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Maigret Travels South by Georges Simenon

Maigret Travels South

by Georges Simenon

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The two novellas put together in this Penguin have a tenuous relationship one with another; in both Maigret does, indeed, travel south from Paris, first to the Cote d'Azur and next to the Dordogne.

In the first story, Liberty Bar, Maigret is sent to investigate the murder of an eccentric ex-pat Australian, once a rich playboy but now fallen on hard times. He is instructed that the case needs tactful handling. Off-hand, as usual, with the local police, Maigret quickly discovers that the victim, Brown, was leading a double life (at least) and he tracks him from his run-down villa in Cap d'Antibes to the even more decrepit bar of the title in Cannes where Brown regularly escaped his mistress and her mother to go on a bender.

Simenon is always good at atmosphere, and here the very atmospheric Liberty Bar seduces Maigret who seems overcome with sloth and ennui. He actually does little detecting but rather hangs around with Brown's acquaintances nudging them a little until one breaks and reveals all. The truth is revealed to Maigret but he sticks with his original brief, smooths things over relying on divine retribution and returns home leaving a verdict of 'Murder by person or persons unknown'.

Exciting this is not, but the tale leaves you with the feeling that there are worse things than living the low life in the light and heat of the South of France.

The second story, the Madman of Bergerac, starts with Maigret travelling to the Dordogne in a second-class couchette to visit an old colleague for some fishing. He shares the compartment with an unseen, but very restless man, who jumps from the train as it slows before its destination. Quite unaccountably Maigret, rather than pulling the communication cord, throws himself from the train in pursuit. He is promptly shot in the shoulder by the restless one.

What follows is highly reminiscent of Hitchcock's Rear Window. Maigret is confined to bed for a couple of weeks recovering from his wound. He lies looking out of his hotel window at the main square of Bergerac, soon joined by Mme Maigret who comes to stop him smoking his pipe and to ensure that he is well fed. The Madman of the title in an unknown multiple murderer who strangles his victims before stabbing a needle into their hearts. Could the killer be the man that jumped from the train? Why, then, did he come from Paris to Bergerac to do his foul deeds. Maigret has only met a handful of the locals but they are enough for him to work out his suspicions on. Armed only with postcards for local colour, his wife's reports (she takes the Grace Kelly role and snoops around the town), his imagination and the ability to get all sorts of information simply by phoning people and saying he is in the Police Judiciaire, he works out that some dirty deeds are being done quite apart from the madman's work. It alll gets cleared up in the end, of course, but again, Maigret's detection is all rather passive.

The book has dated but Simenon is a good enough writer to keep things moving along. He remains a 'good read', even if he has produced better books than this one.
  abbottthomas | Nov 22, 2009 |
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