“There was a moment, between Quai de Orfevres and Pont Marie, when Maigret paused, so briefly that LaPointe, who was walking beside him, paid no attention.”
Maigret fishes out a man who apparently was thrown into the river to murder him and it turns out to be the “tramp” of the title of the book. But further investigation into the man reveals a doctor, now gone missing for some time, and in investigating that disappearance with the classic “qui bono” in mind leads to a deepening plot.
One of the issues Maigret, detective novelists of all kind, and, well, people in general have struggled with is who gets to be a victim and who is owed justice. In A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess begins us off with the brutal beating (and presumed murder) of a homeless man that Alex and his Droogs find singing. By placing this man as our first scene of brutal violence in the novel, when later violence occurs, there’s to be no questioning the severity of those acts because the book have already framed a victim for us in a person that society generally overlooks. Some of this same idea works here in this mystery novel. By posing the victim as a homeless person, the murderer (or would-be) is asking all of us, including and especially the police to be unconcerned with the act of violence. It’s a trade murderers are always making: is my freedom worth more or less than their life? Decide. And books tend to be more sympathetic than society in general, who prefers the death of such people to be slow and passive, than quick and violent. But justice is not just for victims, but for the social fabric as well.
Maigret and the Saturday Caller
“Some images, for no reason, and without our realizing it, cling on and remain obstinately lodged in our memories, although we are barely conscious of having registered them and they correspond to nothing of significance.”
This is one of if not the shortest of the Simenon books I’ve read, especially of the Maigret books. It begins with Maigret in his apartment with his wife about to sit down to eat. A knock on the door reveals a visitor, a painter and decorator who apologizes for interrupting dinner, but tells Maigret it’s an emergency. Maigret invites him in and he reveals that he thinks he needs to kill his wife. Obviously intrigued Maigret presses the issue, and it turns out that the man is in a loveless marriage of eight years and he has a daughter, and his wife has recently not only taken up a lover, but invited the man to come live in their shared house. She seems to not see an issue with this, but the man is getting more and more stressed and agitated, and he believes he’s being driven toward an action that would be out of his control, and not something that he actually wants to commit. He asks for Maigret’s help in the matter. From there Maigret is so intrigued he almost asks the man to stay for dinner, but instead he excuses himself and ponders the question. He does not believe a crime has yet been committed and he’s wondering what exactly his responsibility is in the manner. This becomes more complicated almost immediately when the man disappears, although is not presumed to be dead.
This one obviously gets into some uncomfortable territory about domestic violence, and what if any role divorce might play in a modern country like France (secular, yet Catholic).