The Late Monsieur Gallet (also known as The Death of Monsieur Gallet) by Georges Simenon (1903 – 1989) was first published in 1931. It is the third Inspector Jules Maigret novel that I have read. I think I like this one the most, so far. Still, I am giving it the same rating as the first that I read, Pietr the Latvian. I think that Maigret’s brooding, aloof manner really suits this storyline very well. The mystery was revealed carefully enough to complement Maigret’s personality.
These are short novels, so far. M. Gallet was only 155 pages in the Penguin Classics edition (2013) that I read. Its nice and noir, so to speak, how Simenon gives us such bare bones stories with so much character in them. I do not feel like I missed out on anything, that the book was lacking in some obvious respect, or that the story needed to be expanded in any direction.
Some of the phrases and sentences are slightly awkward. They are not maligned, but just ever-so-slightly off. I assume that is the translation, though. I have enough French that I could get through Simenon, but I have yet to see a physical copy of one of these novels in French. So, every once in awhile a sentence is a little less than smooth. It usually seems fine because it melds with the noir feeling and Maigret’s ever-somber personality.
The story begins 27 June 1930 and it is a hot summer, a fact that seems to wear heavily on Maigret. In the low 90°s throughout the novel. Maigret, of the Flying Squad, is sent to investigate a murder in Sancerre (just about the center of France, south of Paris). Strikes me as a bit absurd – having Maigret with his imposing stature being in the Flying Squad. He travels to Saint-Fargeau by train in the heat to meet with the family of the deceased. He meets the Madame Gallet and informs her of the situation – but the whole time, he seems distracted and set at great unease by the temper and status of the household.
One of the things that I enjoy about Maigret is how he very much allows his thoughts to take control of his movements and attitude and he is little swayed by the, let us say, smoke and mirrors that appear around him. From this first experience at the Gallet home, Maigret is never able to shake a feeling of wrongness that pervades his whole investigation. There is also a particular prop that is collected here and remains with Maigret and the reader throughout the novel.
It was so extraordinary that the picture the inspector was constructing for himself made him feel an indefinable anxiety, as if it evoked certain phenomena that shake our sense of reality. – pg. 57, chapter 4
Anyway, once in Sancerre, we meet a variety of other characters as Maigret gets to the typical work of detecting. We meet an almost-charming landholder and we are pestered by an enthusiastic hotelier. There is a sort of femme fatale going about who is first described as similar to a Greek statue. The deceased has been shot and stabbed and no one seems to have very much information at all. Maigret’s sense of unease and dissatisfaction with the case continues to haunt the pages.
Every criminal case has a feature of its own, one that you identify sooner or later, and it often provides the key to the mystery. He thought that the feature of this one was, surely, its mediocrity. – pg. 23, chapter 2
In a sense Maigret’s gut-instinct here in the beginning is quite valid, but it plays out in an unexpected and interesting way. I do not want to give away the plot, but mediocrity is such a significant term for this novel. Ironic and paradoxical.
The plot is relatively unique and I did not really see what had happened until it happened. It is not complex – once it is demonstrated. However, the looming, angry Maigret during the big reveal is a terrible and frightening image. This is not a novel that will restore a reader’s faith and hope in mankind. There are some crooked and selfish characters in this one that will make readers as dissatisfied and sour as Maigret. But there IS Maigret – the bulky and brooding detective that ferrets out these ugly incidents of human action and is the reader’s consolation because he, too, is angered and repulsed.
This is a quick read and most vintage mystery readers ought to be familiar with it, I think. I like the economy of the novel and the strength of the main characters. Overall, while it is not a cheerful read, it is a solid noir-type mystery.