Review: Maigret’s Pickpocket

Maigret’s Pickpocket (Inspector Maigret), Georges Simenon (translated by Siân Reynolds). New York: Penguin, 2019 (originally published 1967).

Summary: Maigret becomes much more acquainted with a pickpocket than he bargained for when the man contacts him and leads him to his wife’s body, a victim of murder.

Maigret is enjoying a beautiful day riding the rear platform of a bus, jostled occasionally by a shopper, then jostled again. He then realizes that his wallet has been stolen by a pickpocket–with his badge that costs a month’s pay to replace. Except he doesn’t have to replace it. In the next day’s post he finds the wallet with his badge and contents returned–nothing stolen. A little later he receives a phone call. It is his pickpocket, Francois Ricain, who meets him in a restaurant and confides that when he realized he had Maigret’s wallet, he decided he would take the risk in confiding with him. He takes Maigret to his apartment, opening the door of his bedroom where his wife Sophie is lying dead of a gunshot wound to her face.

While the decontamination and investigation team are on the way, Maigret buys him lunch (he’s neither eaten or slept) and gets his story. He’d gone out the night before to borrow money for his rent–he was about to be evicted. He’s a poor writer hoping to write some screen plays and was seeking help from a film producer he’d done some work for, Carus at a restaurant that a circle of those who all worked at various times for Carus would gather. Carus was out, and by the time he had tried his other friends, it was nearly morning. He found his wife shot dead with a pistol he’d kept in a drawer, know to his friends with whom he’d acted out a scene using that pistol. It wasn’t suicide. Ricain had thrown the pistol in the river, easily recovered but without prints.

Sophie was modestly attractive, and had a bit part in one of Carus’s films, and was intimate with him at a special apartment he kept. There was an aborted child that Carus said wasn’t his. He wasn’t her only lover. Maki, a sculptor had also been with her, and others. Some considered her a slut. Carus’s partner (his wife was in England), Norah knew about her.

Of course the husband is the prime suspect. Yet Maigret doesn’t arrest him. He feeds him, gives him lodging in a hotel for a night, then keeps him in a holding area at the Quai des Orfèvres. He questions the others and learns of all the men Sophie had slept with. But did any, or perhaps Norah have a reason to kill her? Simenon waits, talks to them all, enjoying several marvelous meals at their gathering spot, the Vieux Pressoir.

What is he waiting for? Why does he treat the prime suspect with an almost fatherly concern? In this case, the murder is exposed by the murderer’s own words and actions with Maigret on the scene to save the murderer’s life from a suicide attempt. Simenon’s Maigret is one more example of the investigator careful to observe and patient amid pressure, waiting, along with us, for the truth to emerge.