Last week found me reading two very different French detectives: Maigret and the Lost Girl by Georges Simeon and The Dying Season by Martin Walker. What had they in common, apart from their Frenchness? Nothing, except that these books were chosen for the September meeting of the St Andrew’s Book Club, which I missed through having to visit the dentist, but I begged the group leader to let me keep them a little longer. Thank you, Margaret. They were both worth it.
Maigret and the Lost Girl by Georges Simeon
The title was succinct and matter of fact, what it said on the tin.
I didn’t think I liked Maigret… but, when I started reading this, I changed my mind. The setting was dark, featuring post-war Paris, not exactly the red-light district, but girls coming into the provinces and barely scraping a living. Inevitably, one of these girls is murdered, left lying in the street, and nobody knows who she is, even less where she came from. Maigret works on it, worries on it, thinks it through, sitting in silence with poor Mme Maigret but using her random thoughts. He first finds out the victim’s identity and, from there, who murdered her. It’s all in the celebrated man’s head.
Maigret, of course, being a police officer, works within a team, but none of them seemed to have much identity, apart from Inspector Joseph Lognon, Inspector Hard Done By, who won’t give himself any credit or allow anyone else to do so.
There was a definite thread running through this book. At no point did it dither, or move off the plot. Characters flitted in and flitted out, and, having served their purpose, didn’t appear again, apart from ‘The Dead Girl’, who Maigret fitted together, piece by piece. She was not an appealing character, yet Maigret, and we the reader knew her to be desperate and destitute, and the writer brought us skilfully on to her side.
The Dying Season by Martin Walker
The title of this novel didn’t work for me. The word ‘season’ would indicate that you could expect a lot of something to happen at that time, but, until almost the end, there was only one death.
Published in 2015 and set further south, in Perigord, this is modern cosy crime, featuring Benoit Courreges, otherwise known as Bruno, who is ‘Chief of Police’ in the small commune of St Denis – and appears to have no other police officers working for him. A death occurs at a high-end party, 90th birthday celebrations for the war hero, Marco Desaix, know as The Patriarch. The deceased is Gilbert, a former French military attaché in Moscow, and a long time friend of The Patriarch’s son, Viktor. The cause of death is supposed to be alcoholic poisoning, as Gilbert is known to be an alcoholic, but Bruno is annoyed, and then suspicious, when the Mayor and the local doctor are called to the death scene before he is, any evidence is destroyed and the body cremated in undue haste. Bruno is required to investigate a crime in the face of a cover up.
Unlike uxorious Maigret, Bruno finds all women very attractive and moves from one relationship to another. In fact, an attractive woman is nearly his downfall towards the end of this novel.
Bruno, although not as high up in the police force as Maigret, moves in smart circles. He hunts, rides horses and cooks, his recipes (always of meat dishes, a little off-putting for this vegetarian) are described in probably too much detail, as is what he and other characters are wearing. Although the author, Martin Walker, used to write for The Guardian, he allows one of the characters in this book, who is a renowned French right-winger and defender of hunting, to propound a most cogent and persuasive manifesto for the conservative stand on the environment.
Without giving away any spoilers, I have to say I found the ending of this book unsatisfactory. I like to see my murderers receive justice, not to cheat justice, even in the most drastic way.
Amazon Links: Maigret and the Lost Girl and The Dying Season
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