In the reading world, it can be very easy to get caught up in the promotional machinery that seems to drive bookselling these days. The bestseller list, whether it is from the New York Times or USA Today, becomes the gold standard and the main source we look to for our reading suggestions. While many titles on these lists are worthy, using only the bestseller lists as a guide means that you will miss the vast number of writers and books who never come close to these lists. These midlist writers, old and new, are some of the best out there. This week, BFGB looks at some less well-known writers that deserve a wider reading audience.
Sometimes, crime fiction from an earlier era has not aged well. The language and the references seem dated rather than simply historical. There are, however, a number of older mystery writers whose themes and characters seem as relevant today as they were when they were written. Between 1931 and 1972, Georges Simenon wrote 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring Inspector Maigret of the Paris Police.
What gives these stories their continued relevance is Simenon’s focus on the characters of both the police and the criminals, rather than on the puzzle of the mystery. Maigret’s exploration of the lives of his suspects leads him to reject facile solutions in favor of the truth. These are slow-paced stories with a lot of talking and thinking rather than action. It is through discussion—with his colleagues, with the suspects, with the families and friends of the victim—that Maigret is able to come to the solution of the crime. The essential human-ness of the characters always shines through. The novels are equally appealing for their portrayal of France and French life in the mid-twentieth century. Food and drink play a large role in the stories, and Simenon writes with a great sense of place.
The books form a loose series, and there is some character development over the course of the stories, but you do not necessarily have to read them in order. I think that a good place to begin is with Maigret at the Gai-Moulin, originally published as La Danseuse du Gai-Moulin. Here, Maigret is in Belgium to investigate the death of a wealthy Greek businessman. Two teenage boys who are out to rob the till at the Gai-Moulin nightclub stumble across a body on the floor. When the body disappears and then reappears stuffed in a wicker basket at the local zoo, the boys are the obvious suspects, but Maigret refuses to be satisfied with the obvious.
Check the WRL catalog for Maigret at the Gai-Moulin.