“Who would have dared not to take him seriously? Heaps of people, who did not have easy consciences, trembled at the mention of his name. He had the power to question them until they cried out with anguish, to put them in prison, send them to the guillotine.
In this very island, there was now someone who, like himself, heard the sounds of the bells, who breathed the sabbath air, someone who was drinking in the same room as himself the previous evening and who, in a few days, would be shut up once and for all within four walls.”
The story starts with a down at heel former criminal being murdered on the island of Porquerolles. The night before his body is discovered the petty crook had been telling the villagers at the pub that he was a personal friend of the great chief inspector Maigret. As a result it is assumed that the attack was an indirect one on Maigret and he needs to come and solve the case for his own protection.
But things are not as easy as they sound because Maigret is being shadowed by a Scotland Yard detective studying French methods. Maigret can hardly reveal his methods are about pottering around smoking his pipe and listening to people so there is a tension there from the start.
Added to that tension is the relationship between Maigret and the deceased and a prostitute who was a girlfriend of the victim and was also helped in the past by the policeman.
That help seems to cross the line between policeman and offender but it is a grey area that Maigret finds himself in a few times on the investigation and is part ofn his methodology.
In the end the crime is solved through Maigret’s methods with some help from the Englishman who manages to make a few passing comments that stick in the French detective’s mind.
They have to go through the rigmarole of interviewing the villagers but it is out and about between the cracks of human life that the key to the mystery lies and where Maigret finds the answers.
Reading Simenon is like slipping neck-up into a hot bubble bath. He relaxes, amuses and gently challenges the concentration of the reader before tying it all up neatly at the end.