Sunday, 5 January 2014

Penguin no. 1222: Maigret's Mistake
by Simenon

That north-east corner of Paris is a real jungle of stone, in which a man could disappear for months, and where often a crime never comes to light until months after it has been committed; thousands of people, men and women, live on the edge of the law in a world where they find as many hiding places and accomplices as they can wish; and where, from time to time, the police throw out a drag-net, and by accident they fish up someone for whom they are looking, but they rely much more upon a telephone call from a jealous prostitute or an informer.

Maigret knows he should speak with Professor Gouin about the unexplained death of his mistress Louise Filon, and yet something holds him back; it may be a feeling that the Professor is something of an equal,  a man not unlike himself. Maigret delays their meeting, and speaks instead with the women who know the Professor: his wife, assistant and sister-in-law, and the concierge of his apartment building in the Avenue Carnot. With a single exception he senses that they are determined to shield him, perhaps suspecting him to be guilty of the young woman's murder but believing that such a man should be judged according to a different set of standards.

Professor Gouin is a celebrated brain surgeon working at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine. He specialises in complex operations of the type which no one else can perform, and saving lives which seem certainly lost is a common feature of his life. At 62, this work is his entire life - he has no other interests, no friends and no need for any.

But he has public esteem and prominence. People admire him for his expertise and want to read about his work, and his picture is frequently featured in the newspapers. This is true of Maigret as well, so that he too often finds himself recognised by strangers. And the two men share other formative experiences and traits: a humble upbringing, ambition and determination to reach the summits of their respective professions, and a deep and developed understanding of how people think. But Maigret's experiences have given him sympathy with his fellow citizens, particularly those from the poorer sections of Parisian society; Professor Gouin's have isolated him and reinforced his perception of his own relative importance, so that he looks upon almost everyone else with disdain.

And with such a belief system, it is perhaps not surprising that Professor Gouin derives from the acclaim a licence to behave however he wants. What he typically wants is sex without complications, and there seems no limit to the number of women who are willing to oblige, including his assistant, the nurses at the hospital, and at least one patient. The obliging patient is the woman whose death Maigret is investigating: before her illness she had been working on the streets around the Place de Clichy, and when the Professor had operated on her and saved her life she had no qualms about complying with his wishes. He had set her up in the apartment below his own so that she would be available whenever he wanted her, with the full agreement of his wife, and she had lived there securely but unhappily ever since, a social outcast in a middle-class area.

Louise Filon had died from a shot to the head delivered at point-blank range. Maigret must determine if she took her own life, or was instead killed by someone she knew or by someone who had access to her apartment. As with his other investigations, Maigret gives little heed to the gathering of clues, concentrating instead on analysing the motives of those who had some connection with Louise. If, as the title implies, he has made a mistake, it is in overlooking one possible motive so that even he feels some surprise when the murderer's identity is eventually revealed.

Maigret se trompe first published 1953. This translation (by Alan Hodge) published in Penguin Books 1958. This edition 1960.

By the same author:
Penguin no. 1419: My Friend Maigret
Penguin no. 1680: Maigret Has Scruples
Penguin no. 1854: The Little Man from Archangel
Penguin no. 2024: Maigret Mystified
Penguin no. 2251: Maigret in Court
Penguin no. 2253: The Widower
Penguin no. 2590: The Iron Staircase


  1. Ooh, more Maigret! This one sounds excellent. Although I'm not a fan of crime fiction, I do like Maigret. I love his warmth and humanity, and the way he often seems to feel some sort of kinship, or understanding, with criminals. He can enjoy their company, and doesn't seem to judge people.I find his analysis of people's possible motives makes for compelling reading.

    1. Hi Christine,

      And I've read another Maigret since this one, so perhaps I'll focus on Maigret for awhile. He is everything you say, and I've found that, in reading them one after the other, you are offered different insights into both his story and his approach, each book concentrating on a particular aspect. I keep on seeing other titles of his I own on my shelf, and wondering what they will offer.

  2. Regarding the “formative experiences and traits” Gouin and Maigret shared, here’s some interesting amplification. The detective attended medical school for two years before he went into police work. Continuing to study medicine throughout his career, he often employed his knowledge of it in his investigations.

    1. Thanks David,

      I have just finished 'Maigret's First Case' where Simenon discusses Maigret's early life, and explains this point, and that Maigret had to abandon his studies on account of his father's death.

    2. Keep your eyes peeled for 'Maigret's Memoirs' when Penguin puts it out. Written in the first person, Maigret reveals a lot about himself. I particularly delighted in the way he corrects the errors Simenon had made in describing him.



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