Tracing the man should have been easy for Chief Detective Inspector Maigret. He knew exactly what the man looked like, right down to the shape of his ears. So it was a bit disconcerting, to say the least, after Maigret watched Pietr the Latvian walk off a train and out of the railroad station, to discover a dead man still on board the train who might very well have been...Pietr the Latvian.
It happens in Georges Simenon's first book about Maigret, called Pietr the Latvian, and it is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the complete review by clicking here.
The question Maigret must answer is, who is this Pietr the Latvian. Is he an international criminal, whose movements are being tracked by police all over Europe? Could he be, perhaps, that respectable, married sea captain? A drunken Russian vagrant? A murderous hit man? Or could he be that man whose body was found murdered on a train traveling through France? The answer will not come easily - and it will come at a startling high price in terms of violence and lives lost.
Pietr the Latvian first appeared as a serial in 1930 and was published in book form the next year. Simenon went on to write some 75 books and stories about Maigret. This story is pretty grim and gritty, but it is an absorbing novel, and Maigret's character is pretty clearly defined as it will continue throughout his and Simenon's careers.
Penguin Books has announced plans to reissue all of the Maigret books. This first one, in an excellent new translation by David Bellos, is a good place to begin your friendship with Maigret.
My thanks to Sally Powers, who provided me with a copy for review and who has allowed me to cannibalize my earlier review of Pietr the Latvian for the I Love a Mystery newsletter. This review is also being submitted to the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge, filling in the square on the Bingo score card that calls for one book with a man in the title.