Monday, August 22, 2016

Maigret and the Calame Report by Georges Simenon

Corruption and cover-up
Maigret and the Calame Report, published in 1954, is the 74th adventure of Inspector Jules Maigret, superintendant of Paris’s Police Judiciaire and star of the extensive detective series by Belgian author Georges Simenon. It was originally published under the French title of Maigret chez le ministre and can also be found under the name Maigret and the Minister. Simenon wrote the book during his decade-long stay in the United States.

A tragedy has occurred that has all of Paris upset. A building housing an orphanage has collapsed, killing 128 children. It is brought to light that, prior to the disaster, an engineer named Calame had written a report warning of just such an occurrence, but that report was suppressed and all known copies are missing. One late night, Maigret is called to the apartment of Auguste Point, the Minister of Public Works. Point informs Maigret that recently a man named Piquemal had delivered to him a newly discovered copy of the Calame report. However, 24 hours later, the report went missing, apparently stolen. Point realizes that if anyone were to find out that he had the report in his possession, he would be accused of hiding or destroying the document in order to protect those officials responsible for the disaster. He asks Maigret to find the thief, recover the document, and clear his name. Though reluctant to get involved in political matters, Maigret sympathizes with the minister and agrees to help him.

This intriguing setup makes for a very exciting mystery. Once hooked by the first chapter of this novel, I couldn’t put it down. Like all of Maigret’s cases, this one is brisk and brief, and I read the whole thing in a single day. Though Maigret novels are often unconventional entries in the mystery genre, this one follows a pretty standard detective novel format: description of the crime in Chapter 1, enumeration of the suspects in Chapter 2, interrogation of the suspects in Chapter 3, then a few chapters of gumshoeing until the big reveal in Chapter 8 and the epilogue in Chapter 9. The contents of these chapters, however, is anything but conventional or predictable. The book is enjoyable on three levels: First, you’ve got the detective work; next, you gain insight into Maigret’s personal character and his relationship with his wife; and lastly, there’s the added dimension of a political thriller. The fact that the crime involves members of the higher levels of government elevates the importance and urgency of the case. Maigret definitely feels the pressure, and spends much of the novel worried that he’s in way over his head. He knows his career is at stake. If Point goes down, he goes down.

This is one of the better Maigret books I’ve read, though not entirely typical of the series. I tend to say that with almost every Maigret book I review, however, so perhaps there really is no typical Maigret mystery. The author’s boundless inventiveness delivers a unique experience with each book. It’s a wonder that Simenon was able to crank out so many novels, and even more amazing that they are consistently of such high quality. Maigret and the Calame Report is a top-notch thriller and a totally engaging read.
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