The Flemish House (Maigret 14) by Georges Simenon

Culture clash…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Maigret has been approached by a young woman, Anna Peeters, who wants his help. Her family is suspected of having killed another young woman, the lover of Joseph, Anna’s brother, and the mother of his child. Anna fears the local police are about to arrest them and wants Maigret to investigate separately. Since Anna has been introduced to him by an old friend, Maigret agrees, and heads to the small town of Givet on the Belgian border to look into the matter in an unofficial capacity.

This is a short one even by Maigret standards, coming in at just 132 pages, or 3 hours for the audiobook. It gives an interesting picture of a border town, looking in two directions and split between French and Belgian cultures. Simenon was Belgian by birth, although he moved to France as a young man. Here he shows how the French people in Givet look down on the Flemish residents, and because the Peeters family have done well for themselves they also meet with a lot of resentment, of the kind that suggests they are aiming above their station as members of a “lower” culture.

The Peeters themselves behave as if they think they are something special. The missing girl is a young French girl called Germaine Piedbouef and the Peeters see her as too common to marry their precious Joseph, who anyway is more or less betrothed to his cousin Marguerite. Germaine was last seen when she visited the Peeters’ house, looking for the monthly allowance that Joseph paid her for the maintenance of the child. Although no body has been found, the local police are assuming that she has been murdered and that the Peeters must have been involved, either having committed the murder as a group or at the least covering up for whichever one of them did the deed.

Book 1 of 20

Maigret is less sure – perhaps the girl has simply given up hope that Joseph will marry her and run away to Paris, or perhaps despair has caused her to take her own life. And so he wanders around Givet talking to people, drinking plenty of the local Flemish drink of choice, genever (a kind of gin, apparently), and waiting for the local police to find Germaine, dead or alive. He becomes increasingly fascinated by the Peeters family. To him Joseph seems an unremarkable, rather weak young man, but his mother, sisters and cousin Marguerite all adore him immoderately and see him as the centre of their world. Anna particularly intrigues Maigret – she seems so sure of herself, so unemotional, but determined. He realises she is the true centre of the family, the person who holds them together and gives them strength.

Gareth Armstrong

Maigret does more actual detection in this one than is sometimes the case, and as always his setting is very well portrayed, with the added interest of the mixed culture. The dynamics within the Peeters family is also shown very believably, from a time when men were seen as the most important members of a family due largely to their greater opportunities to have a career and a place in the public sphere. The ending is a little odd in that it left me wondering why Maigret decided to do what he did – vague to avoid spoilers, sorry – but it added an interesting element to his character. A good one, and as usual the excellent narration by Gareth Armstrong added to my enjoyment.

Audible UK Link

24 thoughts on “The Flemish House (Maigret 14) by Georges Simenon

    • It was interesting, especially when I remembered that Simenon is actually Belgian – I tend to think of him as French because Maigret is. Hope you can find a copy!

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    • Yes, that would be good. I believe that there was a French series with Gerard Depardieu in the role – I don’t know if it’s ever been shown on British TV but I’d quite like to see that. Depardieu does seem rather like my mental image of Maigret! And it is nice to get to vintage crime as an escape from a lot of the very grim and dismal contemporary crime fiction, in books or on TV.

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  1. There is something about those family dynamics, isn’t there, FictionFan? When they’re done well, they can add so much to a story. And, of course, what would a good Maigret story be without scenes of him enjoying the local drink… What I find especially interesting is the look the book gives at the cultural realities of the area, and the cross-border attitudes. Those insights add leaven to a story, I think.

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    • Haha, at least he is fascinated by a different form of alcohol in every book, which given how many books there are is in itself quite impressive! 😉 I did find the cultural stuff quite interesting in this one, especially after I remembered that Simenon himself was Belgian – I tend to forget that because Maigret is French.

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  2. Just 132 pages?? Oh wow, that’s the kind I need to be reading! It’s been so beastly HOT here that I find it hard to concentrate (or perhaps I’m just feeling antsy about my ever-lengthening To-Do list, ha!) Have a wonderful weekend, friend!

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    • The short length of the Maigret books is one of the things that I really enjoy about them. They’re great for fitting in when you only have two or three hours available. I do sympathise with the heat issue – they’ve been having a heatwave down in the South of England this last week too, but happily it’s still been pretty cool up here most of the time. Long may it last!

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  3. I have two Maigret titles to read in these modern translations, one a secondhand copy and the other from the library, but neither take him out of France as this one does. Hopefully I’ll get round to them – and this one! – at some stage in the not too distant future.

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    • Because they’re so short, I find them easier to fit in than a lot of the other books that linger longer on my TBR. And it’s interesting that nearly every book looks at a distinct aspect off French society or culture and so on, which is quite impressive considering how many books there were. Of course, I’ve still only read a handful of them so maybe they become repetitive after a while – but not so far!

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    • I can’t remember which ones I might have read when I was younger either, and certainly none of the ones that I’ve read recently are ringing any bells with me. The good thing about them though is that they are so short – even if it turns out to be a book you’ve read before it’s still only two or three hours of time commitment!

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  4. Congratulations – one down, 19 to go! Nice to begin with a short one, too. I’ve yet to read any from this series, though I think I put one on the wish list awhile back. There are just too many others to get to first!

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    • Haha, I’m actually on book 4 now, nearly finished it, and feeling quite proud of myself! The good thing about the Maigret books is that they are so short – I find them really good for fitting in between a couple of longer reads. I’ll be interested to know how do you get on with them, if you ever get a chance to try them. 🙂

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    • Yes, all of the Maigret books are novella length, which is what makes them so great for fitting in between other heavy reads. Haha, he certainly must hold the record for most drinking of any detective, despite it being quite a crowded field! 😉

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  5. People in the South of Belgium (Walloons) speak French, whereas people in the North (Flemish) speak Flemish, which is the same as Dutch except for pronunciation. There are other less marked differences as well, with the Flemish tending to be a bit more industrious, more conservative and less left-leaning than the Walloons. So, the cultural contrast is more Francophone vs. Flemish than French vs. Belgian. Though, of course, many French still think they are better than everyone else, esp. Belgians with whom they share a language.

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