Maigret at the Coroner's
PublisherPenguin Classics
Date Published02 June 2016
Price£ 7.99

Maigret at the Coroner's

by Georges Simenon

Maigret, visiting the United States to familiarise himself with American police methods, finds himself a spectator at a coroner’s inquest into the death of a young woman.


Two years previously Maigret had entertained a colleague from Scotland Yard who was in Paris to study his methods. It is now Maigret’s turn to undertake a trip to the United States and to be chaperoned by an FBI officer.

When the novel opens Maigret has already been escorted round several states and has acquired a number of honorary deputy sheriff’s badges. In Tucson his guide, Cole, has introduced him to an inquest into the death of a young girl in the desert. He has, of course, no part to play in the proceedings, which largely involve five soldiers from a nearby military base. They had been entertaining the girl in a Tucson bar and when it closed they had decided to take her over the border into Nogales, where they would be able to drink until the early hours. They never managed to reach there and somehow the girl is hit by a train, though whether she was dead or not before that happened is a matter of dispute.

It is a complex story, so much so that the reader has difficulty in following the intricate details. Perhaps Simenon recognised this because he takes the very unusual step of including drawings in the text in an effort at clarification. In spite of this, however, by the time the hearing ends it is by no means clear precisely what happened, nor even whether any crime had been committed.

This does not surprise Maigret, who had been feeling all along that the essential questions were not being asked. The ending is rather unsatisfactory in that Maigret has to leave before the coroner’s jury has reached its verdict. Perhaps Simenon is suggesting by this that the details of the girl’s death could not be established – not the kind of conclusion we have come to expect from a Maigret investigation.

If the plot is less than gripping, not to mention a little tortuous, there is compensation in the form of Maigret’s reflections on the difference between France and America. In particular, the chapter entitled The Man who wound Clocks sums up Maigret’s reactions to life in Paris compared with that in an American city. He concludes that, whilst poverty does exist in the United States, it is ‘poverty with bathrooms.’ Nobody is in rags or unwashed, there are no beggars and people are in general strong, well-fed and healthy.

On the other hand, whilst from the point of view of physical comfort American life is better, there is – perhaps paradoxically - a large amount of crime and little sense of community. Everybody seems to drink far too much – not openly, as on a café terrace in France, but almost furtively, shut away from the eyes of others, ‘as if satisfying some shameful need.’

This is by no means a typical Maigret story, perhaps because of the foreign setting - a criticism that could also be made of Maigret in New York. The new reader, looking to become familiar with the famous detective, would do better to choose one showing him at home in Paris.

Reviewed 04 February 2017 by Arnold Taylor