Cécile is Dead (Maigret 20) by Georges Simenon

Maigret’s lapse…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Cecile is DeadCécile Pardon had become a regular visitor to Inspector Maigret at his office in the Police Judiciaire building in Paris. A spinster who lived with her elderly widowed aunt, Cécile had become convinced that someone was coming in to their apartment at night while they slept. Maigret had made a superficial gesture towards investigating, but everyone thought she was imagining things. And worse, everyone was teasing Maigret that she kept visiting because she had a crush on him. So on this morning, when Maigret saw her sitting patiently in the waiting room he left her there and got on with other things. When eventually he went to collect her, she was gone. Later, the body of her aunt is found in the apartment, strangled, and Cécile is nowhere to be found. The title gives a clue as to her fate.

Realising the aunt must already have been dead when Cécile came to see him, Maigret suspects that she knew who the murderer was and wanted to tell him directly rather than report it to the local police. He feels that if he had only taken the time to speak to her, Cécile may not have been killed. Maigret is too sensible and too experienced to blame himself for her death – he’s quite clear in his own mind that the murderer is fully responsible for that – but nevertheless his slight lapse makes him even more determined than usual to see that justice is done.

This one has quite a complicated plot for a Maigret novel, with several suspects and possible motives. Mostly it’s set in the apartment block in Bourg-la-Reine that Cécile and her aunt lived in – a block that the aunt also owned. For it turns out that she was a rich old woman, but miserly, always convinced that her relatives were scrounging from her. She was also unpleasant, treating poor Cécile like an unpaid servant, being unwilling to assist her nephew even though he was out of a job and his wife was about to have a baby, and so on. She played her many relatives off against each other, hinting to each that they would be the one to inherit when she died. But these aren’t the only suspects – rumour has it that she kept large sums of money in the apartment since she didn’t trust banks, so anyone may have decided to break in, kill her and steal the money. However, the apartment has a concierge who controls entry to the building, so that if this was what happened, it must have been one of the other tenants, or the concierge herself.

Later in the book, Maigret finds himself being accompanied on his investigations by a visiting American criminologist, Spencer Oates, who has been given the opportunity to study the great man’s method. But Maigret, as he has said in other books, doesn’t have what he thinks of as “a method” – he simply speaks to the people involved, learns as much as he can about the victim, studies the location and the timings, thinks himself into the mind of the murderer, and uses his intelligence and experience to work out what must have happened. So he uses Oates as a kind of sounding board as he develops his theory, thus allowing the reader to follow his thinking too.

There’s a sub-plot about a man, one of the tenants, who has previously been jailed for his inappropriate behaviour with young girls. Some aspects of this might jar with modern readers, as girls are shown both as vulnerable and predatory. Although it’s an unfashionable viewpoint now, I find this much more realistic than the idea that girls remain innocent angels until the day they are legally adult, so I felt this was an accurate if unflattering portrayal of adolescent girls, and also that Simenon gave a contrast in Maigret and the ex-prisoner of the response of the good man and the bad – one resisting temptation, the other preying on vulnerability.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Gareth Armstrong, and as always he did an excellent job of creating distinctive voices for Maigret and all the other characters.

georges-simenon
Georges Simenon

Overall, I think this is one of the best of the Maigrets I’ve read so far. Simenon’s portrayal of the unglamorous side of Paris is as excellent as always, but this one is better plotted than some, and the themes and characterisation have more depth. And I always enjoy when the solution manages to surprise me but still feel credible. Quite a bleak story, but Maigret’s fundamental decency and integrity and his happy home life always stop these stories from becoming too depressingly noir. Highly recommended.

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

28 thoughts on “Cécile is Dead (Maigret 20) by Georges Simenon

  1. I agree completely about Simenon’s focus on ordinary, less-than-pretty sides of Paris, FictionFan. For me, anyway, that makes the books seem more real. So does the way Simenon develops his characters (another thing I’ve always liked about his writing). Even the unpleasant ones are interesting enough that you want to know what happens to them. That’s an interesting point about the plotting, too. There’s a balance between a plot that’s complex enough to keep the reader interested, and a plot that’s so convoluted that it’s hard to follow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always particularly his villains, or the people who live kind of on the edges of criminality. His books always have a kind of noir feel, although Maigret himself is too undamaged to let them sink into true noir, and I actually prefer that – less bleak. The plotting in this one was more traditional in the sense that it included a kind of locked room mystery as well as having a closed circle of suspects. A good one!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It never ceases to amaze me just how many books are out there that I haven’t read! This one sounds intriguing, so thank you for making me aware of it. Nothing like a good mystery on a rainy night!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, Simenon alone must have added nearly a hundred books to the total – these prolific authors ought to be banned! 😉 These are great for rainy evenings or lazy Sundays, since most of them are just about short enough to read in a few hours.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I find them very variable, Cathy – there are one or two out of the seven or eight I’ve read that really didn’t do much for me. But when he’s on form he’s excellent. I think Gareth Armstrong’s narrations are great – I actually prefer listening to them than reading them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My Friend Maigret also has a overseas colleague observing his ‘method’ but, as here, it’s just the Chief Inspector doing his patient, steady job accumulating facts, figures and evidence. I look forward to the next Maigret I pick up which, if luck’s on my side, may be this one! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, his ‘method’ seems to get mentioned quite a lot and although he denies having one, I like the method of simply talking to people and trying to work out how they’d behave in given circumstances – my favourite kind of crime solving! Because they’re so short I find these great for fitting in between heavier reads.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve never read any of these mysteries. Can they be read out of order? I’m so use to series with major character development and ongoing story arcs that I have trouble picking up a random novel. This sounds like a good one, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, they all stand alone completely. I think there is some family development over time, but I haven’t read enough of them yet to really know what, and I don’t think it matters at all. And Maigret seems to stay the same all the way through – kinda like Poirot, only French, and less twinkly… 😉

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    • I did feel sorry for Cécile, and I was glad that Maigret felt a bit guilty for what happened to her. I always find his books rather sad though – there’s a kind of noir feel about them, although Maigret’s fundamental decency stops them from ever becoming too bleak. And it was fun seeing him do a kind of locked room mystery in this one.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, and he was so prolific! But because his books are usually so short I find them great for keeping a couple on the TBR to fit in between heavier reads. And they all stand completely alone, so I don’t get that feeling of having to read them all… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m just reading them randomly as I come across them – he was so prolific there’s no way I could commit to reading them all! But of the seven or eight I’ve read this is definitely my favourite so far. I hope you enjoy it if you get to it! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • The great thing about them is that they’re so short! I find them perfect for fitting in after a heavy read, when my brain isn’t ready to tackle another long book. This would a wonderful one to begin with… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. So this comment isn’t about your current post, but as I was reading it, I noticed that you are reading The Listeners by Jordan Tannahill! I just got that in the mail, how are you liking it so far? That’s a true work of canlit right there, hot off the press 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t started it yet – tonight maybe! I hadn’t realised he was Canadian – that’s excellent, should fit my wanderlust challenge nicely! I feel it’s one I could love or hate… we’ll see! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Most of my Maigret collection are in the 50-60’s range as far as the series goes. Now you’ve intrigued me about the earlier ones. I love how Simenon describes Maigret moving around certain areas of Paris. I feel like I’m there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve dotted about around the series, just picking them up as I come across them in an Audible or Kindle sale – no planning involved! I love his settings too – he shows the real Paris of Parisians, rather than the glamorous, touristy bit of the city.

      Liked by 1 person

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