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Ellery Queen Mystère Magazine
December 1964
No. 203 - pp 108-118

Maigret & Co.
The Detectives of the Simenon Agency

by Maurice Dubourg

to M. Claude Menguy.

original French

Maigret & Co.
The Detectives of the Simenon Agency

by Maurice Dubourg

to M. Claude Menguy

According to Bernard de Fallois, in his essay on Simenon, this novelist is the prisoner of a label – "The author of the Maigrets," he writes, "having made himself known through his police stories, will be forever cataloged under that rubric."

He is convinced that the twenty volumes published with photographic covers by Fayard during the years 1931 and 1932 weigh very heavily in the judgment passed on their author by numerous literary critics, though with some exceptions of course. If Georges Simenon had been content, during these past 30 or 40 years, to have published only an equivalent number of non-police novels, such as Le testament Donadieu [The Shadow Falls], La Neige était sale [The Snow was Black] or Les Anneaux de Bicêtre [The Bells of Bicêtre], he would certainly be considered by these same critics as one of the best of our novelists, if not the greatest. In the eyes of these scholars, Simenon has two flaws – the first, his too great fecundity, and the second, his association with police literature. In our youth our professors despised Alexander Dumas in the same way, but savored in little chapters Théophile Gautier's Le Capitaine Fracasse [Captain Fracasse].

In contrast, there are some Simenon commentators who claim that he never wrote a real detective novel. This is the thesis, for example, of Thomas Narcejac, who gives us this definition in Le Cas Simenon [The Art of Simenon] – "To write a novel, you first create some characters. To construct a detective novel, you first build a mystery." The reality is no doubt distinctly less controlled than believed by the author of La police est dans l'escalier [The police are on the stairs], and if Georges Simenon is a novelist in the general sense of the term, he has been and still is, an author of detective novels. Can anyone contest, for example, Simenon's creation in his Commissioner Maigret, of the most popular French policemen since Gaboriau's M. Lecoq or le Juve of Fantômas? For a Sherlock Holmes, Hercules Poirot, or Rouletabille proves that to write a detective novel is often to create a character. Certainly, Simenon never respected the sacrosanct rules of the kind expressed earlier by S.S. Van Dine1, but he is not the only one, and he had in 1930, pretty much at the same time as Pierre Véry, St-A. Steeman and an author unjustly forgotten, Jules Esquirol, brought to a genre that risked becoming ossified in imitation of the Anglo-Saxon detective novel, a "new thrill."

But more interesting, I believe, than this quarrel of purists, is to learn how Maigret was born. Simenon often spoke of this, but sometimes in a contradictory manner, giving the impression that he enjoyed scrambling his tracks. Certainly his Maigret's Memoirs is filled with masterful wordplay and humor, a humor generally absent from Simenon's works, and in which, in his beginnings he believed himself especially gifted. We hardly see it outside of his reporting, relatively unknown by the larger public. Officially the first "Maigret", Pietr-le -Letton [The Strange Case of Peter the Lett], was written by Simenon in Holland, in Delfzijl (where he situated the action of A Crime in Holland), on board his cutter the Ostrogoth, but the first two volumes that appeared in the bookstores in February 1931 were M. Gallet Décédé [Maigret Stonewalled], and Le pendu du St-Pholien [Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets]. We know that earlier Simenon had published a large number of popular novels signed with various pseudonyms – Georges Sim, Christian Brulls, etc... At this time there hardly existed any specialized collections of the police genre – (Le Masque [The Mask] dates from 1926, l'Empreinte [The Print] and A ne pas lire la nuit [Not to be read at night], after 1930) – and under the categories "popular novels", "dramas and love stories", etc, were published a number of works that we would classify among detective or crime novels, the kind still filled with the sort of flashy melodramas inherited from Jules Mary and Pierre Decourcelle, if not going back to Jules Lermina or Fortuné de Boisgobey. And so we find in the famous collection le Livre Populaire [The Popular Book], published by Fayard, novels by Gaboriau and Gaston Leroux, and it is under this same cover that the 32 volumes of Fantômas, another transitional work, were to appear.

Simenon's first novel2 was most probably Nox l'insaisissable [The Elusive Nox], which appeared in 1926, under the signature Christian Brulls (Brulls was his mother's family name), from Ferenczi, in a cheap edition entitled precisely Le Romance Policier [The Police Novel]. It is a small 32-page booklet, what would be called today a "novelette". The hero, Nox, is a pale Arsène Lupin substitute, and like his model, it is after having announced the day and hour of his visit to his future victim, a fairly shady banker, that he unburdens him of a certain number of diamonds preserved in a safe as proof.

Nox is also, as he must be, a master of the art of disguise. To combat such an outlaw, Simenon sets on his track the first of his detectives, Anselme Torrès.

"The features of Anselme Torrès," wrote Christian Brulls-Simenon, "were hard, revealing an unflinching will. To see him, you felt that nothing would discourage such a man and that he would never abandon his path, even if faced with the greatest dangers. Several stab wounds received in shady dives, the scar of a revolver bullet that had crossed his arm, were marks of his calm courage."

Anselme Torrès tracks Nox to the Belgian border. There Torrès succeeds in recovering the diamonds, but is unable to collar his adversary, who passes into Belgium and thumbs his nose at the furious detective. Such an ending foretells one or more continuations to Nox's adventures, but the author held himself back, and it would be hard to blame him. In 1928, Christian Brulls, with already several score of works behind him, published a novel of normal length which could qualify as a police story, Mademoiselle X..., in which we make the acquaintance of Judge Coméliau, a character well known to readers of Maigret, and to whom will be addressed the later Lettre à mon Juge [Letter to my Judge], but whom we also meet in other popular novels like La Femme qui tue [The Woman who Kills].

Mademoiselle X... is a girl brought by circumstances to simulate burglaries in order to save a young sculptor with whom she is secretly in love, from the clutches of a ruined and unscrupulous bourgeois family, the Durand-Castins, who want to have him marry their daughter to boost the family fortune. She manages to get the sculptor suspected, hoping to thus abort the marriage. But the Durand-Castins know what the young man, Yves Ramels, ignores, that he is the son of a Dutch multi-millionaire whose days are numbered. A notary, brother of Durand-Castin, who holds the secret of the affair, is murdered, and, of course, suspicion is placed on Ramels. He runs away to Holland, taken by Mlle X... who unmasks herself and brings him to her father's house. This old man has just died, everything is taken care of, the real assassin is captured, Ramels inherits and marries Mlle X..., detective by love. Of the same genre as the popular novels in fashion in 1925, this small book is a pleasant read, but the characters still remain very conventional and some episodes are annoyingly unlikely. The future Simenon has nevertheless created his first and only female detective.

Le Chinois de San Francisco [The Chinaman of San Francisco] (1930) presents us with another kind of amateur detective, Serge Polovzef. Of Russian origin (his father, an old general is, of course, a taxi driver in New York), Serge downs large glasses of whisky in spite of (or because of) prohibition, just as easily as a Dashiel Hammett detective. He did his studies at Boston University.

"A very intelligent boy, but who has a very pronounced taste for whisky and lounging about." writes the author, who further specifies, "A strange boy! Everything that is mysterious fascinates him. He follows people in the street because they have a bizarre head. And he only lets them go when he knows who they are... "

"In Boston he was already famous because of that. He had uncovered thieves, and once he had even announced a theft before it was committed."

In this novel, everything revolves around the abduction of Billie Ward, the daughter of a rich ship-owner who will be murdered toward the middle of the book. All these transgressions are the work of a secret Chinese society, the Tong. The police intrigue by itself doesn't offer anything original, merely using old threads to braid a new cord, if I can express myself thus, but the value of this novel is from the nonchalance of the character of Polovzef, who looks a lot like those Slavic students who will so often appear in the first Maigrets, and by the very plausible reconstitution of a San Francisco in which Simenon, at that time, had not yet lit his pipe. There is, at moments, a certain coolness that foreshadows the future Maigret.

Les Errants [The Wanderers] (1931) brings us back to Paris with an attractive burglar and a private detective, Julian Groslet, who is hardly there. But Simenon will not long be content with amateur detectives. Commentators have written that since his first years in Paris (around 1922 or 1923), he had entry to the Quai des Orfèvres where he benefited from certain favors that had been granted before that to Paul Bourget, such as a visit to the special infirmary of the Dépôt. Simenon, in the broadcast televised by Roger Stéphane, Portrait-Souvenir, affirms on the contrary that it was fairly late that he was received at the P.J. Yet in Les Mémoires de Maigret [Maigret's Memoirs], in free enough form, but seemingly true in broad outline, Simenon described his first steps in the big house when he was still only Georges Sim. In his preface to Jean Ambrosi's book, Commissaire de quartier [District Commissioner], he writes:

"Very young, before knowing that one day I would create my character Maigret, I searched avidly for some books that are found in few libraries – I'm speaking of the memoirs of real characters who played an important role in the police or in the criminal history of their time. I remember in particular the memoires of Goron, long one of the most celebrated bloodhounds of the Sûreté, and the works of Commissioner Macé, also famous at the beginning of the century."

It has become a tradition in the police that from time to time there is a changing of the guard, and men I knew well, Commissioner Guillaume, with his red mustache, Commissioner Massu, with his umbrella and the almost legendary cross-examinations, revealed to us in turn all the undersides of affairs that the public knew only through the narratives in the newspapers."

The young novelist read not only policemen's memoirs, but also the thick volumes of criminologists, such as those of the Austrian Gross, who he had mentioned in the le Chinois de San Francisco and to which he will return in his Mémoires de Maigret. In one of his letters, Simenon details the origin of his detective novels –

"Around 1925, I believe, Jean Fayard put out a magazine for youth entitled L'Aventure [Adventure]. He asked me for articles on police techniques and I began to read the works of Grotz, and other precursors of scientific police work. A short time later, indeed, in some of my popular novels now untraceable (I don't have them myself) like La Femme Rousse [The Redhead], and Train de Nuit [Night Train], etc, I needed a commissioner and I called him Maigret, but without giving him a personality any different from other characters of the popular novels."

Indeed, from these readings and the training that Simenon received at the Judicial Police, will emerge Commissioner Maigret, inspired according to the some by Massu, to others, Guillaume. Over the years, Simenon himself will end up resembling him... while lending him features from the character of his own father, Desiré Simenon. J.C. Casals and Quentin Ritzen cite a passage wherein Simenon evokes the genesis of Maigret :

"Near the end of my period of popular novels, I had begun to do a character named Jarry who especially captivated me. His sole ambition was to live a number of different lives – a refined Parisian in Paris, a wooden-shoed fisherman in Brittany, one day a peasant, the next a petit-bourgeois... and then Maigret came along and supplanted him, and I see that he himself is a transposition of Jarry. But it is into the lives of others that he inserts himself for a moment..."

Simenon used Jarry in at least two of his popular novels: Chair de Beauté [Flesh of Beauty] (1928) and La Femme qui tue [The Woman who Kills] (1929). Jarry is not a policeman, but a great adventurer halfway between Arsène Lupin and Irving Le Roy. He gets himself out of the worst situations with flair – man of the world, great traveler, known for his ethnographic work, accomplished sailor, with knowledge of medicine, or even a surgeon's talents, etc, but like all Simenon's policemen of this time, frightfully sentimental. La Femme qui tue is nothing but a rehash of another novel by Georges Sim that had appeared some months before, La Femme en deuil [The Woman in Mourning]. The author, showing evidence of a complete casualness, accommodated the same story and pretty much the same characters in a different sauce. So that it didn't leap too quickly to the eye, he gave one of his manuscripts to Tallandier, the other to Fayard. But these variations on a theme are full of lessons for those want to study "prehistoric Simenon". In La Femme en deuil, the policeman who plays the role of Jarry, but called Gérard Moniquet, is less brilliant. He is a colorless enough character, even more sentimental than Jarry, and he will resign from the force rather than have to deliver the murderess – whom he has, of course, fallen in love with. It is again Jarry, but under another name, that we find in L'homme à la Cigarette [The Man with the Cigarette] (1931), "mangeur de verres" (glass-eater) in Fécamp, wine-grower in Sancerre, spy almost everywhere, half bandit, half detective, such is J.K. Charles. In this novel, which is possibly the best that Simenon wrote during this underground period, the author drew the portrait of Inspector Boucheron, set on arresting J.K. Charles:

"He was a man of about 30, nothing of the policeman-type so loved by the caricaturists – no big mustache, no thick-soled shoes, no bowler hat... He still gave the impression of a kind of impassive Sherlock Holmes. ... His face was rather plump, pink, with fuzzy features, a shy look, a small red mustache in tooth brush. ... He was dressed nondescriptly. Dark clothes, seemingly off the rack, that gave him the air of a department store employee."

If by this description we recognize immediately that Boucheron is physically distant enough from Maigret, he approaches him in his manner of leading an investigation, immersing himself in the atmosphere of a place, trying to understand the people:

"Outside of a crime, he was hardly given to sniffing around, studying the atmosphere of a place, seeking there for a clue..."

Because Boucheron, like Maigret, is a "sniffer", an intuitive not depending much on deduction.

" ... Did he think? Did he ponder? Not strictly speaking – His brain recorded! Images sequenced themselves in it automatically!"

Like Maigret, Boucheron wasn't completely caught up with legality and we find him picking a lock, searching without a warrant.

Many other popular novels by Georges Sim are police stories, or at least usually conceal one or more murders. We will only mention La Femme 47 [Woman 47], Deuxième Bureau [Second Bureau] (two spy novels), Katia, acrobate [Katia, acrobat], La Fiancée du Diable [The Devil's Fiancée] (in which Commissioner Lucas already appears), Les Bandits de Chicago [The Chicago Bandits], Les contrebandiers de l'alcool [The Bootleggers], Matricule 12 [Number 12], Destinées [Destinies] (an American novel with Inspector Jackson).

It is in Train de Nuit [Night Train], in 1930, that Maigret appears for the first time. The few popular novels in which Simenon tried out the character that would make him famous appeared between 1930 and 1933, but as Simenon confirmed in the passage in the letter cited above, they had been written before Pietr-Le-Letton. The character of Maigret is still fuzzy, often only a sketch, and he only plays a secondary role except in La Maison de l'Inquiétude [The House of Anxiety] where he takes the lead. In les Mémoires de Maigret Simenon lends the commissioner this report:

"One morning I found on my desk, next to my mail, a small book with a horribly illustrated cover like you see at some newsstands and in the hands of shop girls. It was called: La jeune fille aux perles [The girl with the pearls], and the author's name was Georges Sim."

In fact, it was under another title that La jeune fille aux perles was slated to appear, La Figurante [The Extra], of which we will speak further below.

Train de Nuit, ancestor of the Maigrets, takes place mainly in Marseilles, in the now-vanished district of Vieux-Port, where we find Maigret and his deputy Inspector Torrence. Few among Simenon's millions of readers know this detail, that Maigret was originally a Marseilles policeman. He was, wrote Simenon (or rather Christian Brulls) then, "a quiet man, rough-speaking, with willfully brutal behavior," a sort of cave-Maigret. Yet he was already a Maigret of understanding and magnanimity – he not only arranged the affair of the young Fécamp sailor led astray in a story of sordid murder, returning him to his fiancée – one of those tenacious and not very pretty girls we often meet with our author (precisely that of The Sailor's Rendezvous) – but he facilitated the departure for Paris of Rita, the Marseilles sailor's mistress and sister of the real assassin, Le Balafré [Scar] (who will appear briefly3 in Maigret and the Man on the Bench), exercising his indulgence to the extent of letting him carry away his share of the loot – not very lawfully.

In Les Errants [The Wanderers], at one point we can see two policemen who could well be Maigret and Torrence, but the author didn't bother to present them to us, leaving it to the examining magistrate to lead the investigation.

"Very curious is Fièvre [Fever], because while the policeman we are shown, and who plays a large role, is called Torrence, you get the impression that he should rather be called Maigret. He is a Commissioner and not simply an Inspector, spends his Sundays fishing with a line at his small house at Joinville-Le-Pont, very close to the Marne, just as the retired Maigret will tease the roach in Meung-Sur-Loire. He is famous at the PJ for his briar pipe, flanked by Inspector Lucas. And Mme Torrence even resembles Mme Maigret. She is "a comely woman of forty" who worries above all about her culinary activities, and takes maternal care of her husband.

The atmosphere of the Maigrets is found in a multitude of small scenes like this:

"We could see Mme Torrence, her hands red and bulging, kneading a pungent stuffing into the belly of the pike.
The dance, close by, was in full swing. Shadow invaded the sky, and on the table the bottle of brandy was half empty.

But more than the external aspect of the Commissioner and the setting in which he evolves, it is by his manner of leading an investigation that the Torrence of Fièvre heralds Maigret. He easily outdistances Maigret in his disregard for the law. Not only does he help the main character, Maudru, a big-hearted escaped convict, but when the sinister Dédé, also an ex-con, not only tries to blackmail Torrence and Maudru but to take advantage of the latter's daughter, the commissioner, by an anonymous note, arranges for the freedom of a third and final defector from Cayenne, Big Curly, the sworn enemy of Dédé. Torrence then hides in the bushes of the garden of "the house by the sea" where Maudru's daughter lives with her mother, and he serves as spectator-reporter for the account. Big Curly dispatches Dédé, then escapes without the Commissioner's intervention. As for Maudru, he will leave France with Torrence's blessing. Simenon often said that his method consisted of taking an individual to the brink, but all the same, in Fièvre Torrence-Maigret seems to go a little far for an official policeman. Still, this novel shows, better than Train de Nuit, that Simenon knew from his first trial-and-error attempts, just what kind of policeman he wanted to put on stage.

In La Figurante [The Extra] Maigret acts alone, without Torrence. He investigates the suicide of the banker Langevin in Paris, then the murder in Deauville of a colleague and old acquaintance of Langevin's, the businessman Reiswick. Maigret here too is a maverick, leading his investigation outside all the rules, refusing to arrest Nady, Langevin's daughter, against whom there is mounting suspicion. He settles into the victim's house, going out only rarely only to wander the streets of Deauville or the lounges of the Casino. He lets things stew while smoking his pipe, and when the business is at an end, and Nady has just married the one she loves, we can make out at the rear of the bridal car, as at the end of a movie, a bouquet of white roses with the Commissioner's card.

Maigret is no more the main character of La Femme Rousse [The Redhead] than he was in La Figurante. He doesn't appear until page 65 and we won't see his office at the P.J., nor his domicile...

He was about 50, maybe a little less, broad-shouldered, thick of torso and face. He exuded a kind of ironic good-heartedness and an abnormal self-assurance...

He smokes his pipe, "all black and charred", and he has recovered Torrence – "Torrence was younger than Maigret, less good-natured than his chief. His features fairly thin, he was rather caustic, ironic, but an irony that didn't encompass kindness."

So nothing in common with the so-called Torrence of Fièvre. Later, much later, Simenon will fill out the portrait of Torrence. In Maigret au Picratt's [Maigret in Montmartre] (1951) he will write that in actuality, Torrence was soft-hearted.

Of this kindliness, Maigret gives further proof, permitting the escape of Georges Favereau, who had killed two men, notwithstanding that it was to avenge the death of his parents. And this note at the end of the investigation –

"Commissioner Maigret has returned to Paris, fierce, after having grumbled at everyone."

La Maison de l'Inquiétude [The House of Anxiety], the last of the Maigrets without the Simenon stamp, is also the only one in which the commissioner appears as the central character of the story, and where the reader follows him from the first to the last page all along his investigation. The whole is confused enough. Where Simenon wants to present a dense, complicated intrigue, he gets lost along the way, becomes a little clearer and finally, what is extremely rare with him, is tiresome. When in Maigret et le Coroner [Maigret at the Coroner's] he tries a classic kind of Anglo-Saxon detective novel with the action taking place almost entirely in a courtroom, it fails completely. It is far, very far from the Bellamy Trial4. In most of his semi-popular, semi-police novels, Sim searches for the genesis of crimes that he must explain in events that took place 10 or 15 years earlier, often in exotic countries or faraway regions. In La Femme Rousse it was about a Mexican vendetta. For La Maison de l'Inquiétude, it is necessary to take the search back to India for the origin of the drama. This process, to which Simenon, having passed into the category "senior", will sometimes have recourse again, tires a little by its easiness, although it has been used by famous specialists of the genre, in particular by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in A Study in Scarlet. If the intrigue remains confused, the investigation is led by Maigret in the best tradition... tails, scuffles, etc... We don't understand much, and yet we follow with pleasure.

"Maigret had long given up expecting the Montreuil crime to be one of those dazzling investigations that earn a policeman the enthusiastic praise of the press. He went his own sweet way, a step at a time, not fearing anything as much as making an error that would lose him the little that he'd already gained. He sometimes had the impression of maneuvering among fragile china, or tiptoeing through the middle of a flock of shy birds, which would take flight at the slightest imprudent gesture."

The dialogues are always right, and the last chapters are worthy of the best Simenon. Consider this passage, which would not seem out of place in any "official" Maigret –

Christian, who'd seen the empty cab passing, came out suddenly, and called to the driver. Five minutes later, two cars rolled toward the 8th arrondissement, stopping some distance from each other at the Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées.

From his manner, as the young man headed toward the American bar which Maigret was already familiar with, the commissioner knew that he was drunk. Christian didn't turn around. He didn't seem to be worried about being followed.

It was precisely noon. Girls left the big fashion houses in droves. Young people were waiting in front of every door. Buses were besieged.

The commissioner started by pacing up and down the Avenue Montaigne. In a little while, employees of the Auto Hall entered the bar. Maigret was irritable. He'd suddenly noticed that he'd left his pipe on his desk, and it didn't take more than that to put him in a loathsome mood. He shrugged his shoulders, pushed open the door of the bar, and was enveloped in the hot atmosphere of blasting human voices.

And there is the drama. Without taking his revolver from his pocket, just like the hero of A Sailor's Rendezvous, Christian shoots himself in the stomach. In this novel as in other popular novels, we already find a pronounced taste in Simenon for medicine and physicians. At the end, the author even evokes briefly the Maigret household. The Commissioner was nearly broken in, and Simenon was going to be able to send him into the fray. Everyone knows the story of the first Maigret – Simenon, frustrated in Germany, writing on the coast of Holland aboard the Ostrogoth, the advertising launch with the "Anthropomorphic Ball" where Tout-Paris rubbed shoulders. Of the lightning success of the series with the photographic covers that, outside of the three collections of stories we will speak of below, already comprised two novels in which the famous commissioner didn't appear (Le Relais d'Alsace [The Man from Everywhere] and Le Passager du "Polarlys" [The Mystery of the Polarlys]), showing that Simenon was already decided not to remain prisoner to his character. It's hard to realize that neither Simenon nor his publisher, who had shared in the expenses of the famous ball, was certain of success. Especially Fayard who, according to J.C Casals, had four objections: the stories were not technical enough, there was no love intrigue, not enough truly good or bad characters, and the novels generally finished badly.

The immediate and far future would sweep away these objections, and the films, Duvivier's La Tête d'un home [A Battle of Nerves], Abel Tarride's Le Chien Jaune [The Yellow Dog] and La Nuit du Carrefour [Maigret at the Crossroads] by Jean Renoir (who also had the project5 of making Le Charretier de la "Providence" [The Crime at Lock 14]) constituted for Simenon an incomparable launching pad. He had, however, long held higher ambitions. At his beginnings in the popular novels he had given himself 10 years to learn the writer's profession. The first Maigrets were still, to his eye, "semi-literature" He thought to rid himself elegantly of his character by 'allowing him to exploit his rights to retirement', as they say in administrative jargon. He conceded him a last investigation, L'Ecluse N° 1 [The Lock at Charenton], while Mme Maigret had already left the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir as the advance guard to the banks of the Loire where Maigret would retire.

That was in April 1933, but two months later, probably in need of money, Simenon wrote Maigret [Maigret Returns]. In this novel the ex-Commissioner comes back to Paris to help his nephew Philippe, who, in his turn, has just begun a career with the police. Maigret has no official title, and is reduced to his own means, expressed elegantly by the terseness of the title. Relatively non-existent in the plan of true police novels, this one, which was believed at the time to be the swan song of Maigret, is one of those which best reveal the Commissioner's bewitching personality. Simenon will have this fishing-rod Maigret play amateur detective again in a short story collection written in 1938, first published during the occupation in sections for a popular collection, then united under the title Les nouvelles enquêtes de Maigret [The New Investigations of Maigret]. But Simenon will tire of these acrobatics soon, and from the winter of '39-'40, during the "phony war", he writes Maigret revient [The Return of Maigret] (published in 1944) which is composed of three excellent novels: La Maison du Juge [Maigret in Exile], Cécile est morte [Maigret and the Spinster] and Les Caves du Majestic [Maigret and the Hotel Majestic], where he will put his hero back in action. We will still have to wait until the immediate postwar period for Simenon to starts writing his new series of Maigret adventures that Presses de la Cité has continued to publish ever since, at the rate of two or three volumes per year. It became for Simenon a relaxation, using his own expression, between his "hard" novels, but whatever their virtuosity, true amateurs of Simenon preserve a weakness for those of the Fayard vintage.

Maigret is surrounded with a small staff that fills out over the years – Inspectors Janvier, Lucas, Lognon, Lapointe, and Torrence. We even meet some of them in novels where Maigret doesn't appear, like Lucas in La Fiancée du Diable [The Devil's Fiancée], Les Suicidés [The Suicides], Le Petit Docteur [The Little Doctor], and l'Énigme de la Marie-Galante [The Mystery of the Marie-Galante]. As for Torrence who, we have seen, was already one of Maigret's companions in prehistoric times, and who Simenon accidentally allowed to be killed in Pietr-Le-Letton, while he could still serve him after his author had revived him, he left the P.J. to become a private detective, providing us the remarkable Dossiers de l'Agence O [Agency O Files]. But he has, since, wisely returned to his boss's entourage.

Outside of Maigret and his crew, Simenon portrayed various investigators besides those already mentioned. Oldest among them, contemporary with Maigret, if not preceding him, is G7 (La Folle d'Itteville [The Madwoman of Itteville], Les 13 Énigmes [The 13 Enigmas], Les Sept Minutes [The Seven Minutes]) sometimes member of the Sûreté, sometimes of the P.J. who will quit the police at the time of La Nuit des Sept-Minutes and operate as a private investigator in l'Énigme de la Marie-Galante. G7, closer than Maigret to the ordinary policeman of the Anglo-Saxon novels, delivers subtle deductions and is flanked by a narrator, much like Sherlock Holmes's Dr. Watson, or Poirot's Hastings. Here, the role of confidant is played satisfactorily by young Sim with inviting innocence. On the origin of the name G7 Simenon gave two different explanations. In La Folle d'Itteville he says that his colleagues had baptized him thus "because the red color of his hair was precisely the hue of taxicabs carrying this designation." But in Les 13 Énigmes, it is Sim himself who gave him the name, since having met him for the first time in a such a taxicab. G7 is even less free of Georges Sims's popular novels. He seems very sentimental and in the La Nuit des Sept-Minutes, he will resign from the police like Gérard Moniquet in La Femme en deuil [The Woman in Mourning], for the same reason – not to give up a guilty woman with whom he had fallen in love.

Judge Froget, the hero of the 13 Coupables [The Guilty 13] and La Nuit du Pont-Marie [The Night of the Pont-Marie], is clearly a rehash of Judge Coméliau (Simenon even has them both reside at Champ-de-Mars).

Joseph Leborgne is more attractive – he solves les 13 Mystères [the 13 Mysteries] solely by reading newspaper clippings that Sim, ever-faithful aide, brings to him. But no doubt Simenon's most successful and alive detective after Maigret is Le Petit Docteur [The Little Doctor], established at Marsilly, in Charente, a village that Simenon knows well. He is called Jean Dallent, after the name of a street of Paris close to the Santé prison, where La Tête d'un homme [A Battle of Nerves] takes place. At the wheel of his old car, he is called to all corners of France to solve complicated puzzles, terrifying domestic dramas that he unknots with simple good-heartedness, and as if he were playing. It is curious and regrettable that Simenon hasn't more often used this character, who remains one of his better creations.

And finally, we must speak of Georges Simenon himself, who attempted to play detective for an account in Paris-Soir at the time of the murder of the councilman Prince. The result was hardly brilliant if one refers solely to results, but he produced an excellent report. Simenon abandoned all these detectives, policemen, and other judges twenty years ago, to preserve only Commissioner Maigret, a slightly stylized Maigret, who studies people and things with more and more of his creator's eyes, a would-be-psychiatrist like Simenon, I would even say, if I dare, a frustrated psychiatrist.


CHRISTIAN BRULLS Nox l'insaisissable (Ferenczi, Collection « Le Roman Policier », 1926).
Mademoiselle X... (Fayard, « Le Roman complet », 1928).
Train de Nuit (Fayard, «Le Roman complet », 1931).
La Figurante (Fayard, » Le Roman complet, 1932).
Fièvre (Fayard, «Le Roman complet, 1932).
GEORGES SIMLa Femme en deuil (Tallandier, «Le Livre National », 1929).
La Femme qui tue (Fayard, « Le Livre Populaire », 1929).
Le Chinois de San Francisco (Tallandier. « Romans célèbres de drame et d'amour », 1930).
La Femme 47 (Fayard, « Le Livre Populaire », 1930).
L'homme à la cigarette (Tallandier, « Romans célèbres de drame et d'amour », 1931).
La femme rousse (Tallandier, « Criminels et Policiers », 1933).
La maison de l'inquiétude (Tallandier, « Criminels et Policiers », 1933).
GEORGES SIMENONLa Folle d'Itteville (Editions Jacques Haumont, 1931).
Les Treize coupables (Fayard, 1932).
Les Treize Mystères (Fayard, 1932).
Les Treize Enigmes (Fayard, 1932).
L'Ecluse n° 1 (Fayard, 1933).
Maigret (Fayard, 1934).
Maigret revient (Gallimard, 1942).
Le Petit Docteur (Gallimard, 1943).
Les Dossiers de l'Agence O (Gallimard, 1943).
Les nouvelles enquêtes de Maigret (Gallimard, 1944).
Les mémoires de Maigret (Presses de la Cité, 1950).
Préface à Commissaire de quartier de Jean Ambrosi (Editions du Scorpion, 1959).
Portrait-Souvenir (Tallandier, 1963).
THOMAS NARCEJACLe Cas Simenon (Presses de la Cité, 1950).
J.C. CASALSSimenon en su obra y en la vida (Editions Aldor, Barcelone, 1957).
QUANTIN RITZENSimenon, avocat des hommes (Le Livre Contemporain, 1961).
BERNARD DE FALLOISSimenon (Gallimard, 1960).

1. S.S. Van Dine: For example, "A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no "atmospheric" preoccupations. Such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion.", quoted in Marco Modenesi's "Maigret and the Parisian Space".
2. "Au Pont des Arches" (1920) is now recognized as Simenon's first novel.
3. Le Balafré: - I haven't located the name "Le Balafré" in that book, nor does he appear in Lemoine. [ST]
4. The Bellamy Trial: - A successful courtroom drama film of the 1920s.
5. Apparently the film was never made.

translation: S. Trussel
Honolulu, June 2006

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