Maigret Goes To School by Georges Simenon — wine-infused detection

Maigret Goes To School was a disappointment. It’s the 44th book in the Inspector Maigret series and I do wonder whether he was struggling to find inspiration because this isn’t a patch on the other Maigret titles I’ve read.

Simenon despatches Maigret to a village in the Charente Maritime after an appeal for help by the local schoolmaster who suspects he is about to be arrested for murdering the former postmistress. Gastin believes he is seen as the prime suspect purely because he and his wife are regarded as outsiders in the village.

The inspector is intrigued by the man’s protestations that he’s innocent but just as appealing is the prospect of local oysters and white wine that are a speciality of the region.

Cover of Maigret Goes to School, the 44th novel by Georges Simenon to feature Inspector Jules Maigret

It doesn’t take long for Maigret to discover that no-one in Saint-André-sur-Mer is shedding any tears over the woman’s death. Generally considered a mean-spirited, venomous creature it’s a miracle no-one had bumped her off years earlier. But this is a village which distrusts all outsiders so they’re not going to go out of their way to help the inspector.

Faced with a dearth of forensic evidence and the undisguised hostility from people like the deputy mayor, Maigret begins to question his involvement in the case.

What was he doing there? A hundred times, in the middle of an investigation, he’d had the same feeling of helplessness or, rather futility. He would find himself abruptly plunged into the lives of people he had never met before, and his job was to discover their most intimate secrets.

He does what he always does in these circumstances: deploy his skills as an observer of human behaviour and psychology. The fact he was brought up in a similar village means he understands the undercurrents, the petty jealousies and rivalries in this small community. His own childhood experiences mean he can also relate to the schoolchildren who may have been witnesses to the shooting.

Maigret arrives, as ever, at the solution through careful questioning, a process which seems to involve a copious amount of alcohol. Maigret wouldn’t be Maigret if he wasn’t taking a glass of wine with his lunch, an aperitif before dinner and a couple of glasses of calvados in the bistro.

But in Maigret Goes To School he starts his drinking earlier than normal. Right after his early morning coffee, he’s thinking longingly of a glass of white wine. Come ten-thirty that day, having a glass or two with the local doctor, he hankering for another because “it seemed about the right time for one.” He’s still at it late at night, quaffing brandies and more wine while learning the gossip from the innkeeper. By the end of the tale however, even Maigret has had enough, finding the “odour of cheap wine sickening.”

As I’ve come to expect from this series, the main characters are deftly drawn, most notably the bunch who spend all day and every day drinking in the inn. The insular world they inhabit is convincing.

In a village, everyone has so many relatives who can die from one moment to the next that they all spend their lives in mourning clothes.

But I found the plot a touch too simple — I won’t claim that I guessed the solution (I so rarely do) but when it’s explained it did feel rather “so what.”

What I missed above all was the atmosphere of Paris. Maigret just doesn’t feel like Maigret if he’s not striding along the Rue de Rivoli amid the deliveries of fruit and vegetables, or sat his desk in the Quai des Orfèvres, discussing cases with Lucas, Janvier and Lapointe. I don’t know how many books Simenon set outside of the city but I think I’ll make a point of checking the location before deciding which title to read.

Maigret Goes To School: Footnotes

This is the 44th title out of the 75 tales written by Simenon that featured his most famous creation. The series began in 1931 and ran for four decades, concluding with Maigret and Monsieur Charles, published in 1972. Simenon called his Maigret output “sketches” to differentiate them from his psychological novels, or romans durs.

Penguin Random House republished all 75 Maigret novels over a period of six years. My copy of Maigret Goes To School is a Penguin Classics Reprint edition from 2017 with translation by Linda Coverdale.

I’m counting this as the third book in my #20booksofsummer22  project.

BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

15 thoughts on “Maigret Goes To School by Georges Simenon — wine-infused detection

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  • July 6, 2022 at 11:54 am
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    I own a stack of Maigrets but I don’t recognise this one. Maigret gets out into the country a lot as he gets older and towards the end he and Mme Maigret buy a country house to retire to. In fact I’m surprised in this one that Mme Maigret didn’t go with him. Maigrets have stopped turning up in second hand shops (and I’ve largely stopped looking) but I hope I come across this one one day and remember to compare it with your review.

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    • July 6, 2022 at 9:34 pm
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      There is one I’ve read where they have just bought the house in the country though he’s not yet ready to retire.
      I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Maigret in a second hand shop – I would have bought them for sure

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  • July 6, 2022 at 9:23 am
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    Maigret is going through a book Bloggers’ moment. Note to self. Read one! Why haven’t you already? At least you could make your mind up and join in the conversation.

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    • July 6, 2022 at 9:35 pm
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      Why haven’t you read one yet? Easy answer – there are too many other good books vying for your attention

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  • July 6, 2022 at 8:36 am
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    That’s a shame. I’ve read other Maigrets but not this one. As you say, the Parisian setting is part of their charm, so I can understand why taking him out of that setting would disappoint. Which are your favourites in the series, Karen? I’d be interested to hear.

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  • July 5, 2022 at 8:09 pm
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    I’ve been reading and enjoying a few of the standalone ‘romans durs’ recently, but haven’t tried any of the Maigrets yet. I won’t start with this one!

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    • July 6, 2022 at 9:35 pm
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      Good idea to begin with one of the more traditional Paris settings

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  • July 5, 2022 at 3:54 pm
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    I get what you say about Paris and the team, but i do find it interesting sometimes when Maigret is taken out of his usual setting!

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    • July 5, 2022 at 5:17 pm
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      Maybe there are others where he leaves Paris which are better than this one

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  • July 5, 2022 at 3:13 pm
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    Hmm, I thought they were getting better and better.
    A simple plot? wow, for sure that does not sound like Maigret. They tend to be clear to me the first half of the book, and then convoluted

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    • July 5, 2022 at 5:18 pm
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      I haven’t read as many as you have so I don’t know what happens after this one. It hasn’t turned me off Maigret though

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  • July 5, 2022 at 11:59 am
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    Though I enjoy the occasional Simenon I’m not desperate to read all the Maigret books, so your faint praise (as lukewarm as the local wine perhaps) is a useful reminder of one to avoid, thanks!

    Reply

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