published in France 1950
this translation 2016 Howard Curtis
[Madame Maigret tells her husband, to his great surprise, that she has been out doing some detecting for him: because she met the woman at the heart of the case]
‘What were you looking for?’
‘The hat, of course! Hadn’t you got that? The business of the hat was bothering me. I didn’t think it was a job for men. A tailored suit is a tailored suit, especially a blue tailored suit. But a hat, now that’s different, and I’d had a good look at that one. White hats have been in fashion for some weeks now. But one hat is never exactly the same as another. Don’t you see?
‘I knew perfectly well it wasn’t a hat from one of the top milliners, so there was no point looking in Rue de la Paix, Rue Saint-Honoré or Avenue Matignon. Besides, in those shops, they don’t put anything in the windows and I’d have had to go in and pretend to be a customer. Can you see me trying on hats at Caroline Reboux or Rose Valois?
‘But it wasn’t a hat from the Galeries or Printemps either. Something in the middle. Still a hat by a milliner, and a fairly good milliner.
‘That was why I did all the little shops, especially around Place d’Anvers, anyway not too far from there. ‘I must have seen about a hundred white hats, but it was a pearl grey hat that caught my attention in the end, at Hélène et Rosine in Rue Caumartin. It was exactly the same, but in another colour. I was sure I was right. I told you that the hat the woman with the little boy was wearing had a very small veil, two or three centimetres wide, falling just over her eyes.’
commentary: Hat detection!
I am endlessly grateful to my friend Jose Ignacio Scribano for pointing this out to me. He is working his way through the Maigret books – and enjoying them very much – and when he reached this one on his highly recommended blog A Crime is Afoot, he gave me a very nice shoutout, and told me I should read it…
So now I am going to quote from his very helpful words about the book (it includes very kind praise of my blog, which after some thought I decided to leave in…)
Madame Maigret’s Friend is what we called nowadays a police procedural and it is of interest to highlight that in this book, as suggested in its title, Madame Maigret plays a much more significant role than usual in other novels of the series. Besides, there is an element in the story, a woman’s hat, which has reminded me of Moira Redmond and her blog Clothes In Books. By the way, if you still don’t know this blog I would like to suggest you pay it a visit, I’m sure that you will not be disappointed. Anyway, in this instalment, Simenon brilliantly portrays life in the Paris of the era, with a refined and sober prose, his usual trademark, and, at the same time, he describes very well Maigret’s efforts to solve a hard-to-tackle mystery…The end result is a highly stylish and an extremely interesting story that I really enjoyed reading.
A very good description.
Madame Maigret has a strange experience on her way to a series of dentists’ appointments – she meets the same woman each time:
The woman was there, just as on the other mornings, in her blue tailored suit and that little white hat that looked so fetching on her and was so springlike.--but one day the woman suddenly disappears, leaving Mme Maigret with her child. She swoops by and collects the child several hours later, but gives no explanation, and takes off again.
This odd incident somehow seems to connect up with a strange case her husband is investigating: there are reports that a bookbinder has been disposing of a body in his little tucked-away shop. But the story is obviously a complex one, and Maigret is under considerable pressure. And what on earth was going on with the woman in the white hat?
Madame Maigret is usually shown as an efficient and understanding housewife, one who is very concerned with making a proper cooked lunch each day for her husband and then being abandoned while he works late on his cases – so it is a pleasant change for her to have such a big role, and she is very successful in her detection. She finds out exactly who the hat was bought by, and on chasing that down Maigret gets a big breakthrough in his case.
As Jose Ignacio says, the book really brings out the atmosphere of 1950 Paris. All suitcases are brown, and the Maigrets go to the cinema for entertainment, though not often enough for Madame - they discuss it:
They argued a little, just for fun.Isn’t that a lovely sentence? - showing their relationship in seven words, an idea recognizable to most couples. And then there's this:
Madame Maigret must have gone back to bed, as she sometimes did on Sundays, but only to give a little more of a Sunday feeling, because she was incapable of falling asleep again.Again, a character in a sentence.
The bookbinder’s wife, Fernande, gives this fascinating detail about her washing arrangements:
‘Once a week, in summer, and once every two weeks in winter, I go to the laundry boat on the Seine.’
‘Square du Vert-Galant. You know, just below the Pont-Neuf. It takes me half a day. The next day, I go and pick up the washing. By then, it’s dry and ready to iron.’I'd never heard of this, but apparently it was a feature of Paris life. This is a picture of a laundry boat by Raoul Dufy, from much earlier, 1904:
And Maigret visits a certain kind of hotel:
In that kind of establishment, they usually kept the rooms on the first floor for passing trade: couples who only needed them for an hour or less. ‘There are always the “casual” rooms,’ she replied, using the established term.Simenon was bizarrely prolific: he wrote hundreds of books, including 75 about Inspector Maigret. I always enjoy them when I read them – I might have read about a dozen books by him – but that output makes the mind boggle, I am not contemplating reading them all. So kudos to Jose Ignacio for tackling Maigret, and thanks again to him for telling me to read this one.
Hat picture – Paris, 1951 – from the Clover Vintage tumblr.
Woman in navy & white, same source.