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Friday, 9 March 2018

‘A Maigret Christmas’ by Georges Simenon

Translated by David Coward
Published by Penguin Books,
23 November 2017.
ISBN: 978-0-241-28215-1

This book consists of three short stories, although the first two stories are quite long (approximately 80 and 90 pages.)

The first story is called A Maigret Christmas It opens with Maigret and his wife at home on Christmas morning when their quiet day is interrupted by two early visitors, two women from the apartment block that faces Maigret’s and whose windows he can see from his own. The woman who initiated the call is Mademoiselle Doncoeur, an elderly spinster who, as Madame Maigret remarks to Maigret, shows signs of being in love with him. The other woman, Mademoiselle Doncoeur’s neighbour, Madame Martin, is far less willing to seek Maigret’s help, and yet it is her apartment that has been entered in the night. The two women explain that Madame Martin’s niece, Colette, whom she has charge of since Colette’s mother’s death, claims that she saw Father Christmas and that he was attempting to search under the floorboards in her room. This could be dismissed as a seven-year-old child’s fantasy, but Colette showed them the magnificent doll ‘Father Christmas’ gave her. Colette has broken her leg and is confined to her bed, so there is no obvious way that she could have acquired the doll for herself. Even though it is Christmas and Maigret is officially off-duty, he has to investigate the identity of the mysterious caller and try to protect little Colette from harm.

A Maigret Christmas is a melancholy story, filled with the regret of a childless couple who are spending Christmas cocooned in their apartment alone together. At the start of the story, Maigret ponders on his wife’s sadness about this as he prepares to face the day with just the two of them: ‘But enough of that! Don’t even think about it! Don’t say a word that might bring up that subject. And later on, don’t look out on to the street too often when the kids came out of doors and started showing off their toys.’

The second story, Seven Small Crosses in a Notebook, begins at Christmas Eve, in the Control Centre of Police Headquarters. Most of the officers on duty are eager to get home to celebrate but Andre Lecoeur is content to work a double shift. Lecoeur is unmarried, a strange aloof character he always logs each call out by a cross in his notebook. This Christmas the police are extra vigilant because a serial killer is at large, attacking women in their homes and stealing their small savings. When an unknown person starts to smash the glass that protects the street phones that get straight through to the control room to report an emergency, most people think it is a drunk on a spree, but Lecoeur spots a pattern in the crosses in his book. Another woman’s body is discovered, and to Lecoeur’s dismay, he realises that he is personally involved, and his young nephew is out in the dark streets of Paris playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with a ruthless murderer.

Seven Small Crosses in a Notebook is a tense and claustrophobic story, but a very satisfying one as Lecoeur’s unique way of looking at things brings him to the forefront of the investigation, a place that the quiet loner had never desired to be.

A Little Restaurant Near Place des Ternes is described as A Fairytale for Grown-ups. It is the shortest of the three stories in the book, and the darkest. Again, it starts at Christmas Eve, as a small restaurant is closing, when one of the final three customers commits suicide by shooting himself. The other customers are a twenty-eight-year-old prostitute and a nineteen-year-old girl. When the police allow them to leave, the man’s suicide has shaken them both out of their usual patterns of behaviour and the prostitute has to take some extreme and eccentric steps to prevent the younger woman from making a drunken mistake that could ruin her life.

A Little Restaurant Near Place des Ternes is a clever, wry, eccentric story that mirrors the despair and loneliness rather than the joy of Christmas celebrations for the city’s outsiders.

These are all stories that show a darker side of Christmas, and all are tinged with loneliness and regret. These are not the sort of Christmas stories that supply a cheerful, light-hearted read but they are elegantly written and beautifully translated. Initially I was disappointed that only one of the stories featured Maigret, but the second story featuring Lecoeur and some of Maigret’s usual team was excellent and engaging. An unusual and interesting read and a must for fans of Simenon’s work.
Reviewer:  Carol Westron
Georges Joseph Christian Simenon was a Belgian writer. Born 13 February 1903 in Liege Belgium. Died 4 September 1989 (aged 86) Lausanne Switzerland. He was a prolific author who published nearly 200 novels and numerous short works, Simenon is best known as the creator of the fictional detective Jules Maigret.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats, the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her latest book Strangers and Angels published 28 November 2017 is set in Victorian England.  Also published in 2017 is her fourth novel in her scene of Crimes Series Karma and the Singing Frogs.  

To read a review of Karma and the Singing Frogs, click on the title

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