Maigret’s First Case
It should be noted that if you start with this book, you’re jumping into a 75 book series at book 30. Oddly, this doesn’t matter all that much except for this book, and the other book I read recently Maigret Defends Himself. The reason for both of these weird facts is that one, the first ten or so of the Maigret novels were also published in same year (1931) and they are almost interchangeable in terms of order. They also all start years into his career and are incredibly process-heavy in his career as a police detective (he works for the traveling squad, a kind of major crimes unit). The first book even spends a dozen or more pages just detailing train schedules in terms of police work.
So this book is different because it takes the detective years back to the very, no long a 40ish or so experienced veteran, but a fresh-faced youngsters, new to adulthood, new to marriage (this comes up in a few ways), and new to police work. So the novel is structurally more personal about his everyday life, more intimate with his marriage, and he’s more vulnerable as a person. And the results are more or less mixed, in part, because I don’t care a bit about his life, other than it’s interesting that he has one, but about the plots. The novel does make sure not to dwell on the personal, but to help frame how that personal life gets us to the case. It’s similar to the later Martin Beck series in this way.
Maigret Defends Himself
Like the Maigret’s first case, I don’t think this is a good one to start with either. We’re at book 63 at this point, and I think at the very least having some personal knowledge and experience with Maigret shows what does work about this book, and not having those might give a false impression. I think it’s also important to know a thing or two about him as this book has Maigret set up for “infidelity” as a scandal and depending exactly on how you read the set-up it’s either an affair or a rape accusation. We know going in that it’s false, but of course, that’s for us to know and for Maigret to prove. One of the things that the novel does well is basically use the 62 previous novels not as grist to draw back on (in terms of trying to make us figure out which of the previous 62 cases is coming to bear on us now) but using his expansive history of cases, both all the one we’ve read about before, and all the ones that haven’t been made into novels. We have to assume of course that if Book 1 is not case 1, then some have not been written about. It’s a lot like the ways in which early Sherlock Holmes stories, invented as they were, became the matter that later collections were made from. All that said, I liked the conceit more than the actual mystery on this one.