Penguin Books, 1931, 176 pages
In Simenon's first novel featuring Maigret, the laconic detective is taken from grimy bars to luxury hotels as he traces the true identity of Pietr the Latvian. Georges Simenon was born in Liège, Belgium, in 1903. Best known in Britain as the author of the Maigret books, his prolific output of over 400 novels and short stories have made him a household name in continental Europe. He died in 1989 in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he had lived for the latter part of his life.
A detective mystery set in inter-war France, this was my first encounter with the famous Inspector Magritte, who apparently was the subject of over seventy novels that Georges Simenon wrote over a period of forty years.
Maigret is a rather stoic detective, who suffers various injuries and poisonings over the course of his hunt for Piotr the Latvian, the leader of a gang of Eastern European criminals. The tools and methods of police procedurals were still new when Simenon started writing this series, so probably made the stories more fascinating than they are to modern readers, who are now familiar with generations of police detectives and private gumshoes and all their various permutations.
Simenon's work does excel in the area of characterization, as the central mystery of the story is not really whodunnit, but who Pietr the Latvian really is. Not just his true identity, but what sort of man he is, what is his real role in life. Magritte uncovers multiple layers of his quarry's life, and still leaves the reader, like the inspector, with unanswered questions.
This was interesting as a sampler, but I have always found French writing to be hit or miss for me. These books may be classics (and lordy there are a lot of them!), but I'm not sure I'd care to read more unless I stumble upon one here or there as another Audible Daily Deal.
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