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Maigret of the Month: Un Crime en Hollande (A Crime in Holland) - 1

6/01/04 –

This novel is one of three that Simenon wrote under his own name set completely or partly in The Netherlands, the others being L'Assassin (The Murderer) and L'Homme qui regardait passer les trains (The Man who watched the trains go by) written respectively in 1935 and 1937. The first of these two novels is set in Sneek, whilst the second is set in Groningen and Amsterdam before moving to Paris.
A Crime in Holland was written in May 1931 on board the author's boat the Ostrogoth moored at Morsang-sur-Seine (Seine-et-Marne). Simenon set it in the small Dutch port of Delfzijl (Province of Groningen), on the estuary of the Ems, in the north-east of The Netherlands. The author had reached Delfzijl in his boat during September 1929 where he had to have it caulked, forcing him to stay there until the work was completed. It was in this very place that Simenon later stated on several occasions he had created the character of Maigret, starting with the novel Pietr-le-Letton (The Strange Case of Peter the Lett / Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett), but later research by two friends of the author, Claude Menguy and Pierre Deligny, proved that this was only partly correct. Whilst waiting for the repairs to be completed on his boat, Simenon had written the novel Train de Nuit, under the pseudonym of Christian Brulls, in which there is a police detective stationed in Marseille named Maigret, although his role in the novel is only a small one. Later, as he continued to write his novels and short stories under a series of pseudonyms, he wrote three more novels*, which included the police detective Maigret, but not the fully-fledged Maigret that was to come in the spring of 1930 onwards and published under his own name.

click to enlarge

(As a result of Delfzijl being associated with the "legend" of the creation of Maigret, the Dutch authorities commissioned a bronze statue of Maigret from the sculptor Pieter d'Hont which was placed in one of Delfzijl's squares and unveiled by Simenon on the 3rd of September 1966 in the presence of many of his publishers and four of the actors who had played Maigret).
Simenon wrote A Crime in Holland almost a year after The Crime at Lock 14 (Le Charretier de la "Providence"), both being written on his boat, which was moored, more or less, at the same place on the river Seine at Morsang, seemingly a favourite spot for him. Both novels have canal settings, but are very different in outlook. The Crime at Lock 14 is very much concerned with the people who operate the canals and provide facilities along them, as well as those who use the canals for their livelihood, with the occasional pleasure craft. A Crime in Holland centres, in the main, on three families who live near a canal but don't have to use it in their daily lives.
Maigret is thrust into both situations, having to learn quickly how the daily routine works for the people involved, especially with a murder in their midst. Lock 14 finds him in rural France, but with the later enquiry he finds himself in the north-west part of The Netherlands and having language difficulties. He is there in a semi-official capacity at the request of the University of Nancy as one of their professors, on a lecture tour, is a possible suspect.
Simenon describes Delfzijl and its environment as a close-knit community influenced in some cases with the Protestant ethic. This creates considerable tension among the groups of people with whom Maigret has to deal and it forms the crux of the problem he has to unravel. Also it is one of the earliest works that has the theme of flight, where a person develops the need, mentally or physically, to flee from a situation. It is a theme that Simenon explores in different ways in quite a number of his novels and short stories.
In these early novels, Maigret is brusque in his manner without turning aside from his instinct of "to understand and not to judge", which is a characteristic of his approach to certain individuals. Perhaps in this novel his abruptness is conditioned by a certain undercurrent of hostility engendered by his probing into a community that is not his own.
Simenon in the dénouement nods in the direction of certain classic crime fiction authors when he has Maigret using all of the people involved to reconstruct the situation at the time of the crime. With them all together he gradually unfolds the truth.
By being among a not particularly endearing group of individuals in a confining atmosphere, admirably realised by Simenon, Maigret is clearly not in a frame of mind to stay for long and takes a very early morning train out of Delfzijl for Paris.
The wayward translation, the only one so far of this novel, is by Geoffrey Sainsbury, but it is Simenon who has altered slightly the name of two of the locations. The island of Workum in the mouth of the estuary of the Ems must surely be Borkum, whilst the smaller and little used canal Amsterdiep in reality is the Damster Diep.

*The three novels are La Figurante (or La Jeune Fille aux perles), La Femme rousse and La Maison de l'inquiétude. The first was written under the pseudonym of Christian Brulls, the other two by Georges Sim.
Peter Foord

Maigret of the Month: Un Crime en Hollande (A Crime in Holland) - 2

6/12/04 –

Chapitre 1 "La jeune fille à la vache"

Simenon sets out the case with admirable economy, establishing within the first couple of pages the reason for Maigret's presence in the Dutch town of Delfzijl and presenting a list of suspects in the murder of Conrad Popinga.
He describes Delfzijl with equal economy, emphasising the regularity of its design and the way it could be isolated by the use of dykes in case of high seas. It seems more Nordic than Dutch in character, bright and pretty, un jouet.
The bar he enters is as intimate as a family dining room. He has no Dutch money but they trust him to pay for his beer the next day. He feels everything to be simple, honest, with almost a family atmosphere. Everywhere there are connections with the sea.
One of the customers in bar takes him out to the Liewens' farm. There he meets Beetje Liewens, 18, who has a healthy, happy smile and a pink face, "trop rose peut-être".
Almost immediately, Maigret has to help the girl deliver a calf.
The household is solid, comfortable, cultured. Beetje at this point is playfully seductive and even shows Maigret her bedroom, which Maigret thinks of as almost a boudoir, but with a heavy, solid, reflective atmosphere.
He meets the girl's father, who speaks no French.
She takes Maigret back to town, wheeling her bicycle and swinging her hips.

Chapitre 2 "La casquette du Baes"

This chapter opens with Maigret unusually taking note of details, especially of the topography of the area where the murder took place.
Later, in a satirical parallel, Professor Duclos, the main suspect, takes this to extremes, having made detailed plans of the layout of the house and its surroundings.
Maigret (and Simenon) is dismissive of Duclos: "L'étude pour l'étude! L'idée pour l'idée!" Reference is made to men of science leading austere lives, albeit with a passion for conferences in foreign countries.
This is important, because the main theme of this novel, clearly and we might even say deliberately delineated, is the conflict between two ways of life, between the conventional and the bohemian, between the narrowness of provincial life and the limitless bounds of human potential.
We know that Simenon attended courses on criminology in Liege, but at some point he must have rejected the scientific approach, embodying in Maigret the humanistic, empathetic aspect of detection. This probably links with his own inclination towards a bohemian, libertine existence, and yet in Simenon himself there is the contradiction between the loving father, the breadwinner, the disciplined writer of routines, and the promiscuous, alcoholic, one might even say anarchistic side of his character.
Maigret's interview with Duclos allows the author to fill in the background to the murder, and also introduces us to the character of the victim, Conrad Popinga, who, we learn, had forced everyone after Duclos' lecture to listen to jazz on Radio-Paris. Popinga and Beetje had drunk and danced, while the solid bourgeois family and guests had sat and talked. Popinga had been astonished to find a Frenchman (Duclos) who did not drink.
The explicit contrast between the austere Frenchman and the Dutchman with his joie de vivre underlines the theme. Duclos is very scathing about Popinga, who is thereby made to seem a very sympathetic character.
Perhaps the most delightful aspect of this chapter is the light touch with which Simenon depicts Maigret's amusement at the pompous, arid Duclos. I think this is the first Maigret book in which Simenon is starting to feel at ease, in full command of his theme and able to exercise his wit.
The satirical amusement with which Maigret regards Duclos is also present to some extent in the way Maigret treats the very serious but incompetent Dutch police inspector, whose theories Maigret appears to ignore, except to point out certain gross deficiencies in the inquiry.
Again, this conversation allows Simenon to skilfully fill in the background to the crime and to bring forth more information about the characters involved, including Miss Any Van Elst, Popinga's sister-in-law, another "serious" character, whom we encounter again later.


Maigret of the Month: Un Crime en Hollande (A Crime in Holland) - 3

6/16/04 –

Chapitre 3 "Le Club des Rats de Quai"

In this chapter we meet Oosting, sometimes known as "le Baes" (the Boss). He stands out from the other wharf rats by his size and the force of his personality.
Maigret tries to engage him in conversation, but Oosting can no more speak French than Maigret can speak Dutch. Here and later it is clear that he wants to communicate something to Maigret, but it is impossible. Maigret has the strong feeling that if they could communicate, he would penetrate to the heart of the mystery.
Maigret finally visits the house where the dead man, Popinga, lived. He meets Mme Popinga and Any again, who seems painfully timid. Both women are bourgeoise, provincial, though cultured and educated, and belong to an austere Protestant sect.
Maigret says he thinks that Beetje is of a different character from the two women. Oosting and Popinga, however, had gone on hunting trips together. The characters are ranging in two camps.

Chapitre 4 "Les bois flottées de l'Amsterdiep"

It is a calm evening. Maigret sees Oosting and Cornelius, a student at the naval school where Popinga taught, talking on the canal bank. There is a boatyard, and the canal is almost choked with floating tree trunks. Le Baes is taking pains to make sure Cornelius obeys or understands him. When a donkey brays, Oosting sees Maigret and moves off.
Maigret tries to follow Oosting, then switches his attention to Cornelius, who is wearing white gloves which show up in the twilight. Cornelius crosses to Maigret's side of the canal by jumping from tree trunk to tree trunk. Maigret follows him at a distance, their footsteps in time. Cornelius, although unaware that he is being followed, increases his pace, as if afraid. He crosses the area which is intermittently illuminated by a nearby lighthouse. When Maigret crosses the lighted area, Cornelius must see him if he looks back.
The student is heading for the Liewens' farmhouse, where he meets Beetje. Although she is wearing a coat, Maigret knows she is in her nightdress, bare-legged, with bare feet in slippers.
She is calm. She approaches Maigret and tells him to ignore Cornelius, who is upset and nervous, sure that he is going to be accused of the murder.
The farmer Liewens appears. He is angry at seeing Maigret talking to his daughter and appears to be unaware of the presence of Cornelius.
He accuses Maigret, through Beetje, of arranging a rendez-vous with his daughter. Maigret blushes, "comme cela lui est rarement arrivé", and is angry with Beetje for not revealing the truth.
The farmer orders his daughter to go home, leaving Maigret with Cornelius. Maigret feels sorry for the boy, who is in a pitiable state. Yet he could be guilty. His alibi is undermined by the possibility that he could have crossed the canal using the tree trunks as stepping stones, which would have allowed him to return to Popinga's house in time to kill him.
Maigret gamely crosses the canal with Cornelius in the same way, almost falling into the water.
Maigret establishes that Cornelius is in love with Beetje and wants to marry her. Maigret escorts him back to the boat which serves as the dormitory for the naval boarding school.
He sees Oosting waiting for the return of the students and sees him as similar to himself, middle-aged, heavy, calm, but a little ridiculous too, in coming to watch the teenagers who were climbing into their hammocks and having pillow-fights.
They greet each other, but still cannot communicate. They walk together towards the town, where Oosting enters a cafe. Maigret follows him.

This intensely imagined, vividly cinematic chapter, full of tension, of unspoken thoughts, pregnant with meaning, shows Simenon at his best. Every moment, every gesture counts. Characters are developed, the plot is advanced and clarified, and above all there is the brilliant, detailed, vividly sensual description of surroundings, sounds and smells. The reader is there with Maigret, experiencing every second that passes, every nuance, every emotion.


Maigret of the Month: Un Crime en Hollande (A Crime in Holland) - 4

6/20/04 –

Chapter 5 "Les Hypothèses de Jean Duclos"

One of the great pleasures of this novel is Simenon's portrait of the pompous, self-important sociologist, Duclos, whose pronouncements evoke from Maigret a heartfelt "Parbleu!"
Duclos is patronising and insulting towards Maigret in almost equal measure, convinced of his own intellectual superiority; Maigret remains unmoved, drinking a Bols, smiling at the professor's condescending attitude.
It is Duclos in this chapter who articulates Simenon's theme, talking about the austerity of the Protestant sect to which Popinga's wife, father-in-law and sister-in-law belong (he himself is also a Protestant). This world-view permeates the bourgeois society of Delfzijl. We are told that a teacher at the naval school would be severely reprimanded if seen even entering a cafe. One teacher was sacked for obstinately subscribing to a magazine of "advanced" views.
Against this background of religious and military conservatism we see contrasted the victim Popinga, "un bon garçon", a man with a sense of joie de vivre who had seen the world, then returned and as it were put on a uniform of conformity -- but the uniform was bursting at the seams.
Popinga was seen to be drunk at his club. When his wife was collecting donations to buy clothes for native peoples, Popinga was heard to say, not only that they were better off naked, but that "nous ferons mieux de les imiter...."
Duclos refers to Popinga's friendship with the far from respectable Oosting, "une espèce de brigand".
Duclos further maintains that "si le crime a été commis par quelqu'un de la maison, c'est toute la maison qui est coupable...."
Duclos also refers to Beetje as being the only female to go swimming every day, not in a modest bathing costume like all the other women, but in a clinging red swimsuit.
Duclos places Cornelius, Mme Popinga and Any on one side, while on the other are Beetje, Popinga and Oosting. Maigret asks on which side of the barricade Duclos would stand. He says he didn't like Popinga. Maigret asks if he disliked him enough to kill him? Duclos says no.
Then Maigret, magnificently serious, asks Duclos who he should arrest.
Duclos, who has expounded his theories at length, can only babble about searching for the truth for its own sake. Maigret asks then if no one should be arrested, then thanks Duclos with heavy sarcasm and leaves, smiling.
On leaving the cafe, Maigret sees the town as also being divided -- on one side Oosting and the wharf rats, on the other the carefully kept bourgeois houses where for a fortnight now the good people had been talking behind closed doors about the teacher who had taken a glass or two too many.
"Un même ciel d'une limpidité de rêve. Mais quelle frontière entre ces deux mondes!"
Maigret imagined Popinga standing at this frontier, looking at the boats with all their exotic associations, while he himself was only allowed a little canoe. Maigret sees Oosting and has the feeling yet again that he wants to communicate with him.
The Dutch police inspector now approaches Maigret. He tells him, among other things, that the local carpenter saw Beetje and Popinga on the evening of his death making love behind his piles of timber.
The inspector thinks that either Cornelius or Beetje's father could have seen them.
Maigret, adopting the same serious tone with which he had deflated Duclos in the cafe, now accuses the inspector of suspecting just about everybody.
"Vous, vous pensez quelque chose!" he says. "Vous pensez même des tas de choses! Tandis que moi, je crois que je ne pense encore rien...."
Maigret concludes the conversation by asking whether Cornelius or Beetje knew Oosting and whether there was a radio on the Isle of Workum.
The Dutch inspector is mightily impressed by these questions. Maigret says he is going to visit Beetje. The chapter concludes with a view of Oosting pacing the bridge of his vessel with feverish concentration.

Chapitre 6 "Les lettres"

Maigret returns to the Liewens' farm, where the same air of calm reigns. A maid indicates that no-one is home, but Maigret spots the movement of a curtain at Beetje's window and the vague outline of a face, then he sees Beetje make a gesture as if to say, "I'm here, but don't insist on coming in". It is clear her father has shut her in and given orders that Maigret is not to be admitted.
Maigret goes to the Popingas' house, where he finds Any, Mme Popinga and the farmer Liewens, who are obviously in the midst of an important conversation. Spread out on a table are some letters which look as if they have been thrown down violently. The letters are signed Conrad. The atmosphere is thick with embarrassment.
Mme Popinga leaves the room and returns with a pile of about thirty long letters from Beetje; Conrad's are relatively short and amount to about ten.
Any reads out some of the letters, translating them into French. Conrad is affectionate but cautious, whereas Beetje is urgent, demanding. She says, "Holland is suffocating me," and she says she wants to go to America. She has even priced the tickets for the journey.
Maigret has the impression that Mme Popinga, with her regular features and wise, reflective smile, was serious even as a child, while Conrad had a great appetite for enjoyment. Mme Popinga confirms this, adding that he wouldn't have left her because he hated to hurt people, and has even got into trouble for being too lenient with his pupils.
Any asks Maigret what he thinks. Maigret says that he thinks nothing. He puts forward a principle: "...don't be distracted by psychological theories (a reference to Duclos)... Follow as far as possible the line provided by material evidence... "
However, Simenon adds cryptically: "Impossible de savoir s'il persiflait ou s'il parlait serieusement".
Finally, Mme Popinga reveals that when Popinga and Oosting went hunting on Workum, Beetje went with them, and sometimes they stayed away for one or two nights. She is overcome by the realisation


Maigret of the Month: Un Crime en Hollande (A Crime in Holland) - 5

6/29/04 –

Chapitre 7 "Un dejeuner chez Van Hasselt"

When Maigret returns to the hotel where he is staying, he sees that there is something out of the ordinary.
The Dutch police inspector, Pijpekamp, has arranged a lunch in the French style, ostensibly in Maigret's honour, with the third guest being Duclos. Simenon has fun describing Pijpekamp acting the man of the world, as well as the provincial food and the execrable wine which is served.
It turns out that the policeman has something to report. He asks Maigret to guess who came to see him at his office that morning. He is devastated when Maigret says that it was Barens. Pijpekamp recovers from his shock and says that Barens saw an unknown man, probably a foreign sailor, running away after the fatal shot was fired.
When Pijpekamp goes to telephone to have Barens brought back to his office, Maigret accuses Duclos of having set up the lunch as a sort of bribe. He says that Duclos must have advised Pijpekamp to offer Maigret food and plenty of drink because in France that is how one sweetens public functionaries. At the police station, Maigret asks Barens what Oosting told him the previous evening, and threatens him with imprisonment for bearing false witness. Maigret says it was le Baes who told Barens to say he had seen a stranger. Oosting is brought in. Maigret is at his most powerful and pitiless in pursuing the truth. Oosting says that, whatever happens to him, Popinga was both his friend and his benefactor. Pijpekamp now believes Oosting to be guilty and orders his arrest.
The chapter concludes with Maigret asking Pijpekamp to organise a reconstruction of the murder, with all those involved present. Maigret himself will take the part of the victim. The ironic humour of this chapter, along with the closely observed characters and their interplay, show Simenon in confident, even masterful mode as author. Indeed, the whole novel is notable for its confident handling of style, plot and character. Simenon is coming into his own.

Chapitre 8 "Maigret et les jeunes filles"

Duclos accuses Maigret of upsetting everything. He tells Maigret to look around him:
"Chacun gagne sa vie... Chacun est à peu pres heureux... Et surtout, chacun refrène ses instincts, parce que c'est la règle, c'est une necessité si l'on veut vivre en société..."
He goes on to say that the powerful and well-off citizens take pains to keep the town a civilised place, even giving up their right to go to the cafe, because that would set a bad example.
Maigret asks if this is what Pijpekamp said to Duclos that morning, and what prompted Duclos to suggest offering lunch as a way of cooling Maigret's ardour.
It is clear that Duclos and Pijpekamp want nothing better than to protect the solid citizens of the town. Maigret, on the other hand, as we shall see, is more concerned with the death of a human being.
Maigret makes the cryptic comment that Duclos was lucky to come out of the bathroom with the revolver in his hand.
Maigret then sees Beetje waiting for him. She has managed to escape from her father's house, taking some money from his office.
Maigret is rough with her, asking how many men she has tried to entice into eloping with her. Popinga was not the first. That was a gymnastics teacher, to whom she lost her virginity. Apart from him and Popinga she says there have been no others, except Cornelius when it became clear that Popinga was not going to leave his wife. Maigret says her main idea has been to escape her suffocating life in Delfzijl with a man, any man.
"C'est même d'une simplicité infantine! Vous aimez la vie! Vous aimez les hommes! Vous aimez toutes les joies qu'il est possible de s'offrir... "
She fastened on Popinga as a likely suitor because he seemed more daring than others. She threw herself at him. He told her his wife didn't understand him and that his life was miserable. Maigret says that sixty out of a hundred men would have told a desirable young woman the same thing, but unfortunately Beetje took him at his word.
Beetje declares that everyone despises her, but Any in particular, who even leaves the room when she enters:
"Puisqu'elle est condamnée a rester virtueuse, elle voudrait que tout le monde le soit... "
Maigret goes through some of the suspects with her. Beetje has already said that she thinks her father capable of killing her, so angry is he. Maigret asks if he would have been capable of killing Popinga. She defends him, but Maigret points out that he has no alibi.
Duclos reappears, to tell Maigret that Liewens is outside. Maigret tells Duclos to translate for him. He says he will need Beetje till the evening, when the crime will be reconstructed, and that the murderer will be under lock and key by that night.
At which Liewens pulls out a revolver and points it at his temple. Maigret knocks him over and restrains him with his body weight.
Maigret shouts to Duclos to lock the door, then gets to his feet.


Maigret of the Month: Un Crime en Hollande (A Crime in Holland) - 6

6/30/04 –

Chapitre 9 "Reconstitution"

Maigret has set up the function room as it was on the night of the murder, when Duclos' lecture was given. The atmosphere is grey, dull, undramatic. Maigret asks the participants to take the same seats that they occupied on the night. There is of course an empty seat, that of Popinga, between Beetje and Any.
Maigret asks Duclos to summarise his lecture, which is along the lines of society being to blame for criminality. Maigret dismissively interrupts him and cynically summarises his arguments, which he has obviously heard before (and which Simenon too presumably heard when he attended courses on criminology).
Maigret looks around and notes that all the trouble has a simple cause: the sexual attraction of Beetje, with her beautiful, desirable breasts, so different from the overdressed and unalluring Mme Popinga and the unattractive Any. Popinga, who had a lust for life, saw and desired Beetje, without realising that she was intending to use him to help her escape from what she saw as a suffocating existence.
When it is time, Maigret makes the party walk to Popinga's house. He arranges them again in their order of procession.
As they reach Oosting's boat, Maigret commands Any to pick up the sailor's cap which is lying on the bridge, obviously put there by Maigret, and to hide it under her coat. Oosting is there, watching.
They move off again. Once in the house, Maigret, Mme Popinga and Any go upstairs. When Mme Popinga goes down again, he takes the cap from Any and hides it under the divan.
Downstairs again, Maigret switches on the radio. Beetje is huddled in a chair, crying. It is a grim scene.

Chapitre 10 "Quelqu'un qui attend l'heure"

Maigret reconstructs the scene, focussing on the idea of Popinga laughing as he danced, saying that this man, who wanted to enjoy himself despite everything, who had a thirst for life and the emotions, would be dead in a couple of hours. The killer already knew what he or she was going to do.
Maigret asks for the servant to be brought down from her bed. Maigret asks if she was Popinga's mistress. She says he kissed her, came into her room as she was dressing, gave her little presents, but nothing more.
Maigret badgers Cornelius into admitting that he followed Beetje and Popinga and saw someone at Mme Popinga's window, someone who had also seen that Beetje and Popinga had stopped for a long time behind the piles of wood.
Mme Popinga suddenly says that it was she who was watching from the window.


Maigret leaves with Beetje, to re-enact Popinga's final journey.
Popinga was sad, perhaps because of the cognac that he had drunk. He told Beetje it was over between them and that she should marry Cornelius.
Beetje had ridden away angrily with Popinga in pursuit, trying to make her listen to him. Then he turned back.
When Beetje got to her house her father was not there. When he came in, she thought that he had perhaps been spying on her and Popinga behind the wood piles.
The next day he had searched her room, found Popinga's letters to her and locked her in.
Maigret and Beetje return to the Popinga house. Maigret imagines Popinga returning, worried and unhappy. He hates the quiet calm of the house but he is incapable of running away. he slowly puts his bike away, in no hurry to re-enter the house.
Maigret seems to be waiting for something to happen. And something does. From the window of the bathroom comes the click of an empty revolver being fired. Then there is the sound of a struggle.
Maigret enters the house and climbs the stairs. There are two people grappling on the floor: Pijpekamp and Barens, who suddenly stops and lets go of the revolver he is holding.

Chapitre 11 "La fenêtre éclairée"

Maigret hauls Barens to his feet and calls him an imbecile. Maigret is holding the revolver carelessly because it was he who had emptied it and loaded it with blanks.
Maigret asks the assembled company if they want to know the truth about this affair. He helps himself to a drink, then says first of all to Pijpekamp that it was too bad that his idea about covering up the crime didn't work:
"Nous sommes de pays différents, de races différentes... Et les climats sont différents."
Pijpekamp wanted to hush up the crime for the public good, to avoid scandal, to prevent a bad example being set by the bourgeoisie of the town. But he, Maigret, could not stop thinking about Popinga, dancing to jazz on the radio, under the eyes of his killer.
The sailor's cap, the cigar butt, even the revolver taken from Popinga's own night table, were too much. Red herrings. Too many clues.
The killing was premeditated. Maigret goes through the suspects, eliminating one by one Oosting, Beetje and Barens. That leaves Mme Popinga, Any and Duclos.
It could not have been Duclos because he could not have taken the sailor's cap on the road to Popinga's. Only Any could have done that. The cigar end could have been picked up anywhere. Any was the only one who was upstairs without anyone seeing her. But she has a good alibi: to get to the bathroom she would have had to pass through the bedrooms of either her sister or Duclos.
And why would she want to kill him? Maigret hypothesises that Popinga, with his appetite for life, had made advances to Any:
"Qu'importe qu'elle ne soit pas jolie?... C'est une femme... C'est la mystère..."
He does not claim that they became lovers, but Any fell in love with Popinga. She recognised Beetje as an enemy. She could share Popinga with her sister, but not with a lovely, young, vivacious girl who might tempt him into leaving.
Love and hate, a complex mixture of emotions that could lead to anything.
Any is intelligent. She knows about unsolved crimes and scientific approaches to crime, about making a murder look like the act of a prowler.
That night she saw Popinga and Beetje touching each other's hands at the lecture, walking together, drinking and dancing, leaving together on their bicycles.
She had made Mme Popinga stand at her window, telling her of her suspicions, then slipped past behind her back and into the bathroom. She had shot Popinga, then hid under the cover of the bath.
When Duclos and Mme Popinga rushed downstairs she emerged and followed them.
Oosting had seen her steal his cap, but kept quiet out of respect for his dead friend and because he, too, accepted the need for order, for stability, and to avoid scandal.
He told Barens to make the false statement about the mysterious sailor.
Liewens thought his daughter was guilty and when he thought that Maigret was going to arrest her, he tried to kill himself.
Barens thought that Mme Popinga must have fired the shot. She was like a mother to him, his own mother having recently died in a far-off land. He tried to kill Maigret to protect her, and would then have undoubtedly killed himself.


Maigret leaves Delfzijl alone on the 5h 5 early morning train. No one has thanked him for solving the murder.
He meets Beetje two years later in Paris. She has married well, and has children, but lets Maigret know that she is dissatisfied. Maigret asks about Any. Beetje tells him that she killed herself just before her trial.
The book ends:

Ce jour-la, à la Police Judiciaire, il trouva le moyen d'engeuler tous ses inspecteurs.


This is my favourite of the early Maigret novels.
First of all it is a very good detective story, employing many of the classic elements of the genre -- the list of suspects, the clues, the red herring, the gradual illumination of events and motives, the reconstruction of the crime with all the suspects gathered in a room to hear the detective's solution to the mystery.
But this novel goes so much deeper, delving into the realms of psychology, of society, of repression, and with wonderful stylistic flourishes of humour, of social satire, and of genuine empathy with people.
Simenon explores important themes in this novel. The main one is the conflict between those who live a solid, bourgeois existence and those who desire to live life to the full. To some extent this conflict is exemplified by the different lifestyles and cultures of Holland and France, though some of the Dutch characters, like Beetje and to a lesser extent Popinga, cross the line, prompted by the urgings of their own nature. It is interesting at the end of the novel to note that even Beetje, though dissatisfied, has become a plump bourgeoise who lives a comfortable existence as the wife of a respectable businessman.
These themes were undoubtedly very important and personal to Simenon. His taste for the bohemian as a youth contrasted with the strict, self-denying respectability of his mother. Perhaps his beloved father had some of Popinga's traits. Simenon's promiscuous lifestyle in Paris, apparently carried out in secrecy, his zest for life and all it offered, contrasted with the bourgeois world in which he might have become entrapped as a wealthy, respected author.
At the heart of the novel, of course, is Maigret, heavy, impassive, yet capable of sarcasm and contempt for fools, while also being capable of great empathy and always working his way pitilessly towards the truth.
In Chapter 10, Simenon writes of Maigret: "Peut-être ne fut-il jamais plus humain" than when he began to reconstruct the evening of the murder and describes, in fact almost seems to see, the killer watching her intended victim as he drank and laughed and danced. It is almost as if the killer is intent on extinguishing a life force.
It is this immense humanity which makes Maigret such an attractive character, and must go some way towards explaining the huge and continuing popularity of the novels.


Maigret in Delfzijl...
8/6/06 –

Maigret in Delfzijl
near Groningen, Netherlands

the setting for

George Simenon's

Maigret in Holland

Un crime en Hollande

"where Maigret was born..."

Joe Richards

August 4, 2006

Joe's photos of the Maigret statue are the best I've seen!


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