A very rich man - only a millionaire, perhaps, in English pounds, but a billionaire if you count in French francs - lies murdered in a luxurious Paris hotel room. In charge of the investigation is Chief Detective Inspector Maigret, who is, to be blunt, far from happy about finding himself trying to carry on a search for a murderer among people whose wealth and position far outweigh his own. It is a case that will take him to some of the most exclusive European resorts where such people congregate and are catered to. Details may be found in Maigret Travels, by Georges Simenon. The book is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the complete review by clicking here. The book also has been published with the title Maigret and the Millionaires.
It comes as a rather jarring shock to Maigret – and perhaps to the reader – when he finds himself involved investigating the murder of a billionaire. At the same time – and in the same hotel where that billionaire, Colonel David Ward, was murdered – another high-profile member of society, the Countess Palmieri, attempts to commit suicide by taking an overdose of barbiturates…then sneaks out of her hospital bed and flees the country. Are the two cases interconnected? Maigret is quite sure that they are. But he finds himself in the unusual position of second-guessing his own conclusions and pulling punches in his interrogations because of the lofty level of society and wealth to which the billionaire and the countess belonged. Maigret will find himself chasing across Europe to other places where the super-rich and famous – people whom, today, we would recognize as “celebrities” – hang out together.
As always in Simenon’s stories about Maigret, we are far more interested in the characters than we are in the mechanics of the crime. For if there is one point on which the ultra-rich and their cadre of hangers-on – the servants, the hotel-keepers and restaurateurs, down to the porters, the waiters, and so on – one point on which they can all agree, it is that great care must be taken to be certain that those in the highest places are not inconvenienced by the police any more than might be absolutely unavoidable. Maigret, we are told, “hated these cases involving well-known people, cases that needed to be handled with kid gloves.”
But – because he is Maigret – he will proceed with his examinations, his analysis of alibis, his interrogations, until he gets to the truth in the affair. For readers, it is an interesting case, as it puts Maigret into unfamiliar territory and sends him flying off from Paris to the Riviera and then to Switzerland, chasing the elusive Countess Palmieri.
Penguin Books has published a newly re-translated edition of Maigret Travels as part of its ambitious effort to reprint and republish all of the more than seventy novels Simenon wrote about Maigret. Translator Howard Curtis deserves praise for coming up with a successful and comfortable yet quite colloquial translation. I’d recommend Maigret Travels to you.