Maigret and the Killer (1969)
by Georges Simenon

One of Simenon's last Maigret novels turns out to be surprisingly inspired. My interest in these books, which he wrote dozens of from the 30s through the early 70s, centers squarely on the later ones, because I love it when something becomes such an institution that it is allowed to become super lazy (see also post-cocaine Stephen King and Roger Moore-era James Bond.

Maigret and the Killer is the best of the four Simenon books I've read, owing to a more-intriguing-than-usual victim and a twist on the ol' "Detective tracking down a killer" archetype. The victim is a young man whose hobby is recording people's voices on cassette (pretty cool idea for 1969), and the killer is simply an unrelated guy who wanted to kill someone that night.

In this case, Maigret goes through the usual rigamarole and encounters the usual dead ends, but then the killer contacts him. Sure, by now we've seen plenty of this plot in movies and books, where the serial killer calls the detective, but it's done pretty well here, and for its time, can't have been clichéd … I think.

I also liked the vague commentary on "hippies" that cropped up here and there, indicating that Simenon was at least slightly aware of what was going on in the world.

The final scene is almost surprising, even – the killer shows up at Maigret's home, not to menace Madame Maigret, but to try to get Maigret to understand him. He's a nerdy killer, this one, and I found that refreshing.

At one point in the book, a frustrated Maigret begins to think about retirement, and it's impossible to miss that the author is just tired of cranking these books out like the pedestrian talent he is. But I don't blame either of them: a detective who has solved hundreds of cases, and the writer who chronicled it all.

It's nice to think that, perhaps, any of us might be a Simenon, capable of incredible productivity and financial success quite out of proportion to the quality of our work. Maybe I'm the Simenon of DIY internet criticism … so where's the money, I wonder?

Review by Joe "Mark" Hamill