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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Maigret Hesitates

Georges Simenon

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To purchase Maigret Hesitates

Title: Maigret Hesitates
Author: Georges Simenon
Genre: Novel
Written: 1968 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 175 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Maigret Hesitates - US
Maigret Hesitates - UK
Maigret Hesitates - Canada
Maigret hésite - Canada
Maigret hésite - France
Maigret zögert - Deutschland
Maigret è prudente - Italia
Maigret vacila - España
  • French title: Maigret hésite
  • Translated by Howard Curtis
  • Previously translated by Lyn Moir (1969)

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Our Assessment:

A- : an inspired variation on the usual investigation, well-handled

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde . 19/10/1968 Gabrielle Rolin
The NY Times* A 5/5/1970 John Leonard
Sunday Telegraph* . 9/8/1970 Francis Goff
Sunday Times* . 2/8/1970 Henry Reed
The Times* A 27/6/1970 H.R.F.Keating

[* review of earlier translation]

  From the Reviews:
  • "As usual in the later Maigret novels, the mystery resides not so much in events as in character. (...) The result, of course, is another diamond." - John Leonard, The New York Times

  • "The nuances marriage, the strains of middle age, the meaningless social life of the well-off -- he knows it all." - Francis Goff, Sunday Telegraph

  • "(S)hort this book may be, but it ranges over a field stretching from a schoolboy to the very President of the Republic." - H.R.F.Keating, The Times

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 Hesitates begins upbeat, Detective Chief Inspector Maigret in a good mood on an early March day when spring seems finally, suddenly to have sprung. There's not much on his desk either, no big case in progress and no new murder to worry about: "Nothing but routine". In fact, pretty much all there is is an anonymous letter -- hardly remarkable in and of itself: "Every year he received hundreds of anonymous letters" .....
       The letter, written on fine vellum paper, warns: "A murder will be committed soon, probably in a few days". There's enough to it for Maigret to at least not dismiss it out of hand, and he quickly follows up -- which proves not to be very difficult, given the distinctive paper the letter was written on; indeed, "it's too easy" the officer he sent to check it out suggests .....
       Almost immediately they are able to determine where the letter was sent from -- although the person who wrote it remains harder to identify. Still, Maigret quickly finds himself at the source: the sprawling home and offices of one Émile Parendon, a very successful lawyer specializing in maritime law who lives with his wealthy wife and two teenage children, with small professional and private staffs also often at the premises. The case that presents itself here, however, is, as Maigret is forced to admit even well into his investigation, something quite out of the ordinary: "This case isn't like most others, and I'm rather at sea".
       Maigret Hesitates lives up to its title. It's full of hesitation. Maigret wants to take action -- but this isn't the sort of case where the next steps to take are obvious. When he first enters the Parendon premises, he's not investigating a crime, only the potential of a crime -- a situation that stymies him. And even when there is a crime to solve, he wavers as to how specifically to proceed:

'What are you going to do ?'
    'I haven't decided yet'
       Maigret Hesitates cleverly quickly offers up a closed little world of suspects -- those who live and work in the Parendon household -- without, initially, offering an actual crime. Maigret is curious as to who wrote the letter, but realizes that finding the person who did so will not necessarily prevent the warned-of death; the letter-writer may have simply been describing an atmosphere in which murder lies so thick in the air that it feels as though it must be inevitable. But is it ?
       This setting and situation into which Maigret inserts himself is inspired, and the first hundred pages of the novel surely among the best Simenon wrote in the series -- with the (uncertain) threat of a crime hanging darkly over everything and everyone, and Maigret tapping around in this huge apartment, struggling to figure out both where exactly danger lies and how to thwart it.
       Much as when he is investigating a completed crime, Maigret speaks at length to a number of the members of the household individually. It's quite the cast of characters here -- beginning with the lawyer, who is positively giddy when Maigret contacts him, well aware of the policeman's reputation; Parendon even blurts out that: "I've even occasionally been on the verge of writing to you to ask your opinion about certain matters". As it turns out, despite working only in civil law matters, Parendon has long been fascinated by Article 64 of the French Penal Code, which both he and Maigret know by heart:
There is no crime or offence if the accused was in a state of insanity at the time of the act, or if he was compelled by a force he was unable to resist.
       Unsurprisingly, this question too comes into play in the story; Parendon won't let Maigret forget it -- while Maigret wonders:
     Was it really an obsession ? Why was this business lawyer, whom people came from far and wide, at great expense, to consult on all matters maritime, so mesmerized by the only article in the Code that actually dealt with human responsibility ?
       Parendon isn't even particularly surprised when Maigret shows him the anonymous letter; he seems very forthright and helpful in considering the possibilities as to its origins and meaning. Others in the offices are forthright, too, and among the things that Maigret learns is that Parendon has been having an affair with his young secretary, Mademoiselle Vague, which his wife likely knows of. The Parendons sleep in separate rooms; they also each have a gun .....
       A second anonymous letter arrives, reproaching Maigret for acting so precipitously: "It has got them all stirred up, and that may well bring things forward". The letter-writer complains: "I thought you were more patient and cautious", but of course this only leads to Maigret returning to the scene and continuing to probe a state of affairs and group of people he can't quite figure out. He taps around in what doesn't seem that dark, but he still can't quite figure things out; at one point he even has to admonish himself:
     'Stop philosophizing, Maigret !'
     Wasn't it a principle of his to forbid himself from thinking ?
       Soon, yet another letter goads the flummoxed inspector, complaining: "Your haste has spoiled everything, and now you must realize yourself that you are floundering". And all the while there hasn't even been a crime !
       Of course, eventually, well, well into the novel, the crime occurs. The tidying-up, then, is almost anticlimactic; it doesn't come as much of a surprise who did it -- though Simenon still is in good form in how Maigret goes through these final paces. Neat, too, is how the sense of uncertainty that has been so pervasive throughout extends even here, to the wrapping-up: even in the conclusion, when Maigret has packed the perpetrator (who hasn't yet confessed, though guilt is obvious) off to the Quai des Orfèvres and the reporters want the scoop:
     'Will you be making an arrest, Monsieur Maigret ?'
     'I don't know.'
     'Have you identified the guilty party ?'
     'I don't know, boys.'
     He was being honest.
       If the solving of the case feels almost perfunctory -- Maigret at work, quickly honing in on where to concentrate his efforts, and the pieces falling rather easily into place -- it's still a brisk and quite gripping handling of the case -- a typical Maigret. But the first nearly two-thirds of the novel, before there is any crime to solve, are grand, a cut apart and above your usual Maigret -- in no small part because Maigret is, in several respects, out of his element. For one, there's (long) no real crime to solve. For another, he finds himself in an upper-class world that he's familiar with but of course far removed from. It's no coïncidence that Simenon has his inspector even take the bus several times here (he's usually a taxi-man) -- making the contrast to the chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce lifestyle of the family he's investigating even more obvious.
       The characters impress too, from the gnome-lawyer to his wife, who has a way of suddenly, quietly appearing, to the appealing Mademoiselle Vague. The complicated household dynamics, with workplace overlapping with home, are also neatly presented.
       If perhaps all too clear where things are headed (and wind up), Maigret Hesitates is nevertheless a stand-out in the series -- mainly because of the inspired premise, and how well it's handled.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 February 2021

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Maigret Hesitates: Reviews (* review of 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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