A gentle reader of my blog, in a comment to The Carter of “La Providence”, has asked me: If this is not a good place to start with Simenon what would you recommend as a beginning? In my answer I told her: It’s hard to say. Maybe you can start with Pietr the Latvian following the book order of the New Pengun series, or even better read some of the best known among which, just from the top of my head, I can suggest: The Cellars of the Majestic, Signed: Picpus or Maigret at Picratt’s, would be among my personal preferences to enter Maigret world.
But I recognise I’m not qualified at all and I have preferred to search in the Internet to find an answer. And I’ve come across an article by Murielle Wenger, Which Maigret to Read First?
Among the various options that she presents us, the six Maigret novels of the Gallimard period are among her favourites. Namely Cécile is Dead (Gallimard, 1942); The Cellars of the Majestic (Gallimard, 1942); The Judgeʻs House (Gallimard, 1942); Signed, Picpus (Gallimard, 1944); Inspector Cadaver (Gallimard, 1944), and Félicie (Gallimard, 1944).
She also puts forward a series of alternatives:
- begin Maigret with the first novel of the Presses de la Cité vintage, “Maigret se fâche” (Maigret in Retirement)
- a variation which I can propose is to consider the short story “La pipe de Maigret” (Maigret’s Pipe), written just before “Maigret se fâche“, and which gives its title to the first volume from Presses de la Cité; this story permits us to enter in small steps into the world of Maigret.
- another way of proceeding could be to discover the Chief Inspector in his debut with the police, to start with “La première enquête de Maigret“, where we can find the germ of what will become later the “methods” of Maigret.
- along the same lines you could begin with “Les Mémoires de Maigret“, so that you could later enjoy finding in other novels the multiples allusions and reminiscences.
- another suggestion, which I would perhaps take myself, is to start with “Maigret et son mort“, which shows, it could be said, a “case-type” of the Chief Inspector: a little world of Paris, Maigret’s intuitions, the “installation” of Maigret into the life of the victim, life with Madame Maigret, the relationship with Judge Coméliau, the work of the Criminal Records Office, the Chief Inspector’s flu, etc…
- finally, if I can be permitted a personal note, the first Maigret that I read (I was around 12!) was “Maigret et l’indicateur” (Maigret and the Informer, and it also introduced me to a new world characteristic of Maigret, that of a Chief Inspector awakened in the middle of the night by the ringing of a telephone, who would be leaning over a corpse extended on a rain-drenched sidewalk in Butte-Montmartre, and would investigate in the life of a microcosm of Paris, among “the boys and girls of the underworld”….
In conclusion, we have before us numerous possibilities for the choice of a “first Maigret”, and the list doesn’t end there… We might also begin with “L’Ombre chinoise” and its plunge into the heart of an apartment in the Place des Vosges, or “L’Affaire Saint-Fiacre” and a return to the sources of Maigret’s childhood, or yet “Maigret et la jeune morte” and the extraordinary empathy of the Chief Inspector for a young girl, victim of her fate, or “Maigret et le corps sans tête” and the strange links woven between the Chief Inspector an a suspect, or even…. But let’s stop there… In fact, I think their are many ways to enter into Maigret’s world… and finally, whatever Maigret you start with, you will be seduced, and you risk but one thing… to catch the “virus” of the Maigretphile… and the desire to read them all!
I certainly have been infected by the “virus” of the Maigretphile. Stay tuned.