Georges Simenon

A Maigret Christmas and other stories

"Simenon’s prose is lean and to the point, with not a wasted word..."


Three stories with a Christmas theme in one book - one of them, (the longest) featuring Maigret. All are set in Paris - but not a Paris of good cheer, but a Paris full of mystery and threat. In 'A Maigret Christmas', Maigret has two visitors to his apartment from across the street on Christmas Day. It seems that the niece of one of them - seven year old Collette - was wakened in the early hours of Christmas Day by Santa Clause entering her bedroom, giving her a doll, and trying to lift some floorboards as if in search of something. Though off-duty, Maigret is intrigued, and decides to investigate. Working from home, he uncovers a tale that is both intriguing and full of menace.

In the second tale, 'Seven Small Crosses in a Notebook', we are within a police control room in the city on Christmas Eve. There has been a spate of murders in the city, and a young boy seems to be moving through the city, smashing glass in emergency phone booths. Are the two related? It takes the unassuming Andre Lecouer, an unassuming telephone operator in the control room, to make the connection, and, also to make an unexpected connection between himself and the boy.

The third tale, 'The Little Restaurant near Place des Ternes', is the shortest, begins with a man shooting himself through the head in a nondescript restaurant. It then tells of a prostitute, Long Tall Jeanne, who discovers that another person in the restaurant, a young girl called Martine, was born in in Yport, only a few miles from where Jeanne herself was born. She follows Martine after she leaves the restaurant, and selflessly saves her from the attentions of two men in a bar in a way that causes she herself to be apprehended by the police.

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This is a new translation, by David Coward, of a book first published in 1951. I am a fan of Simenon, and in my opinion he never disappoints. Simenon's prose is lean and to the point, with not a wasted word (a trait which some modern crime writers could well emulate). The first story gives an insight into Maigret's marriage, with Madame Maigret playing a prominent part. The second shows that even self-effacing, nondescript men can have their moments of glory. The clues in this story are well thought out and straightforward, though planted with great cunning. At the end of the tale I had one of these satisfying 'Of course! - I should have seen that!' moments that come along all too infrequently nowadays. The third tale is superb. It is told in such a casual way that you're not aware of the story-telling skill that has gone into it. It's a tale of experience over inexperience, and about how even the most world-weary of people - a distrusted prostitute no less - can make a sacrifice to save someone from their own rash actions.

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