I must apologise before I begin the review proper. The thing I had originally planned to review is something which I will not be able to easily access for a few days later than I expected at least. As such the original intended review will still occur but will be somewhat delayed.
The object in focus for this review is Pietr The Latvian, the first novel in the Inspector Maigret detective series by Georges Simenon. Simenon is a famous Belgian author with more than 400 books to his name.A good comparison might be that Simenon is to the rest of Europe what Agatha Christie is to England. You may have heard of Inspector Maigret as there have been multiple different television and film versions as well as a few radio ones. The most recent of which I am aware being a set of two hour specials released by ITV in 2016 and 2017 with Rowan Atkinson in the title role.
Pietr begins as follows: Detective Inspector Maigret, a rather laconic and somewhat stubborn detective is given a challenge. With just a ‘relatively’ detailed description of an infamous conman Maigret is tasked with hunting down and arresting said conman. Sounds simple right? There’s just one issue: As well as having to solve a murder that occurs almost immediately after he starts searching, Maigret slowly encounters multiple different people who match the description given. Are they all different individuals? Are some genuine and others disguises? Just WHO is Pietr The Latvian?
I find the story interesting in a rather classic vein. The story was first published in the early 1930s (I’ve seen some sources claim 1930 and others 1931.) and as such is rather ‘traditional’ in some ways. The story is a slight variation on the who dunnit formula and the solution in this case isn’t too complex but the main appeal is definitely the writing and the beginnings of Maigret’s character.
The famous French detective is rather to the point – often being rather blunt with witnesses and potential culprits – but having a few quirks that make him stand out. Having a stove in his personal office which he makes sure is always on high even when he’s out of the office is the first to come to mind. As well as his frequent tendency to call for beer or sandwiches at any point during the day.I’m not saying he is one hundred percent likeable – in fact he frequently isn’t! But there is something in the way he is written that makes him a compelling character. Simenon also seems to be very good indeed at encapsulating the Parisian underworld of the period. His Paris certainly feels more real than Christie’s London as much as I love Poirot.
The narration for this release came from a source which surprised me. Gareth Armstrong who I know mostly for his work in multiple different Warhammer projects (Hello again Be’lakor!) is on duty as the Detective Inspector. His narration is suitably on point and I can visualise him as the abrupt Frenchman with no difficulty. He also performs well at distinguishing the multiple different characters with various different regional accents so there is very little possibility of confusing Maigret for Torrence or the owner of the Majestic with the owner of a Parisian dive bar.
The age of the material does come into play on a few occasions for those of you who have issues with unfortunate language (to say it diplomatically) or politically incorrect language. It doesn’t bother me personally as you have to take certain tendencies into account when reading or listening to books of a certain age and although you wouldn’t get away with such things now it was of the period. The references in question mainly refer to a small number of female characters in the narrative and some derogatory language regarding the Jewish towards the end. It is certainly distasteful but not to the point that it completely derails the narrative. It is considerably less frequent in Maigret than it was in Thunderball which I also recently reviewed.
In short if you are a fan of either Maigret’s various television, film or radio appearances or if you enjoy a more classic form of the mystery novel akin to Christie and her contemporaries then give the first Inspector Maigret novel a chance. I’ll certainly be likely to listen to a few more!
Sidenote: For those of you who are curious about how these books were translated, at some point during 2013, Penguin Books hired a large group of translators working officially for a variety of organisations and have been releasing English translations of the Maigret books steadily since. Based on the information I was able to find, out of 76 Maigret novels, 68 have been translated to date.