A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins

GEORGES SIMENON – Maigret’s Boyhood Friend. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, US, hardcover, 1970. Hamish Hamilton, UK, hardcover, 1970. Translation of L’Ami d’Enfance de Maigret (Paris, 1968).


   Between 1933 and the end of World War II, Simenon all but abandoned Maigret and devoted himself to writing the grim social and psychological novels on which rests much of his critical reputation as a serious author.

   After moving to the United States in 1946, he revived his immortal character; and until ill health forced him to stop writing fiction in 1972, he turned out from two to four books a year about the great inspector. Like the earlier cycle of Maigrets, these, too, stress character and milieu over plot.

   What lingers in the memory is the sense of place: the sunny island of Porquerolles in The Methods of Maigret (1957); the seedy nightclubs of Inspector Maigret and the Strangled Stripper (1954); the world of young Nouvelle Vague filmmakers in Maigret’s Pickpocket (1968) and of disaffected Sorbonne students in Maigret and the Killer (1971).

   Typical of the late Maigrets and better than many is Maigret Hesitates (1970), in which an anonymous letter warning of a future murder brings the inspector into the household of a brilliant Paris maritime lawyer who is haunted by the legal concept of criminal insanity.

   The plot is simple as ever, but the sense of place is so vivid and the characterizations so rich (especially the haunted Parendon and his monstrous wife, a domestic pair that reflect the shattering of Simenon’ s second marriage) that the book simply runs rings around most conventional detective novels.

   That novel was followed both in France and the English-speaking world by Maigret’s Boyhood Friend. The boyhood friend of the title is Florentin, a small-time hustler and habitual liar, who runs sniveling to Maigret for help when the woman who had been supporting him while being financed by four other lovers is shot to death in her apartment.

   Declining to arrest the dissolute and insufferable Florentin even though all the evidence points in his direction, Maigret probes the lives of the dead woman’s lovers and the nature of her relationship to each. The characterizations and Parisian atmosphere are as fine as anything in late Simenon.

   With Maigret and Monsieur Charles (1973), both the foremost European detective series and Simenon’s half-century of writing fiction came to an end. Since then he has written several books of autobiographical reminiscences, culminating in the huge and overpowering Intimate Memoirs (1984). However many years Simenon has left before his return to his beloved earth, Maigret, we can be sure, will survive as long as people read.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Editorial Note:   Georges Simenon died in his sleep of natural causes on the night of 3-4 September 1989 in Lausanne, France. He was 86.