Mmyoung's Reviews > Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett

Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett by Georges Simenon
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U 50x66
's review
Sep 08, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: mystery, maigret

It is hard to remember when reading this first of many Maigret novels and stories that it was published the year after Van Dine’s The Scarab Murder Case, the year before Queen’s The Dutch Shoe Murder and the same year as Christie’s The Sittaford Mystery. In some ways the closest equivalent to the world Simenon introduces us to is the San Francisco we get glimpses of Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon. Maigret is both like and unlike Sam Spade. Like Spade he is aware of, and not discomfited by, the underside of life yet unlike Spade one never wonders about his fundamental honesty and respect for other human beings.

As Simenon describes them, Maigret and the other members of the Parisian police force are ordinary people who have to fill out forms to justify the money they spend, who get colds when they stand around for hours in the rain and who are neither corrupt, nor stupid nor brilliant. And instead of lauding his detective as a special master of ratiocination or incomparably skilled at analyzing the psychology of people just met Simenon describes Maigret’s method as follows:

“Maigret used the same procedure as anyone else. And like everyone else he employed the wonderful techniques devised by Bertillon, Reiss, Locard, and others, which have turned police work into a science.
But above all he sought for, waited for, and pounced on the chink. In other words, the moment when the human being showed through the gambler.”

In other words Maigret, in addition to using the scientific tools available to the police patiently waits for the moment when he can see the human being behind criminal. And in order to do this Maigret must to some degree get inside the skin of the people he is observing rather than standing outside of them judging, measuring and categorizing.

It is this quality of Maigret that allows the reader to read past the prejudices and stereotypes of the time (and Maigret and Simenon) because they are leavened by Maigret’s embrace of the humanity of the many outcasts, low-lifes, and criminals he meets. Indeed the people that Maigret is contemptuous of is the rich, the greedy, and the politically powerful. In short, Simenon’s awareness of the realities of class, education and power keeps him, or the reader, from seeing the rest of humanity only through the eyes of the privileged.

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