Maigret and the Old Lady (Maigret 33) by Georges Simenon

Beside the seaside…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

Valentine Besson is the old lady of the title, a still charming widow who lives in a small seaside town in Normandy. She comes to Paris to ask Maigret to investigate the death of her maid, Rose Trochu. Lest we should think this is because she cares about the girl’s death, Mme Besson makes it very clear that her real concern is that she believes the poison that killed Rose was meant for herself. Coincidentally, Mme Besson’s stepson has also approached Maigret’s boss to request that Maigret should help in the investigation, since he believes it’s beyond the abilities of the local force. So Maigret finds himself off to spend a few days at the seaside, trying to unravel the complicated family dynamics that seem to underlie the murder…

Valentine’s husband had been a rich man for a while, having developed a popular skincare lotion. But he had lost most of his money on wild speculations before he died, leaving Valentine comfortably provided for, but not wealthy. He also left two sons from his first marriage and a daughter from his second marriage to Valentine. Had Valentine been rich, suspicion would naturally have fallen on these three, but they would gain little financially from her death so Maigret must look for another motive, and that proves elusive.

The setting of the small seaside town is done well, with Maigret reminiscing over holidays he has spent in similar places with his wife. The plot is also interesting, with the search for a motive being the major part of the mystery – once it is solved, the rest falls into place. Simenon shows the rather careless attitude of the Besson family to Rose, with the casual assumption that she was so unimportant that no one could have deliberately intended to kill her. It’s a strange kind of snobbery that suggests one must be a certain class to even be worthy of murder, or at least to have that murder be worthy of investigation by someone of the stature of Maigret. Even Maigret spends a good deal of time with the Bessons before he bothers to visit Rose’s family, which I must say didn’t endear him to me. The Trochus are conscious and resentful of this kind of dismissal of Rose’s death as merely being a fortuitous accident that got in the way of the more important intended murder of Valentine. Simenon shows this kind of class distinction quite subtly and the only characters who really come over sympathetically are Rose’s bereaved family.

Georges Simenon

However, even more than usual Maigret spends his time going from bar to bar drinking, or sitting with the old lady drinking. Everywhere he goes the thing that seems most on his mind is whether he’ll be offered a drink or not. At one point he actually falls asleep while talking to Valentine, not altogether surprising given that he’d already put away enough alcohol that day to sink the entire French fleet. This wouldn’t have been quite so annoying had it seemed as if he was getting anywhere with the investigation, or even trying. But he really just chats to people in an aimless way and allows events to unfold until the solution becomes unavoidably obvious. He does spot one or two things the local force had missed, but he doesn’t do anything with them – I’m being vague to avoid spoilers. I felt that when the local police detective questioned whether the great man was worthy of his reputation, he had a point! I certainly wouldn’t put this case down as a success, but Maigret seemed quite satisfied with his own performance.

So I have rather mixed feelings about this one. There’s enough in it to make it interesting, but I felt Simenon was to some extent simply going through the motions, keeping Maigret wandering around drinking and doing not much else till Simenon felt he could reasonably reveal the solution and bring the book to an end.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Gareth Armstrong who as usual did a fine job.

Audible UK Link

25 thoughts on “Maigret and the Old Lady (Maigret 33) by Georges Simenon

  1. I enjoyed your review and thoughtful points but I’m not tempted to add this one to my list (phew!). I don’t think I’d enjoy a laid-back hard-drinking investigator and the persistent class issues would annoy me too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find the Maigrets very variable. This one was particularly odd in that generally I don’t find Maigret snobbish so that aspect surprised me, but I must admit that I do get very tired of his constant drinking!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I do like the Maigret stories, FictionFan, but I know exactly what you mean about Maigret going from drink to drink. It really does take away from the stories’ qualities when he does that. I think more than anything, though, that the family’s attitude towards Rose would pull me out of the book. That said, though, I like the character and Simenon does setting very well, so that would appeal to me. And there’s his writing style. I’m glad you found things to like about this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find them very variable – when they’re good they’re very good, but sometimes it does feel as if he’s just phoning them in, so to speak. And I do get very tired of the constant drinking references, and in this one that aspect seemed even worse than usual. I was surprised that Maigret didn’t show much respect to Rose’s parents because generally speaking I don’t find Maigret snobbish – quite the reverse. However as usual the setting and the writing make up for any other weaknesses.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t read any Maigret stories so I’m curious whether the tone of them is indulgent toward Maigret or not? Does the author seem to recognize Maigret’s ineffectiveness and excessive drinking or does it seem incidental and we’re supposed to admire him as a rest detective?

    Liked by 1 person

    • He’s usually fairly indulgent about the drinking although I did feel in this one that he was suggesting that Maigret was drinking too much. But in terms of ineffectiveness that was unusual, since generally speaking Maigret is shown as being a very good detective who sees things that other people miss. Really I think those two aspects are why I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I usually do.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think I might have one from this series somewhere on a list, but I’m not sure. It’s not high priority! 😉 At least this one wasn’t a total disappointment for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do find them quite variable in quality. Some of them are excellent but sometimes it feels as if he’s just going through the motions. But there’s usually enough in them to make them worth the few hours invested, since they’re all very short!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This one sounds somewhat disappointing to me. I haven’t read any of the Maigret stories, but after reading some of your reviews, I hoped eventually I’d get around to one. I guess this one won’t be the one, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do find them very variable, as if sometimes he’s worked harder on them than others. If you ever do decide to try him, my recommendation would be Cecile is Dead – I thought he was on top form in that one!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It sounds like there was too much filler content, which is never great. Do you have a favourite Maigret? It always seems daunting to select a book, there are just too many in the series!

    Liked by 1 person

    • They are very variable – sometimes it feels as if he just hasn’t put the effort in. I still haven’t read very many of them but my favourite so far has been Cecile is Dead. I think he’s on top form in that one!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve enjoyed the Maigret books I’ve read to date, but haven’t found any of the characters to be particularly sympathetic or kind to each other, instead I thought they were a fairly cold bunch. Poor Rose (and more so because she and I share a name).

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, there is a kind of coldness to them, and this one in particular I felt that about. I was surprised that Maigret showed so little respect for Rose’s parents because generally speaking I don’t think of him as being snobbish. But I do find the series very variable, though usually there’s enough in them to make them enjoyable overall.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I usually find there’s enough in them to make them enjoyable reads overall, but I must admit I do find them very variable in quality. If you do fancy reading one at some point, my recommendation would be Cecile is Dead. I thought he was on top form in that one!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Although detectives with drinking problems are certainly not unique, I’ve never heard of a detective who wasn’t so concerned with whether the mystery was actually solved or not! That’s a new one…

    Liked by 1 person

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.