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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Maigret and the
Good People of Montparnasse

Georges Simenon

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To purchase Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse

Title: Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse
Author: Georges Simenon
Genre: Novel
Written: 1962 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 154 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse - US
Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse - UK
Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse - Canada
Maigret et les braves gens - Canada
Maigret et les braves gens - France
Maigret und die braven Leute - Deutschland
Maigret e le persone perbene - Italia
Maigret y las buenas personas - España
  • French title: Maigret et les braves gens
  • Translated by Ros Schwartz
  • Previously translated by Helen Thomson, as Maigret and the Black Sheep (1975)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : falls a bit short with the crime (and resolution), but impresses with the trappings

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev.* . 23/1/1976 Anatole Broyard
Sunday Times* . 1/2/1976 Edmund Crispin
The Times* . 26/2/1976 H.R.F.Keating
TLS* . 23/4/1976 T.J.Binyon

(*: review of earlier translation)
  From the Reviews:
  • "But in Maigret and the Black Sheep, Mr. Simenon introduces a rogue, a misfit, into his novel of manners and spoils it. We witness not a transmogrification, but a mere arrival. We want to see the vulnerability of goodness, and all we get is the banality of evil. It is not enough. Mr. Simenon ought to know better than anyone else that a good man should be killed only for a good reason. Anything else reduces the novel of manners to mere anarchy." - Anatole Broyard, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Just back from his summer holiday, the vieux patron, flitting from suspect to suspect and occasionally putting on a great show of cerebration, gropes his way to a solution by serendipity rather than by taking thought" - Edmund Crispin, Sunday Times

  • "Not deeply profound, but altogether absorbing." - H.R.F.Keating, The Times

  • "Not the Maigret, then, for beginners to get hooked on, but an indispensable shot in the arm for the true addict." - T.J.Binyon, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse is an unusual work in the series, especially in its resolution, the crime solved and, ultimately, justice arguably being served as the perpetrator gets what he had coming, but the case is not brought to its conclusion neatly within the criminal justice system, with the usual arrest and trial. More than most mysteries, it is a search for a missing piece, the contours of which become more firmly delineated as Maigret advances in his investigations -- though it is the sort of blank that the reader can't fill in on their own, and so this isn't the sort of whodunnit where the reader could possibly guess who the responsible party is. Instead, this is a novel of atmosphere, of a certain social class and lifestyle and habits, where murder is entirely put of place.
       On the one hand, it's straightforward enough; on the other ...:

     A crime had definitely taken place, because a man had been killed. Only it wasn't a crime like any other, because the victim wasn't a victim like any other.
     'A good man !' echoed Maigret with a sort of anger.
     Who could have had a reason to kill that good man ?
       The victim is René Josselin, a successful businessman who had retired two years earlier because of health issues. His wife and their daughter, Véronique, had gone to the theater, and when they returned home they had found Monsieur Josselin slumped in his leather armchair, shot twice. Véronique's husband had come and played chess with the victim that evening, but he had been called away to see a patient -- though there was no one at the address he was directed to; he spent the rest of the evening at the hospital. There were no signs of burglary, and it appeared Josselin must have let the killer in; he was apparently shot by his own gun, a revolver he kept in a drawer in the same room.
       Josselin and his considerably younger wife seemed to have lived a happy and comfortable life in Montparnasse. They were not particularly social, but Josselin took his daily constitutional, regardless of the weather; the wife often vistied their daughter and her two very young children. There were no indications that either Josselin was having an affair, and no one could imagine them having any enemies: "They are good people, who live an uneventful life."
       From the first -- the early-morning call that roused him and brought him to the scene -- Maigret feels a bit thrown by the crime. From the beginning, he finds:
     There was something that didn't quite add up about the tragedy, something incongruous.
       Maigret had just returned from his summer vacation with his wife, and he's been eager to get back into his old routines, personal and professional. So, for example, he had taken his wife out the previous evening:
They had gone to the cinema, not so much to see the film, which was mediocre, but to get back into the habit of going out.
       The rest of the city hasn't quite caught up: Paris is still filled with tourists, and many locals are still away for the summer, while: "He was keen for the summer and the holiday season to be over, for everyone to be back in their place." Though it ultimately does not have much of an effect on the investigation, it is noteworthy how many people are still away -- other tenants in the building where the murder took place as well as one of the men who took over Josselin's business. This lack of the familiar structure and order contributes to Maigret's constant sense of being off-balance, captured very nicely by Simenon. (Maigret also downs quite a few drinks while on the job here, yet another reflection of how thrown off his usual rhythm he remains.)
       A concierge -- also with a young baby -- reported that the son-in-law doctor was the last to leave the building, at about quarter after ten -- suggesting he was the last to see Josselin and making him the prime, if otherwise not very obvious suspect.
       Maigret struggles with the case, hanging around the house and neighborhood, repeatedly speaking to the family members and then trying to get a feel for Josselin's daily routine. Simenon nicely captures and presents Maigret's sort of thoroughness:
Some colleagues claimed that he insisted on doing everything himself, including tedious shadowing, as if he didn't trust his inspectors. They didn't understand that for him it was a necessity to get a sense of people's lives, to try and put himself in their shoes.
       He has some trouble with these shoes. Used to dealing with crimes that he can relate to, where passions are obviously involved, he is stymied by the 'goodness' of these good people, their anodyne lives making it difficult to comprehend how such evil could be visited on them --and for what possible reason. He feels himself: "sucked into the bourgeois, almost edifying, atmosphere that surrounded those people, 'good people', so everyone kept telling him".
       Maigret senses small tensions and evasiveness. The wife's reactions don't seem quite right -- but none of the usual explanations, such as her possibly having a lover, seem to apply. The son-in-law seems still somewhat of an outsider to the family, and came from humbler circumstances -- but he's a well-respected doctor, and seemingly completely devoted to his work (which, itself, might be an issue, but doesn't seem to have any bearing on the case).
       Maigret senses he's missing something -- indeed, that there was something specific he was close to early on and that just slipped away:
At one point, I had an idea, or the beginning of an idea, and then someone spoke to me, Saint-Hubert if I'm not mistaken ... By the time I'd answered him, I couldn't for the life of me pick up y train of thought.
       The detail that he missed, the step he didn't take, is an inspired little touch by Simenon, a reminder of the class hierarchies in France, as reflected even in the living quarters; it's a small oversight, but at least explains the logistics of how the crime was committed, and how the perpetrator evaded detection -- and clues Maigret in as to how to proceed with the investigation. The rest is legwork, luck, and then applying the right pressure on the 'good people', in the right way. If the solution is a bit disappointing -- not pulled out of thin air, but still rather thin, feeling almost like a convenient fill-in-the-blank solution, for want of another -- the getting there still impresses.
       Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse doesn't offer quite the usual whodunnit satisfactions, but makes up for that with enough else; it's a fine piece of work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 May 2019

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Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse: Reviews (*: review of the earlier translation): Georges Simenon: Other books by Georges Simenon under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Belgian author Georges Simenon (1903-1989) wrote hundreds of books, and is especially famous for his detective-fiction.

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© 2019-2023 the complete review

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