Friday, 5 August 2011

Maigret Has Doubts - Georges Simenon

The great thing about Maigret is that whilst they are crime novels, they are not just crime novels. Yes, they are about a policeman and they recount his cases in a quiet, existentialist way, but they are also about the world in which the crimes occur. From small to large, Simenon never loses the sense that we are witness to actual events.

This is amply illustrated in the book. It is about a murder and its investigation. Yet all the time, Maigret has doubts as to the guilt of the perpetrator, who himself proclaims his innocence. Yet events and the people involved conspire blindly in such a way that the probably innocent man is executed.

This happens not out of the crime, but out of the social attitudes of those on the fringe, the ones called upon to fill in background detail for the investigators. Their snobbery, their desire to keep their own secrets hidden, their desire not appear foolish, their inability to express themselves, all add up to the damnation of a man who hadn’t the strength to stand against the wind.

As such this is an exercise in subtle character study. In fact, it is a master class. Simenon doesn’t tax us. He writes entertaining books. But neither does he assume that entertain need be simplistic. Rather, he opens the real world to us in a way we might not otherwise see.

His books are generally short, but I would much rather have this essence of good writing and superb observation than the bloated, so-called psychological gore-fests that pass for some aspects of crime fiction today.