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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Maigret and the Old People

Georges Simenon

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To purchase Maigret and the Old People

Title: Maigret and the Old People
Author: Georges Simenon
Genre: Novel
Written: 1960 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 155 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Maigret and the Old People - US
Maigret and the Old People - UK
Maigret and the Old People - Canada
Maigret et les vieillards - Canada
Maigret et les vieillards - France
Maigret und die alten Leute - Deutschland
Maigret e i vecchi signori - Italia
Maigret y los ancianos - España
  • French title: Maigret et les vieillards
  • Translated by Shaun Whiteside
  • Previously translated by Robert Eglesfield as Maigret in Society (1962)

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Our Assessment:

B : Maigret nicely thrown a little off his game -- but Simenon is, too

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph* A 13/4/1962 Violet Grant
The NY Times Book Rev.* . 4/3/1970 Newgate Callendar
Sunday Times* A 25/3/1962 Julian Symons
TLS* . 30/3/1962 P.J.Stead

(*: review of earlier translation)
  From the Reviews:
  • "The solution is brilliantly unexpected, and Maigret at a loss more endearing than ever." - Violet Grant, Daily Telegraph

  • "As in any Simenon book, the writing here is sharp, economical, realistic." - Newgate Callendar, The New York Times Book Review

  • "As so often with Simenon, however, it isn't the plot that is important but the effect upon Maigret (.....) The ending is not much of a surprise, but that hardly matters. The whole thing is beautifully done." - Julian Symons, Sunday Times

  • "(W)hat is of most concern is not so much that the people among whom Maigret has to make most of his inquiries into the murder of a former French ambassador are of an older generation as that they are of another social caste. (...) (T)he dead ends continually arrived at by anyone seeking to solve the problem in middle-class terms: all these amount to a maze in which Maigret wanders ill at ease." - Philip John Stead, 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 Old People presents Maigret with a fairly baffling crime: a retired French ambassador, seventy-seven-year-old Count Armand de Saint-Hilaire is found dead in his apartment, shot once in the eye ("exploding the skull") -- and then three more times as he lay obviously already dead on the ground. The only other person in the apartment is the ancient housekeeper, Mademoiselle Larrieu, who heard nothing, and found the body in the morning. There are no indications of any struggle -- which, along with the close-range fatal wound, and the setting, the Count at his desk, where he had been correcting proofs of his memoirs -- suggesting that he must have known, and welcomed in, the perpetrator. There is no other evidence: no shell casings and no trace of a gun -- the killer apparently having removed them -- and no strange fingerprints.
       The over-kill -- the shots fired into the man already lying dead on the floor -- suggest a crime of some kind of passion. Indeed, with apparently nothing having been stolen, everything points to this being something very personal. And, as it happens, the Count has some personal history which certainly raises eyebrows -- including, when he learns about it, Maigret's.
       The Count has many, many personal letters, a correspondence Maigret wades into, as he learns the great not-so-secret of the Count's life: the great love of his life was Isi -- now Isabelle of V , Princess of V , and while the two young lovers couldn't marry, they kept up an epistolary relationship -- and the occasional glimpse-in-person -- over all these decades. Isi had to accept the arranged marriage, to a man she didn't love -- but she knew her place and role, and was willing to play it, while her husband was also aware of her feelings and accepted them; the couple only slept together in order to get an heir (which they managed), and the Prince had a series of lovers (including, amusingly enough, sharing a mistress ("a pretty girl with an opulent bosom") with the Count for a whole year ("They didn't know ... Each one had his day")). Isi and the Count did nothing improper all that time -- but it was safely assumed that, should the Prince ever predecease them, the lovebirds would finally marry. And, wouldn't you know it, the Prince just died a few days earlier, succumbing to the injuries he sustained after falling from his horse .....
       So the Prince's family is in town for the funeral -- including the one son and heir. The Princess' residence is nearby. And there's also the Count's only family, a nephew who relied on his uncle for the occasional cash-infusion. And, of course, there's gruff Mademoiselle Larrieu, who has accompanied the Count on his many illustrious stations over all these decades (and might not welcome a new woman, however old the connection, now in the Count's domestic life ?).
       Maigret and the Old People is, of course, a mystery, of sorts, and the mystery of who the hell did it is of some interest -- with quite a few people who might have had a reason to want to kill the old man, and whose alibis or explanations of their whereabouts at the time in question aren't rock-solid. Indeed, it is a nicely odd case; as Maigret has to admit:

     Here, everything was too perfect. Everything had a logical explanation, everything except the old man's death.
       But what Simenon really plays up in Maigret and the Old People is that this crime takes place in a world that is foreign to Maigret. He might be a detective chief inspector -- a high-ranking official in the police -- , and even be recognized by the taxi driver that gives him a lift, but the upper class, they inhabit and move in entirely different spheres. (Driving home the point, over and over, Simenon even has Maigret taking the bus at one point.)
       Maigret is barely at the crime scene and he's already irritated:
It was also the way n which the case was presented and, perhaps more than anything, the unfamiliar world in which he found himself suddenly immersed.
       For all the criminals he's used to interrogating, he's flummoxed when he's faced with these representatives of nobility, and their handlers:
These people struck him as unreal, as if they had sprung from the pages of a turn-of-the-century novel.
       Maigret can't relate. The Princess and the Count's decades-long platonic romance baffles him. The passions of criminals he deals with, day in and day out, those he can understand, but this ? It's: "as disappointing as trying to grasp a cloud".
       Beyond that, the repeated reminder that he is not of these aristocratic circles, that he is a commoner, irks him. He is reminded of childhood humiliations, when his place was made clear to him, and despite his origins not being that humble and his having established himself in a significant role, he's obviously still haunted by the knowledge that, regardless, there's a world in which he does not belong and which he will never find entrée to. (Not that he wants to -- but the reminder that, for a certain class he is and always will remain lesser, bothers him.) Memories are dredged up -- he even has dreams reminding him of his deep-rooted sense and knowledge of his (inferior) place.
       Simenon does this all quite well, but Maigret and the Old People is a case where his quick-brushstroke and to-the-point style is just a bit too spare for the story, especially read from a few decades on, when French class differences still matter enormously (far more than Americans generally seem aware of) but perceptions and behavior have shifted some. This is rich material, and Simenon uses it simply almost too pointedly. The sense of how Maigret is not in his element, and how it muddies his thinking as he tries to fit the pieces together is neat, but ultimately doesn't come near to bearing enough on the whole mystery and its resolution.
       The resolution itself is reasonably clever -- though here too Simenon's choices are interesting, and it feels like he was drawn to a conclusion that was in his comfort-zone, as if he himself wouldn't really fully know what to do with the aristocratic circles .....
       Maigret and the Old People is a fine Maigret -- but does feel like it isn't nearly all that it could have been.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 January 2019

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Maigret and the Old People: 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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