Worldwide, Georges Simenon's Maigret character is one of the most popular vintage detectives in crime fiction. Featured in 75 full length novels as well as numerous short stories, Maigret is certainly well established in the genre. Although originally written in the late 1930's through the next few decades, the books have aged well making them true classics.
In Inspector Cadaver, Maigret is called upon to travel on an “unofficial” visit to the small insulated town of Saint-Aubin-les-Marais to look into a family matter for the Examining Magistrate. A young man from a good family was found dead on the railroad tracks. Logically, it first it was assumed he had been hit by a train. However, after the medical examiner was finished, questions as to the cause of death had been raised, and soon rumors were spreading that the Examining Magistrate's brother in law was somehow at fault. Maigret was sent to look into the matter.
Maigret was startled to find an old rival, Justin Cavre not only on board the same train, but headed for the same destination. Justin Cavre was an odd sort of fellow with some unusual personal habits, such as remaining silent for up to a week at a time and laughing to himself in a cynical manner. This lead to those who worked with him to give him the nickname Inspector Cadaver. He had resigned form the police force under a bit of a cloud involving his wife and payoffs he'd made. It was rumored that after he left the force, he'd started a PI business. So, when Maigret arrived in Saint-Aubins-les-Marais, he was already edgy wondering why Cadaver was also present.
As the case unfolded, Maigret is confronted with a very insulated small town pretty much closed to outsiders. The town is dominated by a few snobby old families who hang on to the old class distinctions complicating Maigret's investigative efforts at every turn.
Simenon's storytelling transcends time. While there are surely fewer small villages, readers today can relate to the small town attitudes and snobbery as easily as earlier readers. And while places and circumstances may change over time, human nature, it seems, does not. Maigret fairs quite well in 2008.
REVIEWED BY CARYN ST. CLAIR
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