Review: “Maigret in Court” by Georges Simenon [1960]; translated from French by Robert Brain [1961]

I had never heard of Georges Simenon or of Maigret (which I keep reading as Marguerite) until I pulled this rather eye-catching book from a library shelf. Simenon and Maigret are apparently quite popular and a staple in Europe and Maigret features in a long running series.

Jules Maigret is the Chief Inspector of Paris. He is in his mid-fifties and two years off from retirement. He approaches his cases wisely and intelligently and easily shows his expertise as the top cop. Despite being toughened up through his long career and experiences, Maigret possesses great integrity and compassion. Maigret in Court opens with the trial of Gaston Meurant who is accused to have murdered his aunt and a young girl in her care with the motive of stealing his aunt’s money, which were pieces of gold, that she kept stored in a vase in her apartment. When Maigret takes the stand and relays the case, he realises how disenchanted he has become with the court system.

They had suddenly been plunged into a depersonalised world where everyday phrases seemed no longer to be current, where the most commonplace actions were translated into cut-and-dried formulas. The judges’ black robes, the ermine, the red gown of the advocate-general further increased this feeling or some ceremony with changeless ritual, where the individual counted for nothing. – p. 20

Maigret thinks that the evidence doesn’t add up and believes that Meurant is innocent. While on the stand, Maigret reveals more details of the case that was previously unknown and it completely changes the trajectory of the trial.

The second half of the story follows the attempt of Maigret to find the real murderer to prove Meurant’s innocence and what transpires are some good old-fashioned sleuthing around Paris and France.

This novella was a very interesting read. It was little difficult to get into at the beginning but I soon became engrossed in it. Many aspects of the first part of the story, during the trial, was really reminiscent of Albert Camus’ The Outsider: the hot, repressive court room and, more significantly, the disenchantment and the alienation of the individuals within the legal proceedings. It’s fascinating that it can be so relevant in our society today:

Was not everything distorted there? Not through any fault of the judges, the jury, the witnesses, nor on account of the criminal code or the procedure, but because human beings were suddenly reduced, if one can so put it, to a few words, a few sentences. – p. 49

The second part of the story reminded me somewhat of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and his detective Philip Marlowe. A great read and a great find!

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8 comments

  1. I was browsing the NYRB catalog yesterday and they had a few books by Simenon that looked interesting. I haven’t read anything by him, but now I’ve read your review I think I’ll have to give him a try.

    1. What’s the NYRB catalogue? I’ve had a squiz at his back catalogue and the Maigret series does sound interesting – a little like a ‘darker’ Agatha Christie.

  2. Interesting. Maigret is one of those characters I’m familiar with only second-hand through various cultural references and I have never actually read any of Simenon’s books. I’m not a big mystery fan so I won’t be running off to read this one quite yet, but I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it!

    1. I don’t think I’ve come across or noticed any Maigret references! That’s how clueless I’ve been. I love a good mystery but I’m less inclined with Crime.

  3. I actually hadn’t heard of this before either! I’m only just beginning to discovery classic mysteries, so this would be a nice addition to the list of things I want to explore.

  4. I´ve read one Maigret book years ago and remember liking it, but that was when I was devouring Agatha Christie crimes which overshadowed everything else. Perhaos I should give it another go.

    1. Maigret is definitely darker in tone to Agatha Christie – or least that’s what I garnered after reading one book! 🙂 I think Christie might be more popular because we identify more closely with the cozy British mysteries whereas Simenon wrote French mysteries. No cups of tea there but plenty of rum and black coffee.

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