Recommended Readings, Weekly Reader
Leave a Comment

Exploring the mysteries of the human personality

Murder mysteries begin in any number of ways, but few set up the story and the atmosphere more effectively than the 4 a.m. phone call.

There was a noise not far from his head, and Maigret, reluctantly, almost fearfully, began to move, one of his arms beating in the air outside the sheets. He was aware he was in his bed, aware, too, of the presence of his wife, who, wider awake than he was, was waiting in the darkness without daring to say a word.

Maigret and the Lazy Burglar (1961) by Georges Simenon is one of 75 Maigret novels (he also wrote 28 Maigret short stories) that this well-known Belgian writer produced over a long career. It begins on a cold night in Paris when detective chief inspector Jules Maigret (who even his wife calls, simply, Maigret) receives a telephone call from inspector Fumel. One of the police from the “old order”, Fumel is on the line to tell Maigret about the discovery of a body. There is something oddly off, which leads Fumel to break the new rules of French law enforcement and call his old colleague before notifying the prosecutor. Both suspect that the prosecutor and his staff will dismiss this killing, as they ultimately do, as an unimportant gangland slaying that’s part of a so-called crime wave in the city. Maigret has been instructed by his superiors to focus on a series of hold-ups and when the prosecutor arrives he is none too happy to find Maigret at the scene. The prosecutor is part of the new order of law enforcement, “concerned only with preparing for exams in order to rise more quickly through the ranks.” These are gentlemen who show up to give “their opinions as if they had spent their lives discovering bodies and knew more about criminals than anyone else.”

As it happens, the body is that of Honoré Cuendot, an old burglar acquaintance of Maigret’s. Two bicycle officers find him during the night in the Bois de Boulogne with his skull cracked and face smashed. Yet, oddly, there is no blood at the scene, meaning that he was killed elsewhere and dumped here. The pockets of his clothes, the “type worn by civil servants or pensioners,” are also totally bare. As he examined the body before the arrival of the prosecutor, Maigret felt he knew the victim, a hunch that is confirmed when he checks later and finds that the body had a tattoo of a fish on the arm.

There’s a personal element to this case in that Maigret liked and respected Cuendot, a quiet criminal who only broke into houses when they were occupied. The novel finds Maigret inquiring into Cuendot’s life instead of concentrating on the bank robberies occupying the rest of his department. Along the way the detective not only is tied up in the bank robberies but he uses his investigative skills, knowledge of the city’s criminal class, and empathy to discover the true story of Cuendot’s demise. The story includes a woman and her son-in-law who were lovers, just as her husband and their daughter-in-law were lovers (this is France); a mother who doesn’t seem too concerned to be left without any means of support when her son — Cuendot — is found dead; and a bar/brothel owner — the “lovely Rosalie” — who has an “obscenely picturesque way of expressing herself.” Chafing at the humiliation of being questioned by someone as lowly as inspector Fumel, Rosalie screams at Maigret, “I could eat a man like him for breakfast!”

Simenon’s work is widely known and praised, the Times of London calling his books “gem-hard soul-probes.” This is work that explores the mystery of the human personality, as he has Maigret expose secrets and crimes “not by forensic wizardry, but by the melded powers of therapist, philosopher and confessor.”

On a recent trip to Boston I came across Maigret and the Lazy Burglar and a full shelf of more of the new Penguin reprints of Maigret’s novels in the expansive mystery section of the wonderful independent bookstore, Brookline Booksmith. Acting on the recommendation of one of their book sellers, I was introduced to this “stoic and practical Parisian policeman” and now will definitely dive into more of the series, perhaps beginning with Simenon’s first, Pietr the Latvian.

Like the good detective chief inspector searching for the truth, my year of reading mystery novels uncovers multiple avenues of exploration with each new read.


More to come…


To see reviews of the other books in my year of reading mystery novels, click here for JanuaryFebruaryMarch, and April.

The Weekly Reader links to written works I’ve enjoyed. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry. 

Photo by Rory Björkman on Unsplash

This entry was posted in: Recommended Readings, Weekly Reader


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.