Sympathy for a Burglar

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Maigret and the Idle Burglar By (author) Georges SimenonAlthough he is technically working outside his usual area of command, Maigret is interested in the murder of a man he thinks he once knew. A little checking proves him right – the man is a known burglar. No-one else seems concerned about the man’s death, but Maigret is intrigued – the man worked alone and quietly and Maigret can’t understand why anyone would want him dead. Then another case comes along – the theft of a large sum of money and the death of one of the gang involved – and Maigret’s superiors want him to concentrate on that. But he can’t leave well alone. The burglar left a mother who is now without financial support – surely he wouldn’t have died without making provisions for her? Can he solve both cases without getting into trouble? One of the best known fictional detectives, Maigret is a man getting on in years and is frequently annoyed by the new regulations that the police in France have to follow. He tries as hard as possible to get round these regulations, while not annoying his superiors. Married, he is deeply attached to his wife, who seems to be able to read him like a book, and he is looking forward to retirement and spending more time with her – although he knows he will miss his job dreadfully. I do like him as a character, but I can’t help but feel that a little more character development would make him more rounded. As it is, we learn very little new about him from book to book and, after reading a few of the books in the series, he begins to seem a little dull. The rest of the characters are even more undeveloped than Maigret. Unlike most detectives, who have a side-kick, or maybe even a team of side-kicks, Maigret seems to work largely alone – or at least his colleagues aren’t involved in the story all that much. They seem to exist purely to make the story work, but I would have liked a little more insight into their lives, and understanding their relationship with Maigret would have helped me understand him a little more deeply. As it is, I struggle to remember any of their names because they just aren’t important to the story. Maigret seems to have more of an affection for the dead burglar than anyone else, which is hard to understand when he was a career criminal. Maigret makes it a priority to find out what happened to him, believing that he didn’t deserve to die quite so horribly. The author, Georges Simenon, is a competent writer; I have read a number of his books featuring Maigret and I can understand why they are so popular. However, his stories can be rather dull and read as though they were put together sloppily. Whereas Agatha Christie’s plots, for example, stand out in my mind long after I have read them, Simenon’s plots are much less exciting. In this particular case, the crimes are really nothing more than a report of fairly everyday occurrences, which isn’t even tempered by interesting characters. I find it hard to remember the plots of any of the previous books I’ve read, and I’m fairly sure that it is going to be the same with this one. It is also hard to place the time in which the story is set – the book was first published in 1961, but because of the lack of any kind of description, it could more or less be any period. The same refers to the setting of Paris – it could be more or less any capital city.

“If you are a fan of crime fiction, but don’t like long, intricate reads, then this book may well be perfect for you.”

As with many of Simenon’s other books, the ending seems rather abrupt and unfinished. The crime is solved, as far as it can be, then that’s it. I’m not a fan of long, drawn-out descriptions, especially in crime fiction, but a little more would have been welcome. Then again, the story was so underwhelming that perhaps overall it wasn’t such a bad thing. It almost feels as if the author has been forced to write so many books in a certain length of time and that he is actually sick to death of the character and just wants to get it down on paper and to the publisher. A little more effort would have been deeply appreciated. Despite all the criticisms, the Maigret and the Idle Burglar is entertaining enough and filled a few hours pleasantly. The prose flows well and in a way, the shortness of the book (my copy is only about 130 pages long) is an advantage in that it is perfect for those who don’t have the concentration to read long books. And although each time I read a Maigret book, I am slightly disappointed, I’m still willing to keep reading them, so it can’t be all that bad. The book was originally written in French, so I have read a translation – the English, however, is so perfect that it is impossible to tell it wasn’t the original language. If you are a fan of crime fiction, but don’t like long, intricate reads, then this book may well be perfect for you. Keep your expectations low and then you shouldn’t be too disappointed. Three stars out of five. Published by Penguin Books, it has 144 pages.

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Maigret and the Idle Burglar
by Georges Simenon

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Written by sunmeilan

My background is varied. I studied Chinese at Durham University in the UK, Renmin University in Beijing and Nanjing University. I then lived in China for many years, before returning to the UK to study criminology at the London School of Economics, from where I have a Masters. I have published articles on drug treatment and the criminal justice system. Although I have now left this field, I do enjoy crime fiction and reviewing books from this genre. I also have a strong interest in Chinese modern fiction.

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