I've not read a lot of Inspector Maigret mysteries, but the more I do the more I like them and the more keen I am to reach for a new one. With each new story I like to fill out my mental picture of M. Maigret just a little more. I know Georges Simenon wrote literally hundreds of books and probably a good lot of them were Maigret stories, so I read them randomly and maybe a little haphazardly since I am not sure how many are in and out of print, but it seems not to matter at all that I choose without rhyme or reason and based solely on the appeal of a certain setting or event.
In the case of The Cellars of the Majestic (originally published as Les Caves de Majestic in 1942 and this Penguin Classic reissue translated by Howard Curtis) it is the setting of a glamorous Parisian hotel that made me pick up the book. It's interesting that the war would have been in full force yet you would have not a clue to that fact in the text. The world Simenon writes about is really quite insular. While you get a sense of the social mores of the time and a good sense of setting, it could almost have been set in any period really.
First, the crime. The wife of a wealthy industrialist, a guest of the Hotel Majestic, has been found strangled and stuffed in a locker in the cellar of the hotel where the staff work. The cellar is a beehive of activity. Staff coming and going from the outside world and preparing for their shifts or resting in between busy moments. You are aware of a full hotel above by the constant comings and goings of maids and waiters and everyone who serves the guests. UP and down the trays go filled with food and drinks moved by pulleys between floors. The woman is not just wealthy but she is American. And she has no reason to be in the cellars where the staff work and spend their time. Or does she?
"'In the basement, but not among the staff . . . that's the troubling thing about this case . . . Try to imagine a guest, a wealthy woman, staying at the Majestic with her husband, her son, a nurse and a governess . . . In the suite that costs more than a thousand francs a day . . . At six in the morning she's strangled, not in her room, but in the basement locker room . . . In all likelihood, that's where the crime was committed . . . What was the woman doing in the basement? Who could have lured her down there, and how? . . . Especially at an hour when people of that kind are usually fast asleep . . .'"
It's Prosper Donge who finds the woman and much is made about his living situation. He lives with a woman/wife named Charlotte though the two seem like two ships passing in the night-she arriving home when he is ready to leave. Much is made about his journey to work on that particular damp, cold morning, and the flat tire that he discovers and is noted by a policeman just as he is turning the corner at the Champs-Élysées. Prosper Donge is fairly remarkable in his looks with his flaming red hair and the ruddy complexion so easy to blush in people of his coloring. Much is made about the fact that thanks to the flat tire he arrives ten minutes later than normal. It is his job to prepare the guest's coffees and send them up and down on the dumb waiters.
For some odd reason, and what exactly made him do it, he happened to open a locker not his own. Number 89. It is inside that locker that the body of Mrs. Clark is found. Enter Inspector Maigret who now must interview all the staff who might have seen something significant, or had a chance to commit the crime. Odder still, though, M. Maigret seems to ignore Prosper Donge. All day long Maigret is observing and questioning in those cellars. And all day long Prosper prepares the coffees, going about his work, and all the while perplexed why he, the man who found the victim, has not yet been questioned.
This is a curious case, one that will take Maigret all the way from damp, cold Paris to sunny Cannes, filled with the scent of mimosas and surely it must be February as some festivities happen to be going on when he arrives. Carnival? It was never explicitly noted, but it was quite inviting despite Maigret's business with a murder investigation. As always, lots of potential suspects, a fair few red herrings and a very satisfying resolution of the crime. It was all there laid out for the reader, but I didn't see it coming.
As for Maigret? His wife likes to call him Monsieur Maigret, which she often does when joking. I like that quite often while he is investigating and he runs into a wall of difficulties he takes himself off to a bar for a drink. Something new I didn't know about Maigret? He and Madame Maigret have no children, something that he finds very regrettable. The last Simenon book I read was The Saint-Fiacre Affair a couple years back, which I quite enjoyed (I need to tally up my Maigret reads). I want all these lovely new Penguin reissues. Now, which one to read next?