A.N. Wilson on the latest crime fiction, plus a reissue from the best of them all
Where crime fiction is concerned, there is Georges Simenon, and there are the rest. He is the Master. He wrote many wonderful psychological novels, some to do with crime, some not. But his name will forever be associated with the spare novellas about the Parisian Detective Inspector Maigret. Police procedure is cut to a minimum. With a few pencil strokes, he paints unforgettable psychological portraits of hundreds of human beings, and their bleak marriages, their low compulsions, their disappointments. The inspector savours good food and the mystery of human nature. Behind the facades of those grey apartment buildings, up many a staircase, sometimes in the richest quartier of the city, sometimes in sordid tenements, Maigret reaches ceaseless cold truths about the human heart. Penguin took the decision some years ago to commission new translations of all 75 novels, and Maigret and Monsieur Charles (Penguin Classics, £7.99; Tablet price £7.20) is the last. It’s terrific. Maigret, by now paunchy, and in line for promotion to a purely administrative post in the police judiciaire, is visited by the wife of a distinguished Parisian lawyer. An obvious dipsomaniac, she is apparently worried by her husband’s disappearance. He has had a tendency, throughout his marriage, to go off, from time to time, to low dives, and pick up “hostesses”. Needless to say, by the time his body is fished from the Seine, Maigret realises that the lawyer’s wife is not all she seems. Not especially religious, he is like the best sort of confessor, sympathetic to the wrongdoing he uncovers. A magnificent reissue.