Maigret on Screen: The BBC Series


Georges Simenon was a notorious publicity hound. Biographies are filled with accounts of stunts and statements designed to ensure newspapers ran a story. By the 1960s he was effectively creatively bankrupt. Way past his creative peak, the author was all too aware that the majority of his sizeable income was generated from the sale of film and TV rights.

The unveiling of a statue in the Dutch town Delfzijl offered one last moment of public glory for a writer who must have been aware that his books were delivering diminishing artistic returns. The town was reportedly the place where Simenon started writing the first Maigret novel although more recently published biographies have disputed this fact. To celebrate the region’s connection with a literary phenomenon a statue of Maigret was commissioned. At the unveiling Simenon once again demonstrated that he was a supreme self-publicist. Instead of standing alongside local dignitaries or noted literary figures he recognised the power of television and embraced a never again repeated opportunity to generate press coverage across the continent. At this time Simenon’s works were increasingly known via the television adaptations being beamed into people’s homes each week. Standing at the base of the statue in front of Europe’s media the author surrounded himself by actors who were portraying Maigret on television, Heinz Ruhmann, Jan Teulling, Gino Cervi, and Simenon’s personal favourite Rupert Davies.

In his memoirs, Simenon declared that Davies was best non-French Maigret. If we are to believe Simenon’s account, considering that he was an unreliable narrator, the BBC had previously attempted to acquire the rights to adapt the Maigret novels only to be rebuffed. Why did the author say yes to this request?

Contemporary records contradict information about the contract between Simenon and the BBC printed in biographies. According to Simenon the terms of the agreement stipulated the rights were sold for twelve years. The BBC was not allowed to export film prints to America in case it jeopardised attempts to launch a Hollywood series. The proposed American version never materialised. Sales reports contradict statements made by Simenon and conclusively prove that the BBC series was offered to American networks. The decision not to purchase is reported to have been due to network executives being uncomfortable with what they considered to regular displays of loose morality.

The series was aggressively marketed to overseas broadcasters and according to surviving records it was sold to Australia, Canada, Germany, Jamaica, Nigeria, and Kenya.

Simenon would later claim that his contract with the BBC contained a clause requiring the broadcaster to destroy all prints at the end of the twelve-year licence. Wiping TV was standard practice in an era before broadcasters recognised the value of exploiting their back catalogue. Simenon’s statement may have been made when no copies were known to exist. Today, only the pilot episode is believed to be lost. Dubbed versions of all surviving episodes are now available on German DVD.


Ask viewers of a certain age who they most identify with as Maigret and the answer will invariably be Rupert Davies. Today forgotten except by Simenologists is the first BBC Maigret, Basil Sydney.

With the rights secured to adapt any Maigret novel of their choosing, the BBC elected to trial the series with a pilot that was broadcast as part of the Saturday Night Theatre strand. Despite a mixed critical response, viewing figures were strong enough to convince the BBC to commission a full season.

Viewers accustomed to seeing lavish location filming on ITC series produced for ITV may have been surprised when the previously predominantly studio-bound BBC drama department attempted to compete on an equal footing with its commercial rival. Two days of location filming in Montmartre were scheduled to ensure the adaptation was an authentic recreation of Simenon’s novel. As was standard practice back then, interior sequences were recorded “as live” in a BBC studio.

Actors from that period frequently talk about the experience of working in a TV series. Television drama was effectively filmed theatre. Actors would rehearse over several days in a youth club, church hall, or at the BBC’s facility known as the Acton Hilton. After four or five days of rehearsal, the cast would relocate to a studio and commit the production to tape. For a twenty-first century viewer looking at 1960s television drama, the number of mistakes immediately becomes apparent; fluffed lines, boom microphone shadows, camera equipment and production personnel suddenly appearing on screen. Editing technology was available albeit in the primitive form of a razor blade and adhesive tape. It was estimated that a tape could only withstand three edits before being considered permanently unusable and so consequently the transmitted programme contained many mistakes.

The prospect of working all year round under these conditions was a key factor in Basil Sydney’s decision to relinquish the role after a single episode.


Tasked with finding a new actor to play Simenon’s detective, the producer remembered an actor who had appeared in 1950s series Sailor of Fortune alongside Lorne Greene the future star of Bonanza and Battlestar Galactica. Unusually, Rupert Davies didn’t learn his craft at drama school or via being a member of a repertory company. During the war, he was captured by German forces and spent five years in Prisoner of War camps. Incarcerated in the notorious Stalag Luft III the future Maigret took up acting to alleviate boredom. After his release, Davies balanced a career on stage with character roles in the then-emerging medium of television. By the early 1960s after appearances in Emergency Ward 10 and Quatermass II he was a recogisable face to most viewers.

Already familiar with Simenon’s novels, Davies auditioned for the role and was subsequently flown out to Lausanne for a meeting with Maigret’s creator. Simenon famously gave the actor a novel inscribed with the dedication: ‘At last, I have found my perfect Maigret.’


Over three years the BBC produced fifty-two episodes. The series reached a natural conclusion when the producers ran out of books to adapt. At its peak, the series was seen by 14 million viewers. Davies was voted British actor of the year in 1961 and also won the Pipe Smoker of the Year award.

In 1965 Rupert Davies returned to his most famous role in a stage production of Maigret and the Lady. The play opened in Manchester before transferring to the Strand Theatre, London. Reviews were mixed. Jeremy Kingston, a reviewer for Punch, wrote ‘The justification of all this is the opportunity to see Rupert Davies’ gruff avuncular figure and wrinkled dumpling face in the real. He doesn’t come on at the beginning and strike a match against a Watney’s wall, but when he does light up, curls of tobacco smoke (genuine Maigret pipe tobacco) waft across the footlights for all to share. It’s just a pity he and the rest of the cast weren’t given a better play.’ Play and Players reviewer Frank Cox was more positive and wrote that he had enjoyed a ‘satisfying evening.’


Maigret on Screen: The Man on the Eiffel Tower


Simenon’s relationship with his most famous literary creation was filled with contradictions. Resentful at being primarily known as a crime writer he nonetheless enjoyed the royalty cheques that enabled him to travel widely and savour a comfortable lifestyle.

Despite his publicly proclaimed aversion at being solely identified as the author of the Maigret novels, he recognised that securing a film deal would be profile-boosting and offer the promise of long-term financial security. In interviews, Simenon would frequently claim not to have viewed the adaptations of his work before offering a detailed critique of the actors who had played Maigret. Simenon’s public stance of indifference is at odds with the actions of a man who acquired and destroyed prints of adaptations he thought had failed to convey the true essence of his novels. In interviews, he talked of drawing up contracts that specified the adaptation had to be destroyed after a set number of years.

By the late 1940s, the character of Maigret had already appeared on screen in productions starring Pierre Renoir, Abel Tarride, Harry Baur, Albert Prejan, and Maurice Manson. English-speaking audiences were introduced to the character with the release of an American adaptation of The Man on the Eiffel Tower.


A versatile actor, Charles Laughton is perhaps best remembered for directing the Film Noir The Night of the Hunter. In the late 1940s he was one of British cinema’s most significant screen talents. Accustomed to playing a wide range of parts the acclaimed performer was the first actor to play Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Despite being no stranger to crime drama having also played a gangster in the mould of Al Capone in Edgar Wallace’s play On the Spot his casting as Maigret may have surprised audiences but it pleased Laughton’s bank manager.

When Laughton was initially approached to play the part producer Irving Allen was slated to direct the film. The Man on the Eiffel Tower had previously been filmed in 1933 as La Tête d’un Homme. Erroneously reported as the first English language adaptation of a Simenon novel, the 2013 discovery of previously lost quota quickie film Temptation Harbour based on the short story Newhaven-Dieppe starring Robert Newton and future Doctor Who William Hartnell has forced Simenologists to redraft the author’s screen history. Despite the relegation to second English language adaptation of a Simenon story The Man on the Eiffel Tower still holds the notable distinction of being the first American production based on the author’s work.


Based on the ninth Maigret novel A Man’s Head the film was a joint American-French co-production. In addition to introducing a new audience to the work of Georges Simenon, the film showcased post-war Paris.

At the time of production Simenon was living in Arizona. Yet to achieve anything resembling mainstream success in America he had a dedicated cult readership. With an acclaimed and bankable star on board, the film may have offered the opportunity to attract a wider audience for his books. Surprisingly, considering the film’s importance in establishing the Maigret novels commercial viability in a previously indifferent territory, Simenon elected to be critical of the central star’s performance.

For several decades The Man on the Eiffel Tower was considered to be a lost film. Reports suggest that Simenon ordered the destruction of all prints. Little known among Laughton aficionados and Simenologists, a false perspective about the film and it’s perceived failings became accepted as fact. UCLA’s discovery of two projection prints enables the film to be studied for the first time since its original release. What was previously a minor entry in the history of post-war cinema takes on a fresh significance in terms of offering previously unknown evidence about the French film industry’s strategy for representing Paris within the context of genre cinema and for how approaches taken by the film have influenced subsequent English language adaptations of the Maigret novels.


According to biographical accounts, Laughton was financially embarrassed when he was offered the opportunity to play Maigret. His acceptance in all likelihood probably was due to the need for an instant cash injection rather than a fondness for Simenon’s novel. Having agreed to play the part Laughton was thorough and diligent in his preparation. Intensely studying all available translated editions of the Maigret novels he soon gained a sense of the detective and his world. Determined to be truthful to Simenon’s creation, Laughton searched multiple Hollywood costumiers for clothing that would enable him to build an accurate and sympathetic character. Having constructed his version of Maigret before the cameras started rolling Laughton may have anticipated a stress-free shoot. According to contemporary press reports, it was a tortuous production.

Precisely who directed The Man on the Eiffel Tower is far from clear-cut. Producer Irving Allen was originally slated to direct the film. After three days of shooting, he was forced to resign the director’s chair when an enraged Laughton threatened to quit the production. To mollify the lead actor Allen agreed to his request that Burgess Meredith who had already been cast in a supporting role oversee the remainder of filming. More recently, reports have suggested Laughton directed several key sequences without credit. Scholars have also claimed that co-producer Franchot Tone directed scenes which featured Laughton and Meredith in the same frame.


Promoted as the first American colour production to be filmed in Paris, the screenplay was adjusted to showcase the city’s most famous monument. Throughout filming production was held up due to a variety of unforeseen factors. Weather delayed filming, the co-producer and Laughton argued ferociously, and electrical problems led to frequent blackouts.

Praised by Renoir and warmly but not effusively reviewed by critics, the film fell into relative obscurity and for decades the only available information was found in biographies. UCLA’s discovery of two previously unknown prints has resulted in a reappraisal. Now seen not only in terms of its place within the canon of Simenon screen adaptations, critics have suggested that the film is a rare example of a colour film noir.

The Man on the Eiffel Tower is available to order from Amazon.

Book Review: The Pitards by Georges Simenon (Trans by David Bellos)


Disappointing novel offers few glimpses of Simenon’s greatness.

Determined to retire his most famous creation Inspector Maigret, Simenon intended to focus on writing literary fiction. Simenon used the term ‘roman dur’ to refer to his portraits of deviance. Freed from the crime genre’s conventions he explored themes present in the Maigret novels without the restriction of having to include a police investigation and a tidy resolution.

The famously prolific author was determined that his literary reputation would be based solely on these studies of aberrant behaviour and psychological torment. Unflinching in their examination of moral, social, and sexual transgressions, the novels presented accounts of people transformed by a moment of crisis. Unremittingly pessimistic, the 171 roman durs suggest that in an unstable world a change of fortune can shatter the veneer of a normal existence and transform an individual into a murderer, thief, or a sexual deviant. In Simenon’s fictional universe the everyman has lived a repressed life and is finally set free once their basest desires are revealed to the world.

The extent to which Simenon succeeded in transforming his reputation from that of a producer of well-crafted pulp fiction to a master of literary novels is debatable. In purely commercial terms his legacy largely rests on the widely translated seventy-five Maigret novels.

Simenonlogists consider the roman durs to be the author’s most significant literary achievements. The critical breakthrough came with the publication of seafaring saga The Pitards. French newspaper Les Temps published a critical essay by André Thérive which declared ‘I believe I have just read a masterpiece in its pure state, in its basic state.’ The journalist conceded that Simenon’s productivity had previously prevented critics from taking his work seriously and suggested that if The Pitards had been his first novel ‘there would be great enthusiasm in the republic of letters.’

Significant for ensuring critics began taking Simenon seriously, The Pitards is nonetheless a minor work from a major author. Unevenly plotted, the patchy novel is a laborious read. The account of a marriage disintegrating during a voyage to Reykjavik is a muddled work which only comes alive during the final twenty pages. Simenon’s trademark atmospheric prose is not enough to lift a novel tries to simultaneously romanticize the seafaring life, settle old scores (Simenon’s mother is present in the form of the ship captain’s wife Mathilde), and offer commentary on the French class system. The text’s primary appeal is that Simenon consciously drew from his life experiences. A lesser work in comparison to the remainder of the roman durs canon, it is nonetheless a key novel to read in order to solve the mystery of Georges Simenon.

The Pitards is published by Penguin.

DVD Review: Maigret – Season 1


For French viewers, Bruno Cremer’s performance of Paris-based detective Maigret is the interpretation against which all others are judged. Owning the role in the way that Jeremy Brett and Joan Hickson did respectively with Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple, Cremer’s realisation of the pipe-smoking detective is the most authentic screen embodiment of Simenon’s fictitious sleuth.

Premiering a year before ITV’s Michael Gambon starring adaptation, the Cremer series remains a regular fixture on French TV thanks to constant repeats. Running for fourteen years, the producers originally intended to adapt the entirety of the Maigret canon (75 Maigret novels and 29 short stories). 54 feature-length episodes were filmed before plans were abandoned due to Cremer’s ill health.

Best known to English-speaking audiences for his appearance in William Friedkin’s 1977 remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, Cremer appeared in more than fifty films. He worked with many of Europe’s most prominent directors, including Costa Gavras and Luchiano Visconti.

Already in his early 60s at the time of casting, Cremer had the unenviable task of following Jean Richard who had played the role on French television since 1965 and for an entire nation was Maigret despite being publicly derided by Georges Simenon.
Cremer’s core appeal was that he perfectly conveyed Maigret’s world-weariness, compassion, and humour.

Restoring credibility to a character that over the course of numerous adaptations been reduced to a hat wearing sleuth, Cremer’s fondness for the novels and determination to be true to the source material resulted in the most complex portrayal to date.

Comprising the first six feature films, this DVD boxset is more faithful to Simenon’s material than ITV’s recent Rowan Atkinson starring version. Despite its age, the series remains a satisfyingly atmospheric recreation of Simenon’s world thankfully devoid of the ersatz Frenchness which has plagued other adaptations.

If you’ve discovered Maigret via Penguin’s issuing of newly translated editions this should be your next DVD boxset purchase.

Maigret – Season 1 is available to order from Amazon.

DVD Review: Maigret


Sacré bleu, ITV’s over hyped adaptation of Simenon’s Maigret novels is très boring.

Ranking alongside Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Phillip Marlowe as one of the world’s best-known fictional detectives, Jules Maigret was created by the prolific Belgian writer Georges Simenon. First appearing in 1929’s Pietr the Latvian,75 novels featuring the pipe-smoking detective were published between 1931 and 1972.


Staking a claim to inventing the police procedural, Simenon’s innovations also included an emphasis on the social, emotional, and psychological aspects of criminality. Transforming the genre, Simenon used its conventions to show what could push a person over the edge. Illustrating the authors belief in man’s fundamental irresponsibility the crimes featured in the Maigret novels are a response to a moment of crisis.

With Maigret Simenon didn’t just invent a new type of hero, he also created a distinct sub-genre. Standing apart from any fictional detective published up to that point, Maigret’s methods and raison d’être established the character as unlike anything published before. Equal parts secular priest and psychologist, biographers have suggested that the detective represents the person Simenon would like to have been while the criminal elements are literary representations of who he might have become had his life taken a very different turn.


One of the novels many innovations was its rejection of tired tropes exhausted by the puzzle school of crime fiction which focused on unmasking the killer and made little attempt to dramatise his emotional backstory. Written from a humanistic perspective, the Maigret novels seem less concerned with apprehending the assailant than discovering what had tipped an ordinary person over the edge and led to them committing horrific criminal acts. Emphasising his difference from other literary detectives Maigret’s compassionate approach to policing involved offering the perpetrators one last chance of redemption before the judicial process took over.

Famously written over several days, each of the novels is an economically told stark exploration of society’s disenfranchised and dispossessed. Deliberately using a restricted vocabulary, Simenon’s atmospheric descriptions bring alive a now vanished France. Widely read, according to the UNESCO Translation Index Simenon is the seventeenth most translated author.

A number of accomplished actors have played the pipe-smoking detective on screen and radio. For a generation, the Rupert Davies starring series is the definitive version. More recently Michael Gambon and Bruno Cremer have introduced successive generations of TV viewers to Simenon’s work.


Following in the footsteps of some illustrious predecessors, Rowan Atkinson is the latest actor to play Maigret in a series which promised so much but ultimately failed to deliver. Simenon’s work seemed to be bullet-proof and was able to withstand a mercifully now forgotten production starring Richard Harris who seemed to be under the misapprehension he was playing the then Labour leader Michael Foot. This latest heavily promoted series reaches the screen as Penguin books is issuing newly translated editions of the books.

On paper, this series should have been a sure-fire winner. Expectations were high for the lavishly budgeted production. Initial optimism soon faded when critics realised ITV had delivered a misjudged adaptation which transforms two of the twentieth century’s most notable crime writer’s novels into a tortuous yawnfest.

Rowan Atkinson reportedly devoured the novels prior to playing the part. Physically he bears very little resemblance to the stocky detective in Simenon’s novels. Previously known as a comic actor his performance is too rigid and downplays the books’ humour. Lacking the passion of Bruno Cremer’s interpretation, Atkinson’s understated portrayal occasionally comes across as a one-note performance.

Expanded for the small screen, Simenon’s tightly-plotted novels rich with social detail have been transformed into ponderous and unfocused period police dramas devoid of anything resembling atmosphere.

A diversion to kill a few hours, even if the slow pace will make them feel like forever, Maigret is a misguided adaptation which does a great disservice to Simenon and his most famous fictional creation. Filled with a supporting cast unsure if they should play it straight or parody the material, it is an uneven series. Bland cinematography adds to the show’s many deficiencies. Avoid and buy the books instead.

Maigret is available to buy from Amazon.

DVD Review: Maigret Sets a Trap, Maigret and the St. Fiacre Affair, Maigret Sees Red


Renowned French film star’s Maigret trilogy.

Despite being largely unknown to English audiences, Jean Gabin was one of French cinema’s biggest stars. The son of music hall artistes, he initially had no interest in an acting career. After a period working as a labourer and warehouse clerk he was cajoled by his father to join the Folies Bergère. Graduating from bit-parts to a leading man, he demonstrated an ability to play a wide variety of roles. He started a screen career at the dawn of the talking picture era.

A commanding screen actor, he appeared in 95 films in a career that lasted over 40 years. Performances in Pepe Le Moko, La Grande Illusion, La Bete Humaine, Le Jour se leve, and Le Quai des brumes were critically acclaimed. One of the pre-war period’s biggest stars, his career’s trajectory was interrupted when hostilities erupted across the continent.

In stark contrast to Georges Simenon, Gabin refused to collaborate with the Nazi regime’s film industry. Relocating to Hollywood, he was offered a contract by Twentieth Century Fox and promoted as “The Spencer Tracy of French pictures.” An artistically fruitless period, he made Moontide for Fox and The Imposter for RKO. A third project, The Temptress, was canceled when he demanded that the producers cast Marlene Detrich as his co-star (Gabin and Dietrch were real-life lovers). Told that he would never again work in Hollywood, Gabin enlisted in the French liberation forces and fought against German troops in Africa.

At the end of the war, he returned to acting. No longer a matinee idol, he played a succession of everyman parts. Gabin and Simenon’s careers first intersected with the 1950 adaptation La Marie du port. A 1958 film En cas de malheur based on Simenon’s romans dur In Case of Emergency saw Gabin act alongside Brigitte Bardot. Also released in the same year was the first of Gabin’s three cinematic outings as Simenon’s pipe smoking Inspector Maigret.


Despite being maligned by the French new wave, Jean Delannoy directed a number of box-office hits and won the Palme d’Or for his 1960 film La Symphonie pastorale. He was made an officer of the Legion of Honor, a Commander of Arts and Letters and a Commander of the National Order of Merit. In 1986 he received an honorary César. Paying tribute to Delannoy, French President Nicolas Sarkozy described the director as “More than just a great artist, he was a man of great intelligence, alert, pertinent and faithful in friendship,”

By the late 1950s, Delannoy’s reputation had been tarnished by a string of sub-standard films and criticism by François Truffaut. Attuned to the cinematic possibilities of Maigret the director had considered adapting a Simenon novel for several years before securing the cinematic rights to Maigret Sets a Trap. With a reputation for directing solid thrillers including Le garçon sauvage and La minute de vérité, he may have considered an adaptation as an opportunity to restore his box-office fortunes.

First published in 1955. The English translation of Maigret Sets a Trap was issued in 1965. The book has been adapted several times. A recent adaptation starring Rowan Atkinson was poorly received by critics. Delannoy’s version is the most satisfying adaptation.


Primarily known in English-speaking territories as Maigret Sets a Trap, prints were circulated with the alternate titles Inspector Maigret and Woman-Bait. The film and its two sequels were the last big screen outings for Simenon’s detective released prior to the character migrating to the small screen.

An atmospheric adaptation blessed with supreme production design. Indebted to Film Noir and aware of the urban environment’s importance in the Maigret novels, the director ensured the film made the story’s location the de facto star. An entire district was slavishly on a soundstage. The decision to shoot the majority of the action on a studio lot enabled the director to exercise total control over the environment.

Hybridising American and French approaches to crime films, Delannoy’s location sequences employ expressionistic camera angles favoured by Film Noir directors and attempts to document a city still scarred by war and in the throes of modernisation.

Claustrophobic, tightly coiled and utterly focused, it’s hard to see why Delannoy’s film isn’t better known in the English-speaking world. Maigret Sets a Trap is sensitive to the humanistic philosophy expressed in Simenon’s novels. The film has many reasons to recommend tracking down a copy; tight plotting, thematic complexity, a distinguished supporting cast. At it’s core is an electric portrayal from one of French cinema’s most popular actors. Stripping away the over reliance of props that had plagued previous attempts at filming Maigret, Gabin’s performance conveyed compassion and solidity. Simenon was pleased with Gabin’s interpretation and is alleged to have suggested that future Maigret novels might be influenced by the performance.

A box office hit in France, Maigret Sets a Trap was seen by more than 2,500,000 cinemagoers. It was nominated for a BAFTA and won an Edgar Allan Poe award. The film’s producers commissioned a sequel to satisfy a public clamouring for further cinematic adaptations. Released in 1959, Maigret and the St. Fiacre Affair is considered by critics to be a less successful film. Adapted from a novel first published in 1933, the film contains a number of elements that will delight Maigret enthusiasts and Simenonologists.


Leaving behind the first film’s urban environment, the sequel relocates to a small village. Maigret is visiting his childhood home at the request of the Duchess of Saint-Fiacre. She has recently received an anonymous letter stating that she will soon die. When she suffers a fatal heart attack during a religious service the local doctor pronounces she died of natural causes. Maigret is not satisfied with the diagnosis and is convinced the Duchess was murdered.

Tonally very different from its predecessor, the portrait of a once-great family in decline is indebted to Agatha Christie and Citizen Kane. Delannoy once again demonstrating a sympathy for themes present in the originating novel, effectively balances moments of joy and intensity.

Jean Gabin played Maigret one final time in the disappointing Maigret Sees Red. Jean Delannoy declined an offer to return to direct and was replaced by Gilles Grangier. Released in the UK shortly after the finale of the BBC’s highly-praised adaptation featuring Rupert Davies, Grangier’s film was largely ignored. Gabin’s performance is not enough to save the film. Not entirely unwatchable, it suffers from having a director too much in awe of American B-pictures and a lack of enthusiasm for the work of Georges Simenon. Jean Gabin’s Maigret deserved a better final investigation.

Maigret Sets a Trap is available to order from Amazon.

Maigret and the St. Fiacre Case is available to order from Amazon.

Maigret Sees Red is available to order from Amazon.

Book Reviews: The Late Monsieur Gallet, The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien, and The Carter of ‘La Providence’ by Georges Simenon


Discussion of Simenon’s remarkable productivity is frequently couched in terms of the seventy five Maigret novels and accompanying twenty eight short stories written over the course of forty one years. The twelve months following publication of Pietr the Latvian saw a further nine books issued, Simenon’s exceptional discipline and fecundity of creativity having been honed during a career in France’s pulp magazine industry. Estimates vary of the number books written before the creation of Maigret but conservative reckonings put the figure somewhere in the region of one hundred and eighty.

An impatient writer, Simenon frequently invented the plot whilst writing a novel. Perhaps as a consequence of the decision not to prepare a detailed storyline before sitting down at in front of his typewriter, despite an ever present editor’s deadline, the prose is clear and direct whilst paying homage to classic French literature. Publicly pronouncements stressed the importance of creating commercially successful fiction not literary masterpieces but fans may, with some credibility, argue he achieved both.

Despite having repeatedly proven he was able to deliver a book length manuscript on time, and often within incredibly short deadlines, the publisher was initially unconvinced about the Maigret novels. Suggesting that the books had limited to commercial appeal due to a lack of violence and an unromantic main protagonist, Arthème Fayard tried to coax Simenon into ditching them and returning to the fiction forms he was adept at churning out to order. Sales figures and critical response swiftly alerted the publishing house to the novels immediate viability and in subsequent decades the appreciation would magnify as international editions were issued and the production of numerous film and TV adaptations ingrained Maigret within popular culture alongside the other giants of detective fiction: Sherlock Holmes and Phillip Marlowe.

The first novel, Pietr the Latvian, established the hero, his modus operandi, story milieu, and distinctiveness of the author’s voice particularly in comparison to the then prevalent schools of crime fiction. With meticulous concision Simenon painted vivid pictures of a France still scarred from the wounds of World War I and soon to be engulfed by The Great Depression. In cultural terms although working in a different medium and bound by the constraints of genre his documentation of now lost French buildings and social practices places him firmly alongside that other recordist of environments, Eugène Atget. From the opulence of Parisienne hotel suites to less salubrious railway cafes, Simenon’s recounted civil minutiae with surgical precision, ensuring that then contemporaneous readers were able to appreciate his skill in placing Maigret within a fictional world that was a recognisably accurate reflection of the one in which they inhabited.

Equally focused on the quest to apprehend the suspect and understand his motivations, Maigret employed the then relatively fresh additions of forensic science and psychology to the criminologists arsenal, ensuring he was able to see the foe as a fully drawn human being with hopes, desires, and foibles instead of a statistic on a a crime sheet. By taking equal care with constructing the antagonists’ backstory and making some astute decisions as to the precise moments when this information is revealed, Simenon justifies his position as one of the key writers in twentieth century crime fiction.

Having spent much of the première instalment in this series trying to see beyond Pietr the Latvian’s false identity and discover the truth about a murky web of cross border gangland activity, The Late Monsieur Gallet sees Maigret investigate the death of a commercial traveller in a hotel room. A more intricate plot than its predecessor packed with melancholic despair and a forlorn cast of characters and places. The pipe smoking hero has to delve deep into the deceased’s past to discover what dark secrets could have led to him being murdered. Duplicitous lives are placed under the microscope by the Chief Inspector as he endeavours to peel away decades worth of ingrained falsehoods and determine how a seemingly impoverished man was able to finance an extremely generous life insurance policy.


His professional curiosity piqued after witnessing 30,000 Francs being parcelled up and posted, Maigret follows the sender from Brussels to Bremen. The trail goes cold when the suspect takes his own life. With just an empty suitcase, blood stained suit and forged identity papers to base an investigation on, The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien sees the Chief Inspector haunted by guilt throw himself in pursuit of the mystery of why such a large sum of money was sent in the mail. Back in Paris the theft of his personal luggage propels Maigret to break through layers of deceit and intrigue as he sifts through the testimony of a group bound together by a dark secret.


In The Carter of ‘La Providence‘ Maigret is dispatched to Dizy, Marne. A woman has been strangled, her identity unknown. A British lord arrives on his yacht and claims that the deceased was his wife. Traces of horse hair and tar are found on the corpse and suspicion falls on the crew of a barge that was parked nearby at the time of murder. Overflowing with descriptions of the 1930s French canal lifestyle, the book is an emotionally potent read and a window into a lost world.

The Late Monsieur Gallet, The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien, and The Carter of ‘La Providence’ can be ordered from Amazon: