There’s a distinct lack of glamour to this first Maigret mystery. In itself that’s interesting as this is a story centred on an international conman and an American investor in one of the finest hotels in Paris. Surely that should give a triumphant yell of glamour. In the hands of a Leslie Charteris or an Agatha Christie, the glamour would have been buffed shiny and played up above all else. But in this novel, everything is filtered through the doughty presence of Inspector Maigret – a man who has no time for shinier things in life. This is a policeman who has seen too many bad guys, who knows he is paid poorly and who is well aware that the successful conclusion to any criminal case means a mass of paperwork for him. In short, he’s an individual with no time for glamour and as such the book takes all these shiny elements and boils them down to a story of crooks and cops and very little in-between.
However, that filter also manages to diffuse other elements normally crucial to a crime mystery: for example, excitement.
In PIETR THE LATVIAN, a chase scene is told solely from the point of view of what Maigret has to do to achieve his objectives and how he goes about it, rather than the perils and danger involved in achieving those objectives. It does rather kill the tension. But then this is the stolid Inspector Maigret, and Maigret doesn’t get excited. He has a job to do after all.
So, there are flaws here (and that’s without the fact that Simenon at this point doesn’t really have the knack of creating memorable characters; beyond Maigret, and perhaps the title character, the rest are just cyphers) and yet there’s something quite compulsive about PIETR THE LATVIAN. In its determination it almost becomes engaging despite itself. An engrossing police procedural, which is straight and no fuss, and sets out to do things on its own terms and – you know what – largely succeeds.
My debut novel, THE WANNABES – which has been out of print for a little while – is now available for free. A supernatural thriller of beautiful actresses and deadly ambition in London town, it’s well worth your time. You can get your copy here!