(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Georges Simenon’s extremely prolific writing career provided fans of the roman policier with a number of unrelated crime novels marked by extreme fidelity to detail and with the series featuring Inspector Maigret. The novels featuring Maigret represent a fusion of the American detective story tradition with French realism. The stories are somewhat reminiscent of the American hard-boiled school, particularly the works of Ross Macdonald, in the lack of sentimental justice and in the often-fatalistic plots in which “old sins cast long shadows” and bring about current tragedies. The psychological realism of the more tightly drawn Maigret characters, however, is more reminiscent of François Mauriac or Julien Green. Moreover, the conclusions are usually less devastating than those of the hard-boiled mysteries, and there is often an element of muted optimism in the Maigret novel.

Critical circles have long argued whether Simenon’s detective stories are more than genre pieces and approach literature. His many other novels use the same devices and express the same themes as his Maigret stories: the desire for home and the impossibility of finding it, the destructive potency of the past, the futility of flight, and the fatal seductiveness of illusion. His major contribution consists of the vividly drawn, almost symbiotic relationship between criminal and inspector—and the portrait of Maigret himself as he enters into the scene of each event pertaining to the crime, his vision informed by the French maxim tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner (to understand all is to forgive all).