|poster for the film version of the novel|
When in 1940 Simenon commenced Cécile est Morte/Maigret and the Spinster (I will refer to this novel as Spinster), his last Maigret novel had appeared in 1934. Simenon's sales had dropped since he stopped writing Maigrets to concentrate on his roman durs (hard novels, or noir) and he evidently turned back to the Maigrets as a way of adding more coins to his coffers.
Despite this mercenary motivation, when Simenon returned to writing Maigret mysteries his style of writing to some extent had changed. While not sacrificing an interesting mystery plot, Spinster is even stronger than earlier Maigrets in its depiction of character and atmosphere. And while this particular Maigret exploit still offers the reassurance of a problem solved and justice done, it has its discomforting, bleaker elements as well.
|Cécile in the film|
looking decidedly unspinsterly to me
The poor girl has been in the habit of constantly visiting Maigret at his office, assuring him that someone has been entering her aunt's flat on certain nights. Nothing has been stolen, but objects have been moved around. Maigret's colleagues make a joke of the visits, pretending to believe that squinty Cécile is Maigret's mistress; and Maigret has become hardily sick of Cécile.
So when Cécile visits yet again and Maigret puts her off it is no surprise. When he finally decides to see Cécile, she has gone, but the message left by her for Maigret strikes a new--and very urgent--note: "It is essential that I should see you. Something absolutely frightful occurred in the night."
Cécile later is found at police headquarters dead, strangled, stuffed in a broom closet.
Suspects aplenty in the double murders soon emerge.
There are Cécile's brother and sister, who hated their tightfisted aunt. The brother, Gerard Pardon, particularly needed money, as he is out of work, with a wife shortly to give birth to their first child.
There are the relatives of the aunt's deceased husband, from whom she inherited a substantial amount of money, which she invested in numerous lucrative properties, including the apartment building in which she lived.
The perverse Dandurand is just one of the questionable tenants in the building, all of whom are memorably limned by another vivid character: the concierge nicknamed "Madame Saving-Your-Presence" by Maigret, on account of her reiterative use of that phrase. This gossipy old lady is a wonderful character, straight out of Agatha Christie, though Simenon takes us out of the cozy territory by noting that Madame's room smells of "stale cat's urine" and by lingering over the dinner table's "glutinous remains of a pig's trotter"--Madame's dinner.
|Simenon photo on the back of|
Maigret and the Spinster
Next we head from the realism of Simenon and Maigret to the romanticism of John Dickson Carr and his French detective, Henri Bencolin, in the last of our French-flavored mysteries.
I hope to see you at Castle Skull. Be sure to bring flame retardant!--The Passing Tramp.