Over the course of forty-one years (1931-72), Belgian-born author Georges Simenon produced 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring his series detective Commissaire Jules Maigret, nearly four dozen more adventures than his nearest fictional rival, Sherlock Holmes — yet the brain of Baker Street has been portrayed in film and television productions more often than Maigret, indeed, more times than any other character in mystery literature.
Being a policeman, Maigret’s approach to crime is quite different. Instead of brilliant flashes of insight, Maigret doggedly pursues his suspects with slogging police work. Now and then, like TV’s Lt. Columbo, he simply wears the malefactors down with his persistence, which frequently means prying into the private lives of both saints and sinners. It must be an enormous effort for Maigret not to sink into a permanent state of Weltschmerz.
The Wikipedia article on Maigret describes him thus:
Some of his trademark features are his pipes, his mixed approach to detecting (at times relying on pure intuition, at times on method), his laconic manner, and his fondness for alcohol. Often during an investigation, he will step into a small cafe or bar for a drink and possibly a light lunch. His drinks of choice are beer and white wine, though he has also been known to drink pastis, Armagnac, cognac, calvados, Pernod, and whiskey, as well as grog, to name just a few. This is not to say that he is a drunk, as it is a matter of personal pride that he can hold his liquor, and would be deeply embarrassed if he allowed himself to become intoxicated. Maigret almost invariably wears his heavy overcoat, even when traveling to the Riviera — a fact which leads people unfamiliar with him to mark him instantly as a policeman.
In the books he is described as a stocky man of average height, slightly overweight but not obese. He dislikes climbing stairs, and usually uses a police driver or cab for traveling even comparatively short distances in his investigations, though he also occasionally walks. Junior officers may be made to carry his attaché.
A French television version of one of Simenon’s Maigret stories was:
“Maigret et l’affaire Saint-Fiacre” [English title: "Maigret Goes Home"]. Antenne-2-Ceská Televize-Dune-EC Télévision Maigret series (54 episodes, 1991-2005). Season 1, Episode 19. First broadcast: 20 October 1995. Bruno Cremer (Commissaire Jules Maigret), Jacques Spiesser (Comte de Saint-Fiacre), Anne Bellec (Madame Maigret), Claude Winter (Comtesse de Saint-Fiacre), Jacques Sereys (Le docteur), Pierre Gérard (Jean Métayer), Arno Chevrier (Le curé), Nicolas Moreau (Émile), Jacques Giraud (Le Père Gauthier), Marie Verdi (Marie Tatin), Morgan Fornes (L’enfant Roux), Céline Duhamel (Alice), Brigitte Defrance (Léontine), Béatrice Michel (La domestique). Adaptation: Alexandre de La Patellière and Denys de La Patellière. Director: Denys de La Patellière. From a 1932 novel by Georges Simenon. In French with English subtitles.
Maigret and his wife are first seen driving along on a bright winter’s day. Their destination: Saint-Fiacre, Commissaire Maigret’s old home town.
His interest has been piqued by an anonymous letter which says that a crime will be committed in the church of Saint-Fiacre during Mass. Madame Maigret reminds her husband that the police ordinarily discard such missives, but Maigret presses on.
Attending an All Souls’ Day service the next day, Maigret and the congregation witness the Comtesse de Saint-Fiacre collapse and die in the church. The Comtesse and her late husband had been Maigret’s father’s employer when he was young — but like most teenagers Maigret couldn’t wait to escape small town life for the bright lights of the big city, which he did the first chance he got.
The jaded and sarcastic doctor certifies that the Comtesse has died of a heart attack, and informs a skeptical Maigret that it had been a chronic condition with her for years.
Nevertheless, Maigret senses something is amiss, especially when, belatedly, the Comtesse’s ne’er-do-well wastrel son shows up, characteristically broke and wanting money from her.
Other people also fall under Maigret’s suspicion: the Comtesse’s “secretary” (a euphemism for her boy toy), the estate’s steward and his banker son, the local priest, and the secretary’s lawyer. Through the steward and his son Maigret learns that the Comtesse was nearly broke.
Mysteriously, the missal (a prayer book) that the Comtesse had with her when she died disappears. In the event, this missing missal will prove not simply to be a CLUE to what Maigret is now convinced is a murder, he’s certain the innocent prayer book is actually the murder WEAPON….
I’d hate to be the French judge tasked with determining culpability in this case; a charge of Murder One would likely never be upheld.
It’s interesting that this story has the classic Golden Age gathering of all the suspects at the end, but differs in having someone else instead of the master detective doing the big reveal — but at Maigret’s direction, we hasten to add.
The character of Maigret stands in proud second place to Sherlock Holmes when it comes to the number of film adaptations using him.
The French-Czech Maigret series was originally scheduled to run to 104 fairly faithful-to-the-original stories, but the series’ star Bruno Cremer (1929-2010) fell ill roughly halfway through. Cremer, known in Europe for his tough guy roles, was cast against type as Maigret, but the public loved his portrayal. (Something similar has happened with Terence Hill, star of many violent spaghetti Westerns, who is currently playing a mild-mannered violence-averse Italian Father Brown-type in the Don Matteo series.)
Other film versions of this story include “Maigret on Home Ground” (1992, one of a 12-episode English language series starring Michael Gambon) and Maigret and the St. Fiacre Case (a 1959 movie with Jean Gabin).
Internet resources for Maigret:
The Maigret TV series on IMDb (the Internet Movie Database).
“Maigret et l’affaire Saint-Fiacre” on IMDb.
The Michael Gambon Maigret series on Amazon.
The Bruno Cremer Maigret series on Amazon:
Set 1 — Set 2 — Set 3 — Set 4 (contains “Maigret et l’affaire Saint-Fiacre”).
Maigret Goes Home novel in English on Amazon.
Wikipedia article about Commissaire Jules Maigret.
Steve Trussel’s massive ‘Simenon and His Inspector Maigret‘ website (but beware of SPOILERS).