November 2018

Georges Simenon - Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse

"...Simenon knows that it is character, not incident, which drives a plot. "

After returning to Paris after three week's holiday, Maigret receives a phone call in the middle of the night telling him there has been a murder in an apartment in Montparnasse. The victim is René Josselin, a retired businessman, who has been shot. Maigret attends and discovers that Josselin lived with his wife, who had gone to the theatre with their daughter Véronique Fabre when the murder took place. The last person to see him alive was the daughter's husband, Dr Fabre, a dedicated paediatrician who had been playing chess with him before being called away to an urgent case. He was therefore the main suspect.

Soon after beginning his investigation, Maigret is confused. Everyone in the case seems so good. Not one of them could have been responsible for the crime.. And yet the murderer must have known the apartment well, and known that Josselin kept a gun in a certain drawer. But as the investigation continues, Maigret realises that everyone connected with Josselin shares a secret that they wish to keep hidden. If Maigret can uncover this secret, he knows he can crack the case.

Maigret is nearing retirement age, and yet this book shows that his ability to seek out and understand what motivates people - both victim and criminal - has not diminished. In fact, it's this ability which has, over the years, helped him solve many sordid crimes. This book is not just about a murder investigation - a whodunit if you like (though it is that) - but a vehicle for exploring its characters. In fact, when the puzzle is solved, it seems almost like an ant-climax. But this doesn't diminish the tautness of the plot and the intriguing mystery, as Simenon knows that it is character, not incident, which drives a plot. He feels a sense of guilt at the way he has to interrogate Madame Josselin, as he knows that she is an inherently good person. He sympathises with Véronique, who has married a man who is more married to his job than to her, and he sympathises with Dr Fabre, who is dedicated to his work among sick children. But he has a job to do - solve the crime - and he eventually does it.

Reviewed by: J.G.

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