Maigret and the Wine Merchant
If only I could drink like Maigret. Rum for his colds, beer for his thirsts, plum brandy when he feels a bout of the flu coming on. And he eats like a horse. A thoroughbred horse with his own private chef, that is. Madame Maigret sounds like a wonderful chef.
This novel is about work and how we compensate ourselves for the time we spend at the office. The murder is all about the company run by the victim, the solution is to do with the way the business was run and most of the red herrings come from employees. People often say these books are excellent at describing ordinary melancholy, but Simenon is also sharp to the daily grind and the petty reality of office politics. It's a very #metoo novel.
Maigret is always at work, in a way few literary characters are. He dreams about his case. He drags himself off to the office when he gets the flu, against the wishes of his wife. He gets woken up in the night. He has to think about which inspectors would be a cultural fit on his team. He delegates, sets the tone, leads by example. He also drinks on the job like an absolute scoundrel. None of us are Poirot, but all of us are Maigret.
One of the beauties of these books is that they open with a body and slip right into the action. News of the murder comes in the first few pages, if not the first. Paris comes alive through the story. The food and drink punctuates the investigation. Descriptions of the brothels and salons tell us something about how Maigret adjusts his style, his approach. There is very little uselessly decorative description. Who was it who called detective stories modern fairytales?
The new Penguin translation is smooth and readable in a way that the blessed Agatha often isn't. Simenon's dialogue is concise and believable. But much of the reported speech and events take place in a semi-realistic mode, so that we can have things dropped in without needing all the flummery of telling us exactly what they are. The metaphors are infrequent but precise.
If I had the time, and the funds, I would happily stay awhile in Paris and read my way through all seventy-five Maigret novels, dotting between bistros and bars as I did so.