The Two-Penny Bar (Maigret 11) by Georges Simenon

Down by the river…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

It all begins when Maigret tells a villain, Lenoir, that his final appeal has been refused, and that he will be executed the next morning. In his bitterness, Lenoir says it’s unfair that he should pay the ultimate penalty when others who’ve committed equally serious crimes go free. He then tells Maigret of the night that he and a friend witnessed a man drop a body into the Canal Saint-Martin. They then blackmailed the man for a while, but he later disappeared. Then, a couple of years later, Lenoir saw him again, in a little place called The Two-Penny Bar. But Lenoir was arrested for the crime for which he’ll be guillotined before he got the chance to start his blackmail again. He doesn’t tell Maigret the man’s name, but Maigret decides to visit The Two-Penny Bar anyway…

This turns out to be one of the best of the Maigrets, but I must admit it has an incredibly sloppy start. Not only doesn’t Maigret ask for the name of the murderer, but nor does he get a description of him nor even the address of the bar. It also relies on the premise that the murderer frequents the bar all the time, and wasn’t just a casual visitor on the occasion Lenoir saw him there. And finally, by an amazing coincidence, another murder just happens to take place in the bar while Maigret is there. I did consider giving up on it at this early stage on the grounds that it was all so unlikely, but I’m glad I stuck with it.

It takes Maigret a while to find the bar (which he finally does by another amazing coincidence), but when he does he finds it’s on the Seine on the outskirts of the city, and frequented by a group of regulars who either live nearby or visit regularly to row on the river, play cards, drink and generally relax. They’re a close-knit group. Maigret strikes up an acquaintanceship with James, a man who drinks even more than Maigret but is full of a kind of good-natured charm. Maigret soon comes to think he might develop into a friend in time, and the feeling seems to be mutual. James gives him the entry to the group, and since Maigret’s wife is off visiting her sister for the summer, Maigret takes to spending a lot of time with them all, gradually getting to see the dynamics and relationships among them. But he still doesn’t know who the murdered man was, nor if anyone in the group is the murderer.

Short even by Simenon’s standards, the pace of the book picks up a lot once all this preparatory stuff is out of the way. As I mentioned, there is another murder and there’s an obvious suspect for this one. What’s not so clear is the motive, and since the suspect has run away Maigret’s first job is to find him. But this crisis in the group has brought some of its secrets to light and given Maigret the leverage he needs to investigate them on a more formal basis. Another coincidence gives him the name of the original murder victim, and now he can look for a connection with any of the bar regulars.

Georges Simenon

It’s the characterisation that makes this one so good, though of the group as a group rather than of each individual within it. They’re a rather louche bunch, lazily drinking their way into flirtations and affairs with each other’s spouses, but always willing to lend a hand to each other whenever trouble looms. Their social gatherings seem to be the main purpose of their rather empty middle-class lives – their tedious day jobs merely the things that fund their lifestyle. However there are a couple of them that we get to know individually – James, whose incipient friendship with Maigret is very well depicted and whose character flaws become clearer as we, and Maigret, get to know him better; and Basso, the man initially suspected of the second murder, and we see his weaknesses and guilt at his feeling that he has betrayed his put-upon but loyal wife. And the last few chapters, when Maigret manages to trick the murderer into a confession, have considerably more emotional depth than is often the case in this series.

Lest you’re wondering that I haven’t mentioned Maigret’s drink problem as usual, I shall merely say that his drink of choice in this one is Pernod, and he downs enough of the stuff over the course of a couple of weeks to float a good-sized armada. However, he manages to stay sober despite it all – what a man!

So after a distinctly dodgy start, this turned into one of my favourites so far. I loved the portrayal of the group and fell under James’ always tipsy but never drunk charm, helped by an excellent interpretation of his character by the ever-reliable narrator of the series, Gareth Armstrong, who always makes these books a pleasure to listen to.

Audible UK Link

30 thoughts on “The Two-Penny Bar (Maigret 11) by Georges Simenon

    • For a great detective, I felt not asking the name of the murdered man was a bit of an omission! But I do love the way he evokes his settings, and the portrayal of the group of friends in this one was great. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m not a fan, myself, of those amazing coincidences, FictionFan. But that said, I do love the way Simenon draws characters, and sets the reader in a place and time. I’m glad you stuck with this one, and even happier that you enjoyed it so well. Nice to have a richly-enjoyed read after a one that…wasn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, sometimes it seems to me as if he wants to write about a particular thing, in this case about the dynamics within the group of friends, and is a bit slap dash about the other stuff. The good thing though is that the short length means that even if the setup is a bit messy, it doesn’t take long to get to the good bits!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I always think it feels a bit lazy when an author uses too many coincidences to move the story on. But the great thing about Simenon is that the novels are so short that even if the setup is a bit messy it doesn’t take long to get to the good bits!


  2. All those coincidences sound off-putting to me. A writer really must try harder to tell a tale that makes sense, without having a cavalry enter at the last scene and save the day. I’m glad he redeemed himself through excellent characterization, but sadly, this one won’t be added to my reading list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it does often feel a bit lazy when an author relies on too many coincidences to move the story on. But the great thing about Simenon is that the novels are so short that even if the setup is a bit messy it doesn’t take long to get to the good bits! And I really thought the portrayal of the group in this one was excellent. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • I find them a great length for a short break between two longer audio books, and I really love the narrator of the series. So I always pick them up anytime I see them in an audible sale and have several lined up for when the mood strikes!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Because they’re only three or four hours long, I find them great for fitting in between two longer audiobooks – they’re just about the right length to listen to over a weekend, even for someone who takes as long as me to get through an audio book!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I always find the Maigrets enjoyable, although I’m not quite as convinced off their greatness as a lot of fans are! But the short length makes them perfect for providing a break between two longer reads

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  3. Oh yes, that start is really shaky. I didn’t like this one quite as much as you, but the portrayal of the group is nicely done. The Maigrets are good palate-cleansing books between others, you know exactly what you’re going to get!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The audiobooks are a great length for listening to in just a couple of sessions when time doesn’t allow for committing to a doorstopper! I know he wrote them really quickly and I must say sometimes it shows – the start of this one was so sloppy. But I fell for James’ mildly drunken charm so it won me over!


  4. It sounds like there needs to be alot of suspension of disbelief in these books, starting with the fact that someone like Maigret can drink like a fish and still remain employed and pleasant to be around. But isn’t this how drinkers really see their lives? Just passing the time until their next drink?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maigret’s drink obsession makes me laugh – in every book it’s a different drink, and he drinks enough for a football team! In some of the books he gets drunk, but usually he stays amazingly sober – what a man! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This does sound far-fetched but I like a good group dynamic! I’m intrigued that Maigret drinks Pernod so much because we were given a bottle a while ago and are at a loss as to how to consume it due to its strong flavour. Perhaps the book has some advice?

    Liked by 1 person

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