Sunday, 20 September 2015


Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born in 1874 in Kensington, London. He was educated at St Paul's School, and then attended the Slade School of Art and studied literature at University College, London. However he did not complete a degree in either subject.
Chesterton worked for the London publisher Redway and T. Fisher Unwin from 1896 until 1902. At this time he also worked as a freelance art and literary critic. In 1902 the Daily News gave him a weekly opinion column and in 1905 he received a weekly column in The Illustrated London News and wrote this for the next thirty years until his death in 1936.
After the First World War, Chesterton became a leader of the Distrubutist movement and later President of the Distrubutist League; a movement whose political policy was to divide private property into the smallest viable freeholds and distribute them throughout society. His magazine, GK's Weekly, edited with his friend, Hilaire Belloc, promoted these political and sociological outlooks, as did The New Witness, which Chesterton and Belloc took over after the death of Chesterton's brother, Cecil, in 1918.
In 1901 Chesterton married Frances Blogg, to whom he remained married until his death.
Chesterton was one of the great Edwardian men of letters. He was a literary and art critic and a prolific author of essays, verse, biography, short stories and novels. He was dubious about his ability to perform well on radio but was persuaded to give it a try and for the last four years of his life he gave forty talks a year. The talks were very popular, possibly because of their intimate quality, gained because his wife and secretary were allowed to sit with him and he directed his words to them. He was a close friend of Hilaire Belloc and well acquainted with Oscar Wilde. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw disagreed about practically everything and yet were on terms of friendship, often described as 'friendly-enemity.' Chesterton loved to debate and was part of many debates with Shaw, HG Wells, Bertrand Russell and Clarence Darrow. When Chesterton died, Shaw is reported to have described him as 'a man of colossal genius.'
Chesterton was a colossal personality in every way. Six-foot four in height and weighing around twenty-one stone, he habitually wore a cape and crumpled hat and carried a swordstick and smoked a large cigar. When he died of congestive heart failure, at his home in Beaconsfield, his coffin was too big to be carried down the staircase and had to be lowered out of the window.
It is hard to believe that a man of such literary genius had been a slow developer academically and had not learned to read until he was over eight years old. He was also clumsy and absentminded. In later life it was common for him to send a telegram to his wife, telling her where he was and enquiring where he was meant to be.
When he was nineteen Chesterton suffered from depression and, for a time, rejected his Christian faith. It was at this time that he and his brother, Cecil, experimented with the Ouija board and became fascinated by sorcery and devil worship. In 1995 he left University College without completing his degree. In the next few years Chesterton returned to his Anglican faith, encouraged by Frances, who became his wife, and, in 1922, he converted to Roman Catholicism. Near the end of his life, he was invested by Pope Pius XI as Knight Commander with Star of the Papal Order of St Gregory the Great.
On a more secular note, in 1930 Chesterton was one of the founding members of The Detective Club and its first President. It is not certain whether Chesterton or Dorothy L. Sayers wrote the oath but it seems probable Chesterton had a hand in it. 'Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?' Chesterton's detective is a Roman Catholic priest, but Father Brown does not solve crimes through Divine Revelation or Act of God. He reveals the truth using the knowledge of evil that hearing the confessions of sinners has given him throughout the years of his priesthood.
Chesterton's first fiction novel was a political fantasy, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904.) The best remembered of his novels is The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), in which the protagonist, a poet now working for Scotland Yard, fights an anarchist gang named for the days of the week. The Man Who Was Thursday has been described as a 'metaphysical thriller', certainly as well as being a political allegory it contains a large dose of fantasy and farce.
The detective stories that Chesterton is best remembered for are the five collections of short stories featuring Father Brown: The Innocence of Father Brown (1911); The Incredulity of Father Brown (1926); The Secret of Father Brown (1927); The Wisdom of Father Brown (1929); The Scandal of Father Brown (1935). It is interesting to note that Chesterton created his Roman Catholic priest some years before he officially converted to Roman Catholicism. The first Father Brown story, The Blue Cross, was published in the Storyteller in 1910. In The Blue Cross, Valentin, the Head of the Paris police, has tracked Flambeau, a master criminal, to England. Flambeau is an exceptionally tall man and when Valentin is examining the passengers upon the train from Harwich he can easily dismiss the 'very short Roman Catholic priest going up from a small Essex village... The little priest was so much the essence of those Eastern flats: he had a face as round and flat as a Norfolk dumpling; he had eyes as empty as the North Sea; he had several brown-paper parcels of which he was quite incapable of collecting.... He had a large, shabby umbrella, which constantly fell on the floor. He did not seem to know which was the right end of his return ticket. He explained with a moon-calf simplicity to everybody in the carriage that he had to be careful, because he had something made of real silver 'with blue stones' in one of his brown-paper parcels.' This was the first appearance of one of the most astute detectives of the Golden Age. In his Autobiography (1936) Chesterton explained his reasoning behind the deceptive exterior of Father Brown: 'His commonplace exterior was meant to contrast with his unsuspected vigilance and intelligence; and that being so, of course I made his appearance shabby and shapeless, his face round and expressionless, his manners clumsy, and so on.'
Many other Golden Age writers created detectives whose appearance and manner did not mirror their high intelligence, but these detectives always appeared to be deliberately wearing a mask to disguise their abilities. From the first, Father Brown is simply himself, unpretentious, honest, humble and with incredible psychological insight, especially into the nature of Evil. As he explains to Flambeau at that first meeting, '”Oh one gets to know, you know,” he added, rubbing his head again with the same sort of desperate apology. “We can't help it, being priests. People come and tell us these things.”... “Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of real evil?”'
The Blue Cross was republished as the first story in the first collection of Father Brown stories, The Innocence of Father Brown (1911.) The detective Valentin only makes one more appearance but Flambeau is a frequent character in many of the Father Brown stories. In the next two stories featuring Flambeau, The Queer Feet and The Flying Stars, (The Innocence of Father Brown, 1911) he is still a criminal, at both times vanquished by Father Brown, until Father Brown persuades him to abandon crime. Many years later, in his respectable old age, Flambeau explains his reformation: '”Have I not heard the sermons of the righteous and seen the cold stare of the respectable; have I not been lectured in the lofty and distant style, asked how it was possible for anyone to fall so low, told that no decent person could ever have dreamed of such depravity? Do you think all that ever did anything but make me laugh? Only my friend told me that he knew exactly why I stole; and I have never stolen since.”' (The Secret of Flambeau; The Secret of Father Brown, 1927.)
Flambeau becomes a private detective with an office in Westminster, until, in The Secret of Father Brown, he has married and retired to a vineyard in Spain. Flambeau also becomes Father Brown's closest friend As Watson and Hastings rarely get the correct solution ahead of their more talented detective friends, so Flambeau cannot see the solution before Father Brown, but at least the gentle priest treats him with much more consideration and respect than Holmes and Poirot show to their unfortunate followers. On more than one occasion Flambeau's great strength and quick wits in the face of danger save his friend's life. 'Then came another distant detonation , and the door he was trying to open shook under the bullet buried in it. Flambeau's shoulders again filled out and altered suddenly. Three hinges and a lock burst at the same instant, and he went out into the empty path behind, carrying the great garden door with him, as Samson carried the gates of Gaza. Then he flung the garden door over the garden wall, just as a third shot picked up a spurt of snow and dust behind his heel. Without ceremony he snatched up the little priest, slung him astraddle on his shoulders and went racing towards Seawood as fast as his long legs could carry him.' (The God of the Gongs; The Wisdom of Father Brown, 1929.)
Father Brown does not rely on physical clues but psychological clues and an intuition honed by years of hearing men's confessions and his own spiritual exercises. When pushed to explain his 'method' by an American acquaintance, he describes it in this way, '”You see, I had murdered them all myself,” explained Father Brown patiently. “So, of course, I knew how it was done.”... “I planned out each of the crimes very carefully,” ...“I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done, and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was.” (The Secret of Father Brown, 1927.)
The little priest from Essex travels quite widely in the fifty-one stories; to London and many parts of England, and to Scotland, France, Mexico, America and Spain. Chesterton tells us very little of Father Brown's personal life, except that he has a widowed sister and a niece, Betty, of whom he is very fond. 'His gaze was shifted and recalled, however, by the breathless and even boisterous arrival of his niece, Betty. Rather to the surprise of her uncle, she led him back into the emptier room and planted him on a seat that was like an island in that sea of floor. “I've got something I must tell you,” she said. “It's so silly that nobody else will understand it.”' (The Worst Crime In the World; The Secret of Father Brown, 1927.)
Some of the information is inconsistent; in separate stories, Father Brown's first name is altered. Nor is it made clear how Flambeau escaped the detective, Valentin, and worked for many years as a detective, still using the name Flambeau, and even had friends amongst the police force, without being arrested. However, this is unimportant. The reader is drawn into the deep psychological insights that Father Brown offers and the sheer common-sense of his approach. When talking to an American police officer about the latter's dependence on the lie detector, Father Brown observes, '”You always forget that the reliable machine has to be worked by an unreliable machine”... “I mean Man.”... “If you could tell by his manner when the word that might hang him had come, why shouldn't he tell from your manner that the word that might hang him was coming? I should ask for more than words myself before I hanged anybody.”' (The Mistake of the Machine; The Wisdom of Father Brown, 1929.)
The beauty of Chesterton's descriptive writing shows his early career as an artist. 'Father Brown was walking home from Mass on a white weird morning when the mists were slowly lifting – one of those mornings when the very element of light appears as something mysterious and new. The scattered trees outlined themselves more and more out of the vapour, as if they were first drawn in grey chalk and then in charcoal.' (The Salad of Colonel Cray; The Wisdom of Father Brown, 1929.)
Often the atmosphere in the stories is heavy with foreboding and the fear of impending violence and evil. 'There was a rather depressed silence; the room was darkening, the sea-blighted boughs of the garden trees looked leaner and blacker than ever, yet they seemed to have come nearer to the window. … For the whole air was dense with the morbidity of blackmail, which is the most morbid of human things, because it is a crime concealing a crime; a black plaster on a blacker wound.' (The Absence of Mr Glass, The Wisdom of Father Brown, 1929.) And yet, within two pages Father Brown sees the less terrible truth behind this mystery and the whole tone of the story has lifted into humour. '”But a hatter,” protested Hood, “can get money out of his stock of new hats. What could (he) get out of this one old hat?” “Rabbits,” replied Father Brown promptly.'
This witty playfulness is one of the most unexpected things in Chesterton's Father Brown stories and can often catch the reader by surprise. When Flambeau provisions his small sailing vessel for his month's holiday he 'had stocked it with such things as his special philosophy considered necessary. They reduced themselves apparently to four essentials: tins of salmon, if he should want to eat; loaded revolvers, if he should want a fight; a bottle of brandy, presumably in case he should faint; and a priest, presumably in case he should die.' (The Sins of Prince Saradine; The Innocence of Father Brown, 1911.) Or when Father Brown is apologising for speaking hastily in response to a foolish statement: 'A sort of anxiety came back into the priest's eyes – the anxiety of a man who has run against a post in the dark and wonders for a moment whether he has hurt it. “I'm most awfully sorry,” he said with sincere distress. “I beg your pardon for being so rude; pray forgive me.”' (The Oracle of the Dog; The Incredulity of Father Brown, 1926.)
Father Brown is an unique detective. There is less revealed about his personal life than any other detective of his time but more about his thought processes and his belief. He is remarkably courageous, both physically and morally; unconcerned for his own safety or by public condemnation if there is a soul to be salvaged or an innocent person to be helped. The only thing that Father Brown really fears is harm to his Church. 'The priest's next words broke out of him with a sort of cry. “And if it had only been my disgrace! But it was the disgrace of all I stand for; the disgrace of the Faith that they went about to encompass. What might it have been! The most huge and horrible scandal ever launched against us since the last lie was choked in the throat of Titus Oates.”' (The Resurrection of Father Brown; The Incredulity of Father Brown, 1926.)
Possibly the thing that makes Father Brown stand out is that he is less concerned with crime than he is with sin; he cares more about saving souls than punishing crime. Chesterton's own religious conviction shines through the character and words of Father Brown. '”We have to touch such men, not with a bargepole but with a benediction,” he said. “We have to say the word that will save them from hell. We alone are left to deliver them from despair when your human charity deserts them.”... “Leave us with the men who commit the mean and revolting and real crimes.”' (The Chief Mourner of Marne; The Secret of Father Brown, 1927.)

Monday, 7 September 2015

Review: Maigret and the Burglar's Wife by Georges Simenon

Note: Because this review is taken from an English translation I have used the British rank of Chief Inspector rather than Commissaire.

'Ernestine Micou, alias 'Lofty' (now Jussiaume), who, when you arrested her seventeen years ago in the Rue de la Lune, stripped herself to take the mike out of you, requests the favour of an interview on a matter of most urgent and important business.'
This note, handed in at the Police Headquarters in Paris on a scorchingly hot summer day, transports Chief-Inspector Maigret back to a time when he was an inexperienced, young officer on the beat and intended to arrest Lofty, a young prostitute for theft. 'Calmly she'd taken off her wrap, her shift, and pants, and gone and lain down on the unmade bed, lighting a cigarette'... 'The whole thing was ludicrous. She was cool, quite passive, a little glint of irony showing in her colourless eyes.'
Lofty has come to ask Maigret for help. Her husband, Alfred Jussiaume, known as Sad Freddie, is a safe-breaker who has left Paris without warning and gone into hiding, but he contacted Lofty to say that on his last attempted robbery in a private house in Neuilly, he had been terrified by the sight of a dead body in the room; he said that it was a middle-aged woman, 'that her chest was all covered in blood, and that she was holding a telephone receiver in her hand.'
Although Maigret has doubts about Lofty's story, especially as no murders have been reported, he investigates to try and discover the house that Sad Freddie burgled. This leads him to the home of Guillaume Serre, a middle-aged dental surgeon who lives with his wife, Maria, and his elderly mother. Maigret discovers that Serre's wife is no longer there and Serre and his mother claim that Maria has left them to go back and live, perhaps permanently, in Amsterdam, in her native Holland. Serre and Madame Serre also claim that there has been no sign of burglary in their house.
Who is Maigret to believe? The prostitute and her husband, a habitual criminal? Or the respectable if obnoxious dentist and his mother? He follows his instinct, which leads to a long and harrowing interrogation and a psychologically satisfying conclusion to the investigation.
Maigret and the Burglar's wife is a book based on remarkably skilled characterisation and of exquisitely drawn contrasts. Lofty, whom Maigret recognises immediately when he sees her after many years: 'her long, pale face, the washed out eyes, the big over-made-up mouth that looked like a raw wound. He recognised also, in her glance, the quiet irony of those who've seen so much that nothing's any longer important in their eyes. She was simply dressed, with a light green straw hat, and she'd put on gloves.' And old Madame Serre, 'a little old woman, very dried up, dressed in black, who never passes the time of day with anybody and doesn't look easy to get on with' or as Maigret sees her first, 'the old lady who stood back to let them enter would not have looked out of place dressed as a nun... She'd an innate elegance and dignity which were remarkable.'
Another beautiful contrast is when Maigret goes to visit Lofty at home to question her further about her husband's claim. 'Maigret knocked at a door, which half-opened; Ernestine appeared in her underclothes and merely said: “It's you!” Then she went at once to fetch her dressing gown from the unmade bed, and slipped it on.'
This contrast is even stronger when describing the two sets of characters' living places. Lofty and Sad Freddie live in rooms above a café, in a situation full of noise and colour: 'The wall of the staircase was whitewashed, as in the country. One could hear the racket made by a crane unloading gravel from a barge a little further on... The window was open. There was a blood-red geranium. The bedspread was red too. The door stood open into a little kitchen, out of which came a good smell of coffee.'
The Serre's drawing room is that of wealthy people, but underneath there is the sense of a smothering stagnation. 'She opened, on the left, a pair of polished oaken doors, and Maigret was reminded more than ever of a convent or, better still, a rich parsonage. Even the soft, insidious smell reminded him of something; he didn't know what, he tried to remember. The drawing-room that she showed them into was lit only by daylight seeping through the slots of the shutters, and to enter it from outside was like stepping into a cool bath. The noises of the town, one felt, could never penetrate this far, and it was as if the house and everything in it had remained unchanged for more than a century.'
Although it was written over eighty years ago, Maigret and the Burglar's Wife manages to combine the sense of a time past with a present-day observation of psychological twists. It is still an excellent read.

Note: At this time, Maigret and the Burglar's wife is not available as a new paperback or on Kindle, however there are several second-hand paperbacks available for sale.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Georges Simenon (1903-1989)

Simenon was born in Belgium, the son of an accountant in an insurance company. Simenon was born a few minutes into Friday 13th February but his superstitious mother insisted on his birth certificate being falsified and gave him the more auspicious birthday of Thursday 12th. One of his mother's more notorious ancestors was Gabriel Brühl, a robber who was hanged in 1743; later Simenon used Brühl as one of his pseudonyms.
Simenon's family moved many times in his childhood, a pattern of life that Simenon was to replicate throughout his life. One of the most significant house moves in his childhood was when his parents moved to a large house that enabled them to take in lodgers, which meant that Simenon was mixing with students and apprentices of many nationalities and this early experience contributed to the cosmopolitan flavour of his books.
Simenon's relationship with his mother was stormy and often cold, especially after the birth of his brother whom she much preferred. (It is reported that when Simenon's brother died, she said to Simenon that she wished it had been him rather than his brother.) Perhaps to make up for this deficit, Simenon was very close to his father and devastated by his death when Simenon was only seventeen. Many psychologists have theorised that Simenon's dysfunctional relationship with his mother was the root cause of his extreme promiscuity (in old age he claimed to have slept with at least 10,000 women) and his self-serving egotism, which led to his investigation for collaboration with the Nazis after the Second World War.
From 1914 to 1918 Simenon attended the Collège Saint-Louis, a Jesuit high school, but in 1918, when he was fifteen he left the Collège, using his father's failing health as his reason. For some months he had short-term jobs until, in January 1919, he took a job at the newspaper the Gazette de Liège. Simenon's job was to report on unchallenging human interest stories but his contact with the newspaper gave him the opportunity to explore politics, bars and cheap hotels as well as arousing an interest in crime and criminal investigations. It was at this time he attended lectures by the ground-breaking criminologist Edmund Locard. While at the newspaper he wrote over 150 articles under the pen name G. Sim. Also under this pen name he published his first novel, Au Pont des Arches, in 1921, and under the name Monsieur Le Coq he published more than 800 humorous pieces between 1919 and 1922. During these years he became increasingly familiar with the seamier side of city night life, consorting with prostitutes, anarchists, bohemian artists and criminals, including murderers. This experience forms the background for many of his books, including his best-remembered series featuring Commissaire Maigret.
In 1922 Simenon's father died and he and his mistress, Régine Renchon, moved to Paris. In 1923 they returned to Liege in order to be married. Despite Simenon's lack of faith, his mother insisted that Régine should convert and they should be married in a Roman Catholic Church, and all of Simenon's children were later baptised into the Catholic Church.
Simenon seemed to favour nicknames for the women in his close family circle, which he insisted they respond to rather than their given names; Regine was always known as Tigy, while Henriette Liberge, their cook and housekeeper, was known as Boule (literally translated as Ball) due to her plumpness. Boule was sexually involved with Simenon for several decades, but she was by no means the only woman to have an affair with Simenon; throughout his life he had numerous liaisons with other women, perhaps the most famous of which was his relationship with the singer and dancer, Josephine Baker.
A reporting assignment had awakened Simenon's pleasure in boating and in 1929 he had a boat built. Simenon, Tigy, Boule and their dog, Olaf, lived on board this boat and travelled the French canal system. It was in 1930, while boating in the Netherlands, in and around the Dutch town of Delfzijl, that Simenon created his most famous character, Commissaire Maigret. There is a commemorative statue of Maigret in Delfzijl, which was unveiled in 1966 by Simenon, and the ceremony was attended by actors, of many nationalities, who had played Maigret.
Between 1930 and 1934 Simenon travelled extensively in eastern Europe, Africa, Turkey and the Soviet union, culminating in a two year trip around the world. He and his family then settled in a succession of houses in France and in 1939, Marc, Simenon's only child with Tigy, was born.
Simenon's conduct in the Second World War has cast a shadow over his reputation, although most people now tend to the view that he was apolitical and opportunistic rather than a collaborator with the Germans. In the early 1940s Simenon had a serious health scare when he was misdiagnosed with heart disease, the condition that killed his father. Also around this time, Tigy finally had confirmation of Simenon's sexual relationship with their housekeeper, Boule. Although Simenon and Tigy did not divorce until 1949, for the last few years their relationship was only a marriage in name, especially as, despite Tigy's protests, Boule remained with the family.
In 1945 Simenon chose to avoid questioning about his relationship with the German invaders and left France for Canada and the United States. Simenon, Marc and Boule all learned to speak English, but Tigy struggled with the language and longed to return to Europe. It was at this time that Simenon met Denyse Ouimet, a young woman seventeen years his junior, and they started a tempestuous love affair. In 1949 Simenon and Tigy divorced and in 1950 he married Denyse. It is interesting to note that apparently Denyse did not have a nickname bestowed on her by Simenon and to speculate whether she refused to accept this particular form of control. Denyse and Simenon had three children: Johnny, born in 1949; Marie-Jo, born in 1953; and Pierre, born in 1959.
Although Simenon had not lived in Belgium since 1922, he always retained his Belgian citizenship and, in 1952 was made a member of the Academie Royale de Belgique.
Simenon and his family returned to Europe in 1955, first living in France and then in Switzerland. In 1964 Simenon and his second wife, Denyse, separated. Simenon had already started an affair with his new housekeeper, Teresa, who he had hired in 1961 and she remained as his companion until his death.
In 1966 Simenon was given the Mystery Writers of America's most prestigious honour, the award of Grand Master.
Simenon's later years were darkened by the suicide, in 1978, of his only daughter, Marie-Jo, when she was twenty-five. Marie-Jo was a deeply troubled young woman, obsessively devoted to her father; when she was a child she had begged him to buy her a gold 'wedding' ring, which she had enlarged as she grew older. One of the last things she spoke of was her father's 'crushing genius'. As a final, cruel irony, when she decided to shoot herself she discovered the whereabouts of a Parisian gunsmith by consulting one of Simenon's novels that was set in Paris.
In 1984 Simenon underwent surgery for a brain tumour. He recovered but his health deteriorated and he died in 1989.
When writing about Simenon's life I found it impossible to interweave his novels into the narrative because they were so numerous and seem to be the fabric of his life. He was one of the most prolific writers of the century, producing nearly 200 novels (including a number of 'psychological novels'), 150 novellas, a large number of articles and an immense number of 'pulp' novels written under at least two dozen pseudonyms. He also wrote several autobiographical works, especially in the last years of his life. Simenon would set himself the task of writing a novel in eleven days, eight for writing and three for editing. During that time he would live a monk-like existence, immersing himself in his work. He said, in interview, that if anything disrupted that eleven day writing process, (such as him being unwell and having to rest for a day) he would throw the book away because for him it was no longer a workable project. He also said that he started knowing the names, ages and appearances of his characters but did not plot, because that would destroy his interest in his book.
Rather like Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes, Simenon was outraged that the novels and short stories that proved most popular were his Maigret novels, rather than his more serious works. Nevertheless the Maigret books are a significant and powerful body of work, a view confirmed by T.S. Eliot, a writer that Simenon greatly admired, when asked about the two most significant changes in his life in recent years: 'I now prefer Claret to Burgundy and I prefer Inspector Maigret to Arsene Lupin.'
Between 1931 and 1972, Simenon wrote 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring Commissaire Jules Maigret. The Maigret books have been translated into a large number of languages and have been televised in several countries. In Britain, Maigret was first played by Rupert Davies and later by Michael Gambon; a new Maigret series is due to be recorded in Britain starring Rowan Atkinson, an interesting challenge to see if he can persuade the audience to forget his previous creations, Blackadder and Mr Bean.
The Maigret books set in Paris seem to be woven out of the experiences Simenon had in the back streets of the city, the denizen of thieves, prostitutes, the destitute and violent criminals; but he also sets much of the action in his books in the homes of the outwardly respectable middle class, with a feeling of the decay and evil, twisted relationships that lurk behind their respectable doors and shuttered windows. However, Simenon also sets his Maigret books in the other countries that he visited. He was at the height of his creative powers when he was living in the United States and many of his books were set there, such as Trois chambres à Manhattan (1946) and Maigret à New York (1947.)
Maigret is a stocky, tall man, slightly overweight, who smokes a pipe and is very fond of alcohol although it is a matter of pride that he does not get intoxicated. He usually wears a heavy raincoat. His wife's name is Louise, although she is always known as Madame Maigret. They have no children, although they did have a baby that was still born. Maigret usually works with a small team of detectives, notably Lucan and Janvier, who respect him although they are wary of his bad temper when things are not going well. Maigret sometimes depends on police procedure but, more often, on intuition, which leads to long cat and mouse sessions in which he tried to wear down his suspects and intensive (and sometimes inhumane) interrogations that can go on for several hours and occasionally days.
Perhaps Simenon's work can best be explained by himself in an interview published in 1955: 'I am an artisan; I need to work with my hands. I would like to carve my novel in a piece of wood. My characters – I would like to have them heavier, more three-dimensional. And I would like to make a man so that everybody, looking at him, would find his own problems in this man.' (The Paris Review, Summer 1955, interview by Carvel Collins.)