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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Maigret in Court

Georges Simenon

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To purchase Maigret in Court

Title: Maigret in Court
Author: Georges Simenon
Genre: Novel
Written: 1960 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 146 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Maigret in Court - US
Maigret in Court - UK
Maigret in Court - Canada
Maigret aux assises - Canada
Maigret aux assises - France
Maigret vor dem Schwurgericht - Deutschland
Maigret in Corte d'Assise - Italia
Maigret en la audiencia - España
  • French title: Maigret aux assises
  • Translated by Ros Schwartz
  • Previously translated by Robert Brain (1961)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : devolves a bit too much into a tail-all-those-involved tale, but strong start and story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Sunday Telegraph* . 14/5/1961 Henry Reed
Sunday Times* . 28/5/1961 Julian Symons
The Times* . 18/5/1961 .

(*: review of earlier translation)
  From the Reviews:
  • "Maigret in Court is a good recent work, beautifully shaped. (...) The melancholy inherent in most of the Maigret stories is here in full force: this is part of their appeal." - Henry Reed, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Some fascinating examples of French court procedural methods, otherwise one of the less distinguished Maigrets." - Julian Symons, Sunday 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:

       In Maigret in Court divisional chief inspector of the Paris Police Judicaire Jules Maigret is fifty-three, with retirement looming ever closer: "he would be forced to retire in two years' time, in accordance with regulations". If professionally he's still fully immersed in his job, privately he's clearly preparing for the transition: on his last vacation:

the future plans had become concrete when the Maigrets had finally bought the house where they would spend their old age.
       (The house, located in Meung-sur-Loire, resembling a presbytery, is of course familiar to longtime Maigret-readers; the books don't follow his career chronologically.)
       Maigret is an investigator, but often, of course, he has to testify in court -- the 'last rites' in the process, the trial of the accused and sentencing of the guilty, something which he finds to be: "the most distasteful side of his profession". Indeed:
     Attending court had always been the most painful, most dismal part of his job, and each time he felt the same dread.
       The novel begins with him part of this much disliked exercise, at the trial of Gaston Meurant, a thirty-eight-year-old picture framer, accused of having very brutally murdered his sixty-two-year-old aunt and the four-year-old-girl she was taking care of and who lived with her. Gaston -- himself in financial straits -- visited his aunt every few weeks, and knew she kept a hoard of gold coins and bearer shares, which were not found after her death; the evidence would seem to point to him as murderer and thief.
       The case against Gaston is fairly strong, but as Maigret admits on the stand: "I was dissatisfied with the findings". Gaston might seem like the obvious perpetrator, but Maigret wasn't entirely convinced. The killing of the aunt can be explained, but he has a difficult time seeing Gaston kill the child, especially since Gaston could have easily avoided doing so by timing the crime differently. And among the other things that don't quite fit for Maigret is that the books he saw in the framer's apartment suggested Gaston was trying to better himself -- and Maigret couldn't help but notice how they stood in contrast to the kind of things that his younger wife seemed to enjoy, "romance digests, colourful magazines, film reviews and trashy novels". Indeed, husband and wife seemed an odd (mis)match.
       Simenon paints the wife very clearly from the first:
     Ginette Meurant was petite and very curvaceous, with a come-hither look in her eye, a suggestive pout and seductive manner.
       As Maigret reveals on the stand, he had his doubts and suspicions -- in particular about Ginette who, he suggested, wasn't quite the demure young wife Gaston made her out to be, and indeed enjoyed a faster, looser life behind his back. The revelations are devastating to Gaston, a crushing blow that hardly seems better than standing accused of the horrible crime which he claims to be innocent of. But Maigret found clear evidence that Ginette fooled around behind her husband's back, and he can't help but think that she set her husband up. She's no fool, either, however, and for all the tailing of her they can't come up with anything suspicious after her husband's arrest -- she doesn't rush into the arms of a secret lover or anything like that.
       But Maigret won't give up -- and knows that his testimony might force the issue. There's Gaston's no-good brother, for example, whom Ginette also knew, and who also knew about the aunt's treasure ....
       During a break in the proceedings, Maigret continues to be -- at least publicly -- non-committal:
     'Do you think Meurant is innocent ?'
     'I don't think anything.'
       He, and then the witnesses who testify in support of his observations, sow enough doubt for Gaston to be acquitted on all counts -- but of course Maigret knows that this has simply set the next wheel in motion, as Gaston must now doubt his wife, and be tempted to go after whoever was actually responsible for the horrific double-murder and robbery.
       The courtroom drama is very well done -- though Simenon has Maigret absent himself as soon as he can, itching to get back to his investigative work (he quickly clears up another case on the side, too) and getting further updates only per telephone from his colleagues.
       Simenon nicely contrasts this peculiar courtroom world where justice is (meant to be) decided on from the real-world action Maigret prefers to be part of, presenting it as a strange sort of bubble outside everyday reality, where most of the participants -- at least those who aren't part of the institution -- feel ill at ease, as:
     They suddenly found themselves in an impersonal world, where everyday words no longer seemed to mean anything, where the most mundane details were translated into unintelligible formulae. The judges' black gowns, the ermine, the prosecutor's red robe further added to the impression of a ceremony set in stone where the individual counted for nothing.
       Or, even more succinctly, Maigret ponders the limitations of this closed judicial world:
     Facts. Sentences. Words. But the rest ?
       Once Gaston is a free man again, Maigret is much more in his element.
       As to Gaston, he is then, of course, anything but free -- what Maigret pointed to has shattered the illusions of the marriage he had been clinging to. But Maigret -- and the reader -- can't be sure what that means for him, or where it will lead.
       Maigret has Gaston and his wife closely tailed every step of the next ways, uncertain of exactly what direction they will go -- together ? apart ? literally at each other's throats ? What follows is rather a lot of traveling about, in taxis, trains, and on foot, with lots of telephoning back and forth and reporting in -- a difficult sort of not-quite-manhunt to present compellingly. Still, Simenon does reasonably well, with some of the second-hand reports -- the underlings describing their actions and what they see and overhear -- even quite exciting. Still, there is an awful lot of this .....
       The outcome isn't a great surprise, but Simenon captures the world-weariness of those involved, and the inevitability of some of this well, making for a nicely melancholy rounding off of the story.
       After a great beginning -- Maigret in court is prime Simenon -- Maigret in Court stalls a bit along the way, but is strong enough in its conclusion to make for a quite powerful work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 January 2019

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Maigret in Court: 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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