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e-book French Crime Fiction, 1945–2005: Investigating World War II

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We can all relate to him and his wish to get home to his beloved wife, to smoke his pipe, to drink whatever is at hand, to go to the theatre, to walk around town, or just sit with his partner as company in peace and contemplation. His ordinariness is what makes him different.

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We can understand his dedication, though we sometimes see his wife becoming irritated as he is late home again , solving yet another crime, but we know that she understands that this is part of his life, it is what makes her husband who he is. Maigret would not be Maigret if he was a bully, a shouter, a tub thumper. Maigret is relatable and mundane, but with a mind as sharp as a knife.


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The silence is significant. And what was his creator up to, besides — allegedly — profiteering from the war? The writer made his escape in to America until the heat had died down so perhaps we can guess. The detective is old school, hardworking, monogamous. A man of principle, both private and public. Ethically he resists being read as consonant with the conflicted personality of his creator. There are no books identifying any political involvement for Maigret during the war years. In the six Maigret novels written between and there is silence, with the war not even acknowledged.

Then in Simenon moved to America, perhaps to escape claims of collaboration and a possible trial.

Certainly, the author profited from the war. He sold the film rights for the Maigret books to Continental, the official German film-makers, and made a great deal of money, eschewing the resistance to the regime of Albert Camus or the high-minded stances of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. If his character Maigret had continued to serve in the Paris police during the war, he would have been in a difficult — not to say compromised — position. Indeed, the Paris Police controlled the camp until , so very few of their officers could have escaped taint during this time, no matter how heroic they abruptly became during the Liberation of This may have led to the widespread perception that Simenon was only too prepared to compromise and benefit from opportunities offered to him.

The author is perceived today as a womanizer, according to his interview with Federico Fellini Vandy , far removed from the steadfast Maigret, whose only vice was his pipe and the more than occasional tipple.

The Germans proved him wrong and sent him off to a concentration camp. No other thoughts or considerations are mooted; the whole malign experience dispensed with as if it counted for nothing. It was almost as if this had been a holiday with unaccommodating hosts. Was this how Simenon regarded the period? An article online from t he Jewish Chronicle in January states categorically that Simenon was an anti-Semite, as evidenced by the fact that too many of his stories contain slurs on the Jewish people Lebrecht The author Norman Lebrecht does not tell us his sources, but writes of researchers asserting that in thirteen of his novels Jews are the aggressors.

It is perhaps true that there is often evidence of the casual racism of Simenon. How his language reflects the time is often used as an excuse, but if this is true, is it possible to surmise what Maigret would have done during the war years? In Le Train written in , The Train we observe Simenon at his darkest and also perhaps get a hint of where the true feelings of Maigret could lie. His hero, Marcel, has a passionate relationship with Anna, a Jewish girl, as the war opens in France.

Later in the novel further combat ensues and she comes to him one night asking for protection for herself and an RAF pilot that she is helping to escape.

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He refuses. Later that month he discovers that the airman and the young woman have been shot Simenon b []. There is no remorse, no regret. He appears to have no feelings either way. Did he once love her?

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Is there nothing that he remembers of the relationship? Did he side with the invaders? The tragedy has no effect on him; that he slept with the girl whilst his heavily pregnant wife was separated from him when he fled his home town, seems a mere distraction. He owes the girl nothing and will give her nothing.

At best Simenon appears indifferent to the victims, ambivalent to the war, at worst a collaborator. Is this reflected in Maigret? I feel that this reflects the character of Simenon more than of his protagonist Marcel. The World War II record of Camus and his history afterwards shows the ethical differences between the two authors.

Indeed, Camus was quoted as saying in January ,. Simenon played his own personal game, profited, and left France to let things die down.

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Camus stayed, fought in the resistance, established the newspaper Combat and was a hero. Simenon enjoyed no such reputational enhancement.

He was to some degree ignorant of politics, and his sundry right-wing affiliations in the s had more to do with social insecurity than with any actual convictions. When war broke out, Simenon briefly extended himself to assist Belgian refugees; after the Germans invaded France, he was, ironically, suspected of being Jewish on the grounds that his real last name would have been Simon and subjected to a lengthy police investigation.

Even before this occurred, however, he had with some alacrity become a collaborator, as in the aforementioned signing up with the German-controlled film company Continental. His motives were simple: the Continental contract assured him a comfortable income, as well as a permit to travel between Paris and his country house in the south. Self-preservation appeared to be his modus operandi Sante Despite the rather caustic view articulated above, I believe that we can see the true, authentic George Simenon in Jules Maigret.

The Chief Inspector is the man his creator wished to be. As Eskin writes in his biography:. Rarely does Maigret express any views about himself or his methods of detection. On the contrary, it was with a certain humility that he began his investigations, including the simplest of them. He mistrusted evidence, hasty judgements. Patiently, he strove to understand, aware that the most apparent motives are not always the deepest ones. It is not often that we gaze into the soul of Maigret, and when we are permitted to do so it is both intriguing and enlightening.

He is a rare sort of man, a hero who does not recognize himself as such. A quotidian figure at one with the victim, but also with the perpetrator. He sympathizes with both. We believe in Maigret, as he is one of us.

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He believes in us; he is on our side. In the comforting, tobacco-scented presence of Inspector Maigret, we are reassured that all will be well. Who would not want to believe in a man like that, serene and reassuring? The ambiguity is typical of the author in the avoidance of any political reference to France, his adopted nation, though we can extrapolate. The novel was written in , and is another of the books Simenon hoped might win him the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The story is set in a town under occupation, though Simenon was insistent that the setting was not occupied France. Why did he want to disguise the setting? The author — by not identifying the country — is perhaps attempting to universalize the narrative, which centres on the amoral and cynical year-old Frank Friedmaier in a winter of endless snow that serves a symbolic function throughout the novel.

In the opening scene Frank stabs an enemy soldier as he walks home through the snow at night.