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chez le flamands

19 february 2014

As the title suggests, Maigret Chez le Flamands is once again far from the Quai des Orfèvres. An irresistible Flemish woman from the border town of Givet has appeared on the Quai and refused to leave till Maigret accompanies her home to clear her family of murder charges. It goes without saying that Anna Peeters is sexually resistable – at least to Maigret, who is just not stirred by women who are not Mme. Maigret. But she is not to be gainsaid; she's a force of nature.

And the Peeterses are in deep trouble. Anna's brother Joseph, a law student, pride of the family, destined for marriage to his cousin Marguerite – Joseph has fathered a child by a working-class Frenchwoman named Germaine Piedbœuf, scanted her on child support – and then apparently dealt with the problem by pitching her into the Meuse.

The Peeterses, who own a thriving gin shop that straddles the Belgian/French border, are despised in French Givet because they are rich and Flemish. The local French police detective is sure they've disposed of Germaine, but has no corpse and thus no proof there's even been a crime. Meanwhile, Maigret quickly becomes one of the least popular visitors that Givet has ever unwelcomed. But as always, he has no theories about the crime, or lack thereof. He's simply shown up in the burg to absorb impressions and liquor.

Even more than in other early Maigret novels which feature the commissaire on someone else's turf, Chez les Flamands casts Maigret as a consulting detective and gives him a blundering policeman as foil: shades of every PI from Holmes through Poirot to Jessica Fletcher. Maigret's border colleague Machère is assiduous enough, but his professional specialization is the bloody obvious.

Finally a body fetches up, and the investigation soon shifts from the Peeters family to the drunken owner of a riverboat. The more so when the sailor is found to have concealed the murder weapon and the coat the victim was wearing when she disappeared, and a lot more so when he skips town for Brussels. But something about the new suspect strikes Maigret as too pat. Is it a set-up? A set-up within a set-up?

As usual, I'll refrain from spoiling this octogenarian detective novel by revealing the real killer. I'll only say that the solution involves a twist Agatha Christie would approve of, and one that Pierre Bayard would probably unpack to reveal that Maigret has gotten it wrong. Simenon, typically, isn't really interested in revealing mysteries and restoring justice. He wants instead to figure out why the stress of living up to social expectations can drive people out of their conventional orbits and into the most hideous of crimes.

Simenon, Georges. Chez le Flamands. 1932. Paris: Presses de la Cité, 2011.