by Francis M. Nevins

   The first series of Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels ended with a book titled simply MAIGRET (original U.S. title MAIGRET RETURNS), which was written in 1933 and first published in France a year later. In the English-speaking world it was long believed that Simenon then took a sabbatical of a dozen years or so before resurrecting the titan of the Quai des Orfèvres shortly after World War II.

   Thanks to some meticulously detailed French websites we now know that Maigret’s vacation, if we want to call it that, lasted only two years. The final months of 1936 saw his reappearance in short stories published first in the French weekly magazine Paris-Soir-Dimanche, then in the obviously interconnected weeklies Police-Film, Police-Roman and Police-Film/Police-Roman. The last of them was published late in July 1939, shortly before Hitler launched World War II.

   These and a few more written during the war years, when much of France was under German occupation, were collected in LES NOUVELLES ENQUITES DE MAIGRET (Gallimard, 1944). A few Maigret shorts, translated by Anthony Boucher or Lawrence G. Blochman, appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine beginning in 1949 and were collected in THE SHORT CASES OF INSPECTOR MAIGRET (Doubleday, 1959), but most of them didn’t see print in EQMM until the late 1960s and ‘70s.

   For reasons we’ll explore below, a couple of them never appeared in the magazine at all, although they were included in the collections MAIGRET’S CHRISTMAS (Hamish Hamilton 1976, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1977) and MAIGRET’S PIPE (Hamish Hamilton 1977, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1977). Simenon wrote too many Maigret short stories to deal with in a single column but I’m sure there’s room for all the truly short ones.


   The first nine were written in a single month, October 1936, and began to appear late that same month in >Paris-Soir-Dimanche. The earliest to be published is “L’affaire du Boulevard Beaumarchais” (25 October 1936), first collected in LES NOUVELLES ENQU TES DE MAIGRET like all the others discussed here, and included in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “The Mysterious Affair in the Boulevard Beaumarchais.”

   The entire story takes place in and just outside Maigret’s office and most of it deals with his interrogation of the two suspects in the poisoning death of 26-year-old Louise Voivin: her 37-year-old husband Ferdinand and her 18-year-old sister Nicole, who was having an affair with her brother-in-law. The sexual sordidness, plus the fact that the wormy Ferdinand—how shall I put it?—soils his trousers under Maigret’s questioning, probably explain why Fred Dannay chose not to run this one in EQMM.

   The next five followed in Paris-Soir-Dimanche at the rate of one a week. “La Péniche aux Deux Pendus” (1 November 1936) appeared in EQMM, June 1967, as “Inspector Maigret Thinks” and was collected in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “Two Bodies on a Barge.” The story was republished in EQMM for June 1990. According to my web search a péniche is “a steel motorized inland waterway barge of up to 350 tonnes” but the vessel in the story, on which the bodies of the hanged couple (the “Deux Pendus” of the title) are found, is a much more primitive affair: “It was an old barge without a motor, a ‘stable-boat’ as they call those barges that travel along canals with their horses on board.”

    Like several other Maigret novels and stories, this tale takes place beside one of the locks along the Seine. Old Arthur Aerts, who was reputed to have hoarded away 100,000 francs, and his second and much younger wife Emma are found dead in their cabin while the boat is docked overnight at the lock, Arthur hanged with a dog’s chain and Emma with a sheet.

   Apparently the only suspect is a young tough named Emile Gradut, the stoker on “a small tug from the Upper Seine” that was docked beside the Aerts’ barge, who was sleeping with Emma and ran away into the nearby forest of Rougeau before the crimes were discovered. Maigret exposes the truth by reasoning of sorts but I doubt if any reader could beat him to the solution.

   We are back in Paris for “La Fenêtre Ouverte” (8 November 1936), which can be found in EQMM for June 1977 as “Inspector Maigret Smokes His Pipe” and was collected in MAIGRET’S PIPE under the correct title “The Open Window.”

   An arrest warrant in his pocket, Maigret goes to the office of shady financier Oscar Laget in the rue Montmartre only to find him shot, apparently a suicide. Since these stories run only about a dozen pages apiece, there are just two suspects besides Laget himself: his wife and his office manager. This murderer’s plot is actually a bit ingenious but of course no match for Maigret.

   There’s no need to discuss here the fourth story in the series, “Peine de Mort” (15 November 1936)—which appeared in EQMM, October 1968, as “Inspector Maigret’s War of Nerves” and in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “Death Penalty,” an accurate translation of the French title—because I talked about it at length more than two years ago. If you missed that column, or aren’t blessed with a photographic memory, you can access what I said by clicking here.

   Over the next tale’s French title, “Les Larmes de Bougie” (22 November 1936), I scratched my head for a while, and so must its translators have done. Larmes, from the Latin lacrimae, means tears, and bougieq means candle. The tears of the candle? Small wonder the title as it appeared in Lawrence G. Blochman’s translation for EQMM (June 1956) was “Journey into Time,” changed to “Journey Backward into Time” for its first hardcover appearance in THE SHORT CASES OF INSPECTOR MAIGRET. In MAIGRET’S PIPE it’s called “Death of a Woodlander.”

   This is one of the early short cases of Simenon’s protagonist that somewhat resembles a detective story, with Maigret traveling to a tiny village deep in the forest of Orléans to investigate the murder of 62-year-old Marguerite Potru, who had been found in the bedroom she shared with her older sister Amélie “with three stab wounds in her chest; her right cheek and her eye had been savagely slashed.”

   Amélie is alive but has suffered eleven stab wounds, almost all of them on her shoulder and her right side, and either can’t or won’t speak. The women were rumored to have hidden a lot of valuable securities in their grim and ancient house, although none were found when the police searched. The prime suspect is Marguerite’s illegitimate son Marcel, a young tough cut from the same cloth as Emile Gradut in “La Péniche aux Deux Pendus.”

   The French title refers to drips of candle wax found in the Potrus’ coach house, and these are the clues which lead Maigret to the truth and the missing securities.

   In “Rue Pigalle” (29 November 1936), which appeared in EQMM for June 1968 as “Inspector Maigret Investigates” and in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “In the Rue Pigalle,” we are back in Paris and, for the first time in these short stories, in the underworld milieu familiar from novels like MAIGRET/MAIGRET RETURNS.

   On a cold and gloomy morning Maigret visits a modest bistro in the titular street after receiving an anonymous tip that something violent happened in the place the previous night. He finds no sign of violence except two gangsters who have spent the night sleeping in the joint and a bar mirror damaged by a bullet but in due course he finds a third gangster, the body of a fourth, and the answer to his murder, which isn’t of much interest although Eleanor Sullivan, who succeeded as EQMM editor after Fred Dannay’s death, thought enough of the story to reprint it (May 1985).


   There seems to have been a three weeks’ pause before the next Maigret short appeared in Paris-Soir-Dimanche. The first U.S. appearance of “Monsieur Lundi” (20 December 1936) was in EQMM for May 1969 as “Inspector Maigret Hesitates,” which in MAIGRET’S PIPE is called “Mr. Monday.”

   The commissaire visits the house of Dr. Armand Barion, a prosperous physician whose ménage includes a wife, three kids, a man-of-all-work and, until recently, an 18-year-old girl of peasant origins named Olga Boulanger, who was found both dead and more than four months pregnant. An autopsy has revealed that she was killed by a gruesome method unknown in France but common in Malaya and the New Hebrides: she was “induced to swallow a certain number of those slender beards, as sharp as needles, that grow on ears of various cereals, including rye….These beards remain in the bowel, the lining of which they eventually pierce….”

   Both Barion and his factotum had had sex with the girl, “a gawky little thing with a freckled face,” and are therefore prime suspects, but the story is just beginning. It seems that a wandering beggar comes to the Barion house every Monday afternoon and receives a portion of the family lunch, in return for which he offers two cream cakes known as religieuses which he is given earlier every Monday at a neighborhood pâtisserie.

   Dr. Barion has forbidden his kids to eat the cakes, which he’s afraid are stale, and apparently the unlucky Olga gobbled them up. So who put those beards in the cream cakes, and who was the intended target? This tale, my favorite among the ones discussed here, is no longer than any other in the first series of Maigret shorts but somehow seems almost a novel in miniature. In addition to presenting a host of characters, many of them glimpsed or talked about rather than seen or interacted with, Simenon shows us Maigret moving around the neighborhood and absorbing the atmosphere almost as if he had a hundred pages or so to find the truth.


   After another short hiatus came “Une Erreur de Maigret” (3 January 1937), which is translated in MAIGRET’S PIPE as “Maigret’s Mistake.” Like “L’affaire du Boulevard Beaumarchais” this one never appeared in EQMM, for reasons which become clear after one reads the story.

   If nothing else, the tale boasts unity of time and place and only two onstage characters, Maigret himself and Eugène Labri, a fat unctuous toad who owns a pornographic bookshop in the rue Saint-Denis, “between a pork butcher’s and a hairdresser’s….” What brings Maigret to this place with its “revoltingly scented basement” is that Labri’s assistant, Mlle. Emilienne, has been found dead there, apparently from an overdose of sleeping tablets.

   The unremittingly sleazy atmosphere, plus the fact that Maigret socks the slimy Labri at the story’s end (which is no less than he deserves) and that the plot requires a mature woman—a Frenchwoman no less!—to be totally ignorant of the facts of life, seem to me quite enough to explain why Fred Dannay passed on this one for EQMM.


   The ninth and last story to be discussed here is “Jeumont, 51 minutes d’arrêt!,” a title which refers to the stop of almost an hour’s length at the French train station just across the border from Belgium. We know from the superlative website that the tale was written in October 1936, the same month as the eight tales covered above. And since it’s also the same length as those eight, most likely it first appeared in Paris-Soir-Dimanche, perhaps during that mysterious three-week hiatus we saw a few paragraphs ago.

   Along with the other eight, it was first collected in France in LES NOUVELLES ENQUITES DE MAIGRET (Gallimard, 1944), but it wasn’t included in either MAIGRET’S CHRISTMAS or MAIGRET’S PIPE although it did appear in EQMM (November 1966) and in Bill Pronzini’s anthology MIDNIGHT SPECIALS (Bobbs-Merrill, 1977) as “Inspector Maigret Deduces.”

   The train referred to in the French title is bound from Warsaw to Berlin to Li ge in Belgium (Simenon’s birthplace) to Erquelinnes, which is in Belgium just across from the border, to Jeumont, which is the first stop in France after leaving Belgium. Its final destination is Paris but on this trip a wealthy German banker named Otto Bauer, one of the six passengers in a particular compartment, is found dead in his seat at Jeumont.

   Called in by his railroad-detective nephew, Maigret gets in touch with his Berlin counterparts and learns that Bauer was forced out of the banking business “after the National Socialist revolution, but gave an undertaking of loyalty to the Government, and has never been disturbed….” and also that he’s “[c]ontributed one million marks to party funds.” Despite his name, Bauer was obviously a Jew, and was desperately trying to escape Nazi Germany with whatever money he could salvage. That element is what makes this tale unique in the Maigret canon. At least in translation there’s not a word of sympathy for the victim, not a word of disgust for the regime he was fleeing.

   For Maigret, and for Simenon I fear, it’s just another factor in another case. Does this explain why the story wasn’t included in either of the major Maigret collections? It just might.