The Flemish House
PublisherPenguin Classics
Date Published04 November 2014
 
 
ISBN-100141394773
ISBN-13978-0141394770
Formatpaperback
Pages160
Price£ 6.99

The Flemish House

by Georges Simenon

During a windswept January, Maigret makes an unofficial trip to the Belgian border to investigate the disappearance of a young woman.


Review

At the request of one of his wife’s relatives, Maigret departs for Givet, a small town on the Meuse, where a young woman has disappeared. It is a cold, wet and blustery January and the river is so rough that barges are confined to the piers.

He has no official standing in the case, but his reputation as a big shot from Paris has proceeded him. The Peeters family he has come to help are Flemings, and better-off than the local French, who suspect that Maigret has come to help save the Peeters from a crime - doing away with a local woman who stands in the way of marriage of the favoured son Joseph to a cousin.

The most striking person in the Peeters family is Anna, a strong personality who dominates the house: the parents and two sisters as well as her brother. Anna had a brief fling with the brother of the missing girl, Germaine Piedboeuf, and after rejection hates the family. Germaine leaves a three-year-old son by Joseph, and was last seen entering the Peeters house, some three weeks prior to Maigret’s arrival.

It is difficult to argue with the locals in their assignment of responsibility for the crime with the Peeters, since they are the clearest beneficiaries of her death, and suicide seems unlikely. But the family seems to be the epitome of respectability, and a bargee seems to be involved: could he be responsible?

Simenon sets the scene with his usual mastery, and a few pages are enough to convey a picture of a town robbed of all colour by the grey weather, with the massive form of Maigret in a damp overcoat doing the rounds to pick up the gossip and absorb the ambience. It is within the Peeters household that Simenon really shows his skills, conveying the atmosphere and the personalities of the family members with brief telling brush-strokes.

By the end of Maigret’s brief stay, the detective has satisfied himself as to the chain of events and the reader too understands. The surprise comes with Maigret’s decision as regards the official investigation: as in many other cases Maigret is prepared to see the law confounded if he is happier with another outcome. In this particular instance, some may regard his attitude as questionable.

Reviewed 21 November 2015 by Chris Roberts