Maigret Mystified/ L’Ombre chinoise (Georges Simenon, 1932, Penguin paperback, 1964)
First published in Great Britain under the title of The Shadow in the Courtyard in The Triumph of Inspector Maigret
Inspector Maigret is called to The Place des Vosges. Monsieur Couchet, a rich industrialist, has been shot at close proximity in front of his safe, killed and someone has run off with the money in the safe. He must have been shot after the money was stolen as his body was blocking the way to the open safe and nothing’s been disturbed. The courtyard is open to everyone but could the murderer actually be someone in the building? Well, his ex-wife lives there with her new husband, and they have a perfect view of the crime scene. Their son is getting doped up next door to his father’s mistress in a hotel at the Place Pigalle, needs money for his drug habit and is also suspicious. Their neighbours — two young single women who can’t stop playing a noisy gramophone; an elderly madwoman who can’t stop screaming and her sister, who can’t stop promenading the hallways and eavesdropping, both living in one room without gas; or the aristocratic Mme and Monsieur de Saint Marc; all seem unlikely candidates. As the concierge can’t help telling even people who don’t want to hear, Madame de Saint Marc was giving birth at the time the murder happened. Still, 360,000 francs have been stolen and anything is possible.
Maigret Mystified is written in a simpler style than the Simenon I’m used to. Short paragraphs, linear descriptions, a plot that is perhaps too iron-tight. Yet, what I like about Simenon is all here: the noirness, the burrowing into the forbidden, the marginal, the underworld. Monsieur Couchet is now a grand bourgeois but he wasn’t always and still prefers the easy girls from the music hall or even the street; and he loves Nine, his current good-time girl, enough to name her as a benefactress of his will along with his two wives. We’re told how scoundrelly this is perceived to be, and how much Maigret admires Couchet for it.
The murder victim’s ever so respectable first wife is only interested in money. Their son, so unloved he’s left out of his father’s will, finds escape in drug addiction. Everyone is after something and everyone has something to hide. This is all a great pleasure in itself , with the added addition now of reading how both Pigalle and the Place des Vosges were perceived to be in 1932, the latter surprising for containing a factory and also for the mixing of so many classes in the various flats.
Even underwhelming Simenon is a joy.
Richard Layne has pointed out to me that what I saw here as a simpler style might be simply due to the translation and I see that there is definitely quite a difference in the 64 translation by Jean Stewart below:
The Ron Schwartz 2014 translation published as The Shadow Puppet:
…and, if you speak French, you can compare to the original below: