Maigret In Court by Georges Simenon – the essence of justice?
NovellasinNovember provided the perfect opportunity to renew my acquaintance with Georges Simenon’s pipe-smoking French detective, Commissaire Jules Maigret.
First published in 1960, Maigret In Court is rather more sombre in tone than the other books I’ve read from this series. The police procedural aspects are present as always combined with the usual insights on human nature. What’s different about this book however is that we find the inspector in a reflective mood, contemplating the inadequacies of the French judicial system as a reliable mechanism to determine guilt.
Much of the early part of the novel takes place inside a court room. Maigret is in the witness box giving evidence in the case of the mild-mannered frame-maker Gaston Meurant. Meurant is on trial for the double murder of his aunt and a small child in her care. It looks to be an open and shut case but Maigret remains unconvinced of the man’s guilt.
In this book Maigret spends most of his time either in the courtroom or in his office at Quai des Orfèvres while the men in his team get on with the work of trailing other suspects.
Initially I was concerned that the focus on the courtroom would mean the loss of what, to me, is one of the most enjoyable aspects of any Maigret novel: the Parisian backdrop. In most tiles within this series, we’re taken through the streets of the city and into its cafes and bars. The last title I read, Maigret and The Headless Corpse, had the inspector pay several visits to a bistro in the space of a few hours. In Maigret In Court, however there is only one lunch in a bistro. It’s his officers who get to spend time in the bars while their boss has to make do with a sandwich and a beer at his desk in the Quai des Orfèvres.
The feeling of being short changed was quickly pushed aside however as I got more engrossed in Maigret’s attitude to his career. He’s always an interesting figure but this story reveals a new dimension to his character: his despondency about court procedures and the jury system.
After many years of giving evidence, he knows that his testimonies only provide part of the truth; they give the facts but can never convey the essence of a situation or the nature of an individual.
Everything he had just said was true but he hadn’t conveyed the full weight of things, their density, their texture, their smell.
The trial process over-simplifies everything in Maigret’s opinion. The jurors and the examining magistrate get only the broad brush details, never able to spend time with the accused or see them in their normal environment when they would get to fully understand who they are. Instead, every accused person becomes a sketch, almost a caricature.
Did not the court distort everything? Not through the fault of the judges, juries or witnesses, nor because of the law or the process but beause human beings suddenly found themselves summed up, as it were, in a few phrases, a few sentences.
Maigret is equally disenchanted with the attitudes of the crowds who turn up to hear the trial, expecting excitement, confrontations and dramatic revelations. Only to be disappointed by a “seemingly innocent series of questions and answers.”
Why is he in such a pensive mood? The answer lies within the first few pages: his impending retirement. In two years he would be forced, because of his age, to retire. He’d thought about it often in the past and looked on it with “joyful anticipation.” But now it’s no longer a vague idea but a logical and imminent reality made more concrete by the recent purchase of the house where he and Madam Maigret would spend their old age.
It will be interesting to see if this mood will affect the remaining titles in the series. There were 20 more published after Maigret in Court so, fortunately, we’re not going to lose the inspector any time soon.
Maigret In Court by Georges Simenon: Footnotes
This is the 55th 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. But as Graeme Macrae Burnet comments in an article for The Guadian: “If the books are sketches, they are the sketches of an old master.”
Penguin Random House republished all 75 Maigret novels over a period of six years. My copy of Maigret in Court is a Penguin Classics Reprint edition from 2018.
This is book number 26 in my #21 in 21 project to read more books from the hundreds that lie unread in my bookshelves. Novellas in November is hosted by Cathy of 746 Books and Rebecca of BookishBeck.
28 thoughts on “Maigret In Court by Georges Simenon – the essence of justice?”
Penguin have recently republished all the Maigret’s with new covers. A regular customer at work gradually ordered them all in, so I got to see many of the titles as they came in. I tend to save them for Paris in July, for all the strolling around cafes and bistros you mentioned. But, of course, they are perfect novellas as well.
I was looking at the Penguin site yesterday and noticed all the reprint versions. I have a few of them – not sure I want to buy all 75 though!
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I find the Maigrets variable but the good ones are really excellent, and this one sounds good. As you say, it’s the atmosphere and the character of Maigret himself that are important – the plots often seem a bit secondary, or there to highlight some aspect of humanity for Maigret to muse about.
Yep the plots are sometimes rather thin
Well done with your #21 in 21 project!
I’m going to repeat it next year I think though of course it will need to be 22 in 22
I have been rereading the Maigret books with one of my French students. Loving them. But we have ways to go to get to this one, we are at #12!
I haven’t read them in any kind of order. Doesn’t seem to matter too much
To my shame, I’ve never read any Simenon. Going on my list for next year!
It’s only in the last few years that I’ve read the books – before then I was hooked on the radio adaptations
They’re good fun
I’ve been buying second hand Maigrets (and Simenons) for 50+ years. I remember the tone of this one. The later ones, as Maigret dreams of retiring to and occasionally visits the country are especially reflective. Yes Emma, there are more modern detectives, but I would no more throw over Simenon than I would Jane Austen.
I don’t see many second hand copies around unfortunately otherwise I would be snapping them up too
Wonderful review. I loved the Maigret novels that I was able to find in English and enjoy. Agree that one of the best aspects was the ambiance of 1950’s Paris – as well as the interactions with Mme Maigret.
I think there is one book where she becomes the ‘detective’ or have I go that wrong?
It’s always interesting to read foreign readers review Maigret. For me, it’s old fashioned and not really attractive but I should try those books again.
The retro feel is one of the things I enjoy about them
I’m rediscovering them, as we’ve have been reading them (12 so far) with a French students of mine. And you know, they are actually very good. The ambiance is fantastic, and also lots of humor actually. We particularly loved #12, Le Port des brumes. Also spot on for picturing local gossip. Maybe you should start with this one.
That’s good to know. I really should try them again and thanks for pointing out #12.
I recently read Lock No.1, which is, I think, the 18th novel in the Maigret series. In this Maigret is apparently about to retire – his wife even goes to the country in advance. I am not very familar with Simenon, though I’ve read one of two Maigrets in the past; I am now totally confused! Is there an answer to this?
And from my small experience with Simenon, I must say I agree – the best thing about the books I’ve read is always the setting, the local colour and the local people. In Lock No.1 the canalside bars and the barge dwellers are so well drawn, the atmosphere so evocative. (The plot I found rather more challenging…)
Yes that’s number 18 according to the very useful list at https://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/inspector-maigret-books-in-order/ I don’t remember that book so I don’t know whether he is already thinking of retirement. He and Mdm Maigret go the country on vacation every year and its in that location they decide to buy their retirement home
I have absolutely no idea why I’ve never read any Simenon. Time to put that right!
The plots are ok – it’s the atmosphere that really wins with this series
I thought I’d get one from the library yesterday. Not one on the shelves!
I checked our library today – same situation
Simenon is my favourite crime-writer. He was much more than just a crime-writer of course – a wonderful observer of and commentator on the human condition. Haven’t read this one, but will do so soon. Currently reading one of the Romains Durs, The Strangers in the House. Completely gripping. I must have read about 50 books by Simenon but happily there are many more!
I’ve not read any of his Romains Durs but it will be interesting to discover how different they are to the Maigrets.