Pietr the Latvian (Maigret 1) by Georges Simenon

Introducing the great man…

🙂 🙂 🙂

Inspector Maigret is at the Gare du Nord on the trail of a notorious conman known only as Pietr the Latvian. He only has a description to go on, but he sees a man get off the train who matches it in every respect. However things get complicated when a corpse turns up on the train, and the corpse also matches the description! Who is the man on the train? And who is the man who got off the train? As Maigret hunts down the living man, his identity seems to become ever vaguer. But Maigret is nothing if not dogged…

This is the first book in the long-running Maigret series and, like many débuts, not one of the best when looked at retrospectively. The plot is a bit messy and the solution relatively obvious. It consists mostly of Maigret hanging around in hotels and bars as he follows his quarry about Paris and the little seaside town of Fecamp, interspersed with the occasional interview. However it shows Simenon’s skill in creating the authentic sense of place that would become a hallmark of the series and provides an introduction to the character of Maigret himself – perhaps more one-dimensional than he would later become, but already with that relentless persistence that would see him through more complex investigations in his future career.

Challenge details:
Book: 97
Subject Heading: Cosmopolitan Crimes
Publication Year: 1930

He was a big, bony man. Iron muscles shaped his jacket sleeves and quickly wore through new trousers. He had a way of imposing himself just by standing there.

Maigret is a bit of a superman in this one, requiring little in the way of sleep and able to battle on even when injured, possibly due to the extraordinary amount of alcohol he puts away. It’s more noir in tone, perhaps, than the later books (of which I’ve only read a couple, so am certainly no Maigret expert), as Maigret wanders through a kind of lowlife underworld full of rather sad and desperate people. His wife is referred to, but not really in the warm terms I’ve come to expect, of being Maigret’s true partner and best friend. Here she’s more of a “traditional” wife – there merely to provide food when required.

Georges Simenon

I listened to it on audio, well narrated by Gareth Armstrong. It’s part of Penguin’s re-issue of the series with new translations, and David Bellos does a fine job with it.

On the whole I felt one could see the kernel of what the series would develop into, but since these are all standalones, I’d tend to recommend newcomers to start with one of the later, better books as I did. In truth, had this been my first introduction to the great man, it may not have encouraged me to try more. But I found it interesting from the point of view of being able to compare this first glimpse of Maigret to the more rounded character he would later become, so would certainly recommend it on that basis.

NB This audiobook was provided for review by Audible via MidasPR.

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51 thoughts on “Pietr the Latvian (Maigret 1) by Georges Simenon

  1. Oh, this is interesting, I’ve not read this one and as a Maigret fan I would like to see where he came from, so to speak. I am of the firm belief that hanging around hotels and bars in order to solve crimes is perfectly reasonable in fiction, it’s a bit of a shame it doesn’t work so well in real life!

  2. I think you’ve pinpointed a really interesting problem here. The first book in a series is very often not going to show a writer at their best. I can think of a couple of authors whose works I have passed on because I tried the first novel and was vastly disappointed. I know that I ought to try one from later in the sequence just to see if things get better. After all, both Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin improve tremendously as their series develop. On the other hand I have discovered at least four crime writers this year whose first novels were excellent. If you haven’t yet read Matthew Frank, Sarah Ward, Rob McCarthy and Helen Fields I very strongly recommend them.

    • I’m a big believer in jumping into the middle of series for that very reason. In fact, it was only last week I was saying that I’d been put off Michael Innes by reading his first book first, though lots of people were assuring me they get better. It’s one of the reasons I prefer the old style of series being made up as lots of standalone plots with just the same characters re-appearing, as opposed to the current tendency to have a running storyline in the background which more or less forces you to have to read them in order. Haha – you can’t recommend four series all in one go to someone with TBR problems like mine!! It’s like offering a case of wine to someone with a drink problem… 😉 Too late, though – I shall check them out! 😀

      • Well, I am in the middle of the fifth Innes novel but my first and although I think the writing I’m not sure I shall read any more. There is too little police action for me. As for the recommendations – well they really are good but if you have to take them one at a time then the Frank is the best and the Fields set firmly in Scotland so you might want to go for them first.

        • I thought Innes’ writing was good too – I just didn’t like his style much and I didn’t find Appleby particularly appealing as a character. Thanks for the recommendations – I shall look at the Frank and the Fields first then. I always feel I really ought to read more Scottish crime fiction than I do, so the Fields might be just the thing… 🙂

      • I think publishers maybe used to make more of a commitmment to giving newbies time to develop back then – a thing I wish they’d do a bit more now. Certainly I’ve come across loads of authors from that period whose first books only gave hints of their future talent…

  3. Great review. I agree that Maigret, and Madame Maigret, develop as the series progresses – and as Simenon matures, of course. Especially in the later books, Mme Maigret gets involved, and quite often provides the information that leads to a solution.

    • Thanks! 😀 I was glad I happened to start in the middle of the series – just by pure chance I think I picked one from his peak period. And once I know I like books later in a series, I’m always more willing to go back to the beginning then and see how they started…

  4. It’s good to hear that even the greats have to learn their craft! This is the Maigret that is part of my Le Monde’s 100 Books reading challenge, so it’s good to know to go in with low expectations. At least I’ll be able to see where the great man started 🙂

    • I wonder why all the people who make up these lists have gone for this one. Personally, I’d have chosen one of the later ones that show him at his peak. But this one is still enjoyable in its own right, so have fun when you get to it! 😀

  5. You’re quite right, FictionFan, about Maigret’s development (at least in my opinion). He becomes more solid, I think, and more defined as time goes by. And I think the plotting of the later novels works better, too. Still, I’m glad you enjoyed this one. It’s one of those books that raises the question: is it better to start a series at the beginning, and watch the main character evolve; or, is it better to start later, and really enjoy the richer, developed character, and then go back to the beginning?

    • I’m a definite jump-in-the-middle reader, which is one reason I prefer the older style of each book in a series being entirely a standalone than the more recent trend of having a running storyline in the background which more or less forces you to read them in order. With Maigret, I’m glad I’d read and enjoyed a couple of the later ones before I read this – although I enjoyed this too, I probably wasn’t taken with it enough to have inspired me to read more, had it been my first introduction to him…

  6. So nice to see your review. I read this one years ago, after being introduced to the Maigret series through Mystery on PBS. I thought it a bit dull, which almost made me quit reading the series.

    • Yes, I’m glad I didn’t read this one first because I doubt if I’d have bothered to read more. But the couple of later ones I’ve read were much better so it was interesting then to see how he started…

  7. I have to confess I don’t have a clue which ones I’ve read from this series as I used to read my father’s old paperbacks as a teenager – however I’m with you on the jumping in at the middle of a series which as you point out in the comments can be more problematic now story arcs spanning the entire series are de rigour.

    • I’m sure I read some in my teen years too, stolen from BigSister’s bookshelves, but like you I haven’t a clue which ones. But since I don’t remember any of the plots anyway it wouldn’t matter if I picked them up again! Yes, the story arc has its attractions but it does kinda force you to pick books up in order, which I’ve never been good at…

    • Yes, I’m glad I happened to start mid-series with a couple of the better ones – this one was OK but probably wouldn’t have inspired me to read more. He becomes a much more interesting character in the later books, doesn’t he? 🙂

  8. As a writer, I find it especially encouraging to read debut novels by what would become “famous” authors. They often show signs of the brilliance to come, cloaked in bad plotting, obvious clues, and the like. I’m sure they have mixed feelings over them, too — embarrassment that they’re not as professional as they’d like, but nevertheless, pride their hard work paid off in publication.

    • Yes, I think debuts are hard however they turn out. Sometimes they can be disappointing if you’ve read and loved an author’s later work. But other times, when a debut is great, then reader expectations become too high for the next book and often end up disappointed again. Maybe the best way is for a debut to be just good enough to encourage readers to come back for more… 🙂

    • Haha – well, most of us have, though I think neanderthals haven’t quite gone extinct yet… 😉 But Mme Maigret becomes much more his equal as the series progresses, I’m glad to say.

  9. I’d love to be able to take your advice and start with a later book, but I’m more of a start-at-the-beginning type. The name Pieter The Latvian is intriguing, he sounds mysterious and potentially disreputable.

    • I definitely think the middle ones are better than this early one and they really are all standalones so I don’t think the order matters. Anyway, there are more than 70 of them! If you do try one sometime, I hope you enjoy it… 🙂

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