Sunday, 4 May 2014

Penguin no. 2026: Maigret Stonewalled
by Simenon

Cover design by Geoffrey Martin.
BBC TV photograph.
Maigret had taken from his pocket an ordinary little notebook covered in black oil-cloth. He jotted down in pencil:
1. Telegraph Rouen.
2. Telegraph Niel's.
3. Look at yard.
4. Get information on Saint-Hilaire property.
5. Finger-prints on knife.
6. List of hotel visitors.
7. Engineer's family Hotel du Commerce.
8. People who left Sancerre Sunday the 26th.
9. Announce reward, by town-crier, to anyone who met Gallet Saturday the 25th.

Maigret Stonewalled begins in a way which is reminiscent of Maigret's First Caseyet again a foreign dignitary is expected in Paris and all other police officers have been assigned to tasks related to his protection. Maigret is left managing things by himself, and when a case comes up, he must handle it alone.

He receives a telegram informing him that a man carrying the identity papers of Émile Gallet has been found dead in a room at the Hôtel de la Loire in Sancerre, a rural village some distance from Paris. Knowing nothing more than this, he travels by train to Saint-Fargeau to inform Madame Gallet and to ask her to accompany him to Sancerre to view the body and identify the victim. She has difficulty believing that the dead man is her husband, for she knows him to be in Rouen, and she has only just received a postcard confirming that he is well, and another one arrives the following day; she is rather haughty in consequence, confident that she will soon demonstrate to Maigret his mistake. But when the dead man is revealed to be Émile Gallet, the misleading postcards provide the first indication that everything here is not quite what it seems.

It was the list given above which I found most intriguing: of the many Maigret stories I have read, I cannot recall another in which Maigret writes anything down in a notebook kept in his pocket for such a purpose. Or where he begins an investigation by creating a list, shows such an interest in fingerprints, or seeks information about the victim's final day by having a town-crier publicise a fifty franc reward.

This investigation also features a much greater focus on physical evidence than is usual. Maigret is actively in search of both clues and inspiration, and so he brings in someone from the Criminal Records office to sift through the ashes in the fireplace of the Emile Gallet's hotel room in order to painstakingly recreate correspondence which someone attempted to burn on the night of his death. He also occupies Gallet's room for days, recreating the crime scene as best he can by arranging Gallet's clothing upon the chalk outline of his corpse, and he completes the arrangement by plunging the murder weapon through the flattened waistcoat. All this seemed to me atypical.

But there were other aspects which were more familiar, particularly the disdain Maigret feels for almost all middle-class characters, typically on account of their snobberies and pretensions. And there is also his reliance upon both deduction and intuition, although he notes that his experiences in various branches of the police force, including the vice squad, railways and prostitution, 'should have been enough to stifle hunches or any belief in intuition'.

Maigret is at first annoyed at having to deal with such a mundane case, and he thinks only of finishing with it and returning to Paris. Émile Gallet seems so ordinary that it inconceivable that anyone would wish him dead: he is just a commercial traveller, who lives, when he is at home, in a suburban home with his middle-class wife and the requisite communion photo of his only son on display in the drawing-room.  But every new piece of evidence Maigret uncovers makes the case harder to solve; each fact is contradicted by the next, and nothing fits together neatly, for Émile Gallet was not the man his family believed him to be. He had been living a lie for eighteen years, fabricating documents to maintain the fiction that he was still employed in a job he had long since given away.

Maigret Stonewalled offers a mystery which is primarily puzzle-based: Maigret must explain to his own satisfaction why the victim took the actions he did on the night in question and why the murderer planned the crime in the way the evidence implies he did. More perplexingly, he must also explain a later and related shooting which takes place at a time when all the three feasible suspects have unassailable alibis. The story details Maigret's search for some innovative way to reconcile evidence which seems bizarre and conflicting, and in this it is unlike any other Maigret I have read.

First published (as Monsieur Gallet décédé) in 1932 (or perhaps 1931; both publication years are mentioned in this copy). This translation, by Margaret Marshall, first published in Penguin Books 1963.

By the same author:
Penguin no. 1221: Maigret in Montmartre
Penguin no. 1222: Maigret's Mistake
Penguin no. 1362: Maigret and the Burglar's Wife
Penguin no. 1419: My Friend Maigret
Penguin no. 1594: Maigret's First Case
Penguin no. 1678: Maigret and the Old Lady
Penguin no. 1680: Maigret Has Scruples
Penguin no. 1854: The Little Man from Archangel
Penguin no. 2024: Maigret Mystified
Penguin no. 2028: Maigret at the Crossroads
Penguin no. 2251: Maigret in Court
Penguin no. 2253: The Widower
Penguin no. 2590: The Iron Staircase

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