There is something very comforting about a classic police procedural. A corpse shows up at the beginning of the mystery – often accompanied by an exotic murder weapon or ornate crime scheme – and by the end the murderer is delivered to justice by either the keen intellect or daring intuition of some hardworking police detective. Writers as diverse as Ngaio Marsh (New Zealand), Erle Stanley Gardner (USA), Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (Sweden), and Peter Robinson (UK) have all delivered on the same concept for more than a century, all adding something unique to the formula – often in the understanding of how very different the legal systems in which the detectives operate actually are.
It makes sense that the French would have a unique take on the genre. And by some accounts, Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret remains the quintessential French police detective, even though he made his debut in the 1930s. My Friend Maigret was my second novel in the series (both read completely out of order). I enjoyed this one, not because the mystery was so fantastic, but because it gave me a great deal of insight into some of the inherent differences between the French and British legal systems. This was because Maigret spends the book being shadowed by Mr. Pyke of Scotland Yard, who has been sent to study Maigret’s crime solving “methods.”
In this case, Maigret gets a call from Inspector Lechat on Île de Porquerolles indicating that a local ne’er-do-well has been murdered on the same night he was overheard bragging in a bar about his “good friend,” the famous inspector Maigret. The Inspector does indeed remember Marcellin, a man who he put away for taking part in an inveigling scheme – and his TB-ridden accomplice, Ginette, whom Maigret took pity on, and sent to a sanatorium. At one point, Maigret discusses the relationships that develop between habitual criminals and the police with Pyke:
Intrigued by his alleged link to the thug’s death, and relieved to have an interesting case to work on with Pyke, Maigret heads off to beautiful Porquerolles. And meets the colorful locals and strange boating tourists. And drinks white wine. And observes. Actually, it looks like nothing is happening. And then all of a sudden he has the mystery solved. I’m not sure what Pyke learned about his methods, but I know I didn’t learn much. Still the motive was pretty clever – I just didn’t feel like I was gathering the same clues Maigret had in the end.
“I wrote to him, I recall. I don’t know how you deal with them in your country.
“I don’t doubt it. Here we sometimes knock them around. We’re not always gentle with them. But the odd thing is that they seldom hold it against us. They know we’re only doing our job. From one interrogation to the next, we get to know each other.”
“This is the one who called himself a friend of yours?”
“I’m convinced he was sincere.”Kindle location 173/2176
I said at a dinner party recently that I found murder mysteries very relaxing, and everybody laughed. I wasn’t actually joking. Sure, depending on the era and country in which they operate, these fictional heroes have different constraints, and different social ills with which they contend. Not to mention murder. But to my mind, what ties police procedurals together is a belief that somehow front line civil servants – at least most of them – are trying their hardest to protect the public. My Friend Maigret certainly falls into that category. And while in this case the ending wasn’t as satisfying as usual – either for me, or for Maigret – I still find something very comforting about that.
FTC disclosure: I did not receive a copy of this book for review.