for TV. These new translations seem to be very good, so I do recommend the books if you ever come across them. Haha! Yes, it’s a nice “little” building, isn’t it? 😉

  9. Who are all of your favorite detectives? There seems to be quite a few that you thoroughly enjoy, so much that I am learning about new characters who have been famous forever (meaning I’m hanging out in the dark). I guess I never read many detective novels because when I was a kid I would try them out—even detective novels meant for young adult readers, and I would get so mad that I never had any clue as to what was happening and why. Apparently, I have no faith that things will work out or patience to see it happen. When I was reading, I always wanted to know what something meant or why it happened when it happened. I feel that way about detective movies, too.

    • Hmm… interesting question! The usual suspects – Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Then there’s Agatha Christie’s Tommy & Tuppence, whom my cats are called after. Still on classics, I love the Nero Wolfe books. And more modern, my favourite is Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. Current series favourite would be either Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan or Sharon Bolton’s Lacey Flint. And then there’s all the TV ‘tecs I love too… 😀

      It’s never bothered me not knowing – in fact, I prefer that and always feel a bit let down if I can work it out. But it needs to be properly explained in the end and make sense! That’s why I think Agatha Christie is so far ahead of almost everyone else – her endings are always very satisfying…

      • I think my concern when I don’t know something is not so much about impatience, but I think I’m stupid…like, something is happening and I’m too dumb to get it. Apparently, my brain doesn’t know how mysteries work. I really like the movie The Lady Vanishes, which you discussed recently, because the whole time everyone’s repeating what just happened and then saying things like, “Well, that is a mystery! Let’s look around more!” And that reassures me that we’re all dumb together 😀

        • Yes, I see what you mean, and I certainly don’t like the kind of book where the detective keeps things to her/him-self and leaves the reader in the dark. I think that might be why I like detectives with sidekicks – I’m quite happy to bumble along beside Watson or Captain Hastings, and then Holmes and Poirot don’t make me feel inadequate… 😉

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