A few weeks ago I went for a business trip and I was looking for the perfect book that filled these criteria:

  • Good quality (you don’t want to take one book and discover you took the wrong one)
  • Short enough to last 2 evenings
  • Entertaining and riveting, yet not too complex

It seems that Simenon Maigret mysteries are matching it all. It’s been a long time since I have read any of them, but I regularly watch the European TV adaptation played by Bruno Cremer. Like a lot of French people, in my mind, Cremer is Maigret. So I’ve the idea of someone rather mellow, with a round face and a full figure, sometimes prone to fits of anger but mostly quiet and observant. He’s seen it all and nothing surprises him. He patiently waits for the suspects to unwittingly reveal their secrets and then picks up the pieces to execute justice.

But in this early novel (written in the 1930s), Maigret is more of a dry and nervous type than in the TV show (or maybe later in the series?). He’s often exasperated by the hypocrisy of petty bourgeois family intruigue and prejudices and he makes no secret of it. The most friendly character is the victim’s mistress, a cheap call girl from Pigalle. But all other characters are unpleasant and sly.

The murder takes place in Place des Vosges, in one of those appartment buildings where many social classes share a building and where the courtyard architecture enables some snooping around when windows are lit up  at night (that’s why the original title is Ombre Chinoise, Shadow silhouette).

This short book inspired me to read some more Maigret next year, and to learn more about the enigmatic Commissaire. Now, who is your Maigret?