by Georges Simenon, David Coward (Translation)
My 84-year-old mother is a great crime fiction buff. When she saw I was reading A Maigret Christmas by Georges Simenon, she commented that it was a great pity “Mr Bean” had been given the part of the French detective in ITV’s recent adaption, because “although he [Rowan Atkinson] is a very good actor, one keeps on expecting him to remove his trousers or do something equally silly in the middle of an important case.”
Mr Bean aside, the TV drama has merely brought renewed interest in Simenon’s shrewd, trilby-hat wearing, pipe-smoking commissioner of the Paris ‘Brigade Criminelle’. In 2013, Penguin Books started releasing new translations of his seventy-six Maigret novels, originally published between 1931 and 1972, and this collection of seasonal stories is the latest in their Classics’ series.
Simenon (1903-1989) was a prolific author, his novels, novellas and autobiographical works numbering almost five hundred. He was Belgian born, the son of an accountant, starting out as a cub reporter for the Gazette de Liège, before moving to Paris in 1922 following the death of his father. However, it was during his time as a young journalist that he came to know the seedier side of his city – his familiarity with local prostitutes, criminals and notorious drinking dens prepared him well for his profession as a writer of detective fiction.
A Maigret Christmas is the title story from this newly translated book of short fiction, in which the burly detective receives an unexpected visit from two ladies on Christmas morning. Maigret and his stoical wife, Louise (referred to throughout as Madame Maigret) are a childless couple in their fifties, endeavouring to be festive, though actually feeling rather melancholy in their soulless apartment. He is thus quietly relieved when his services are required by his neighbours following the appearance of a sinister intruder in their home. An intriguing case ensues.
The gruff but kindly Maigret was apparently based on Simenon’s good friend, Chief Inspector Marcel Guillaume, a man said to be the greatest French detective of his day. Whether “Mr Bean” was quite what he had in mind for his serial protagonist, we shall never know, but his most famous fictional character would appear to be more popular than ever.