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Literature / Maigret

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Bruno Cremer, who portrayed Maigret on French television from 1991 to 2005. Often considered as the definitive portrayal.

If you are searching for a French answer to Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, look no further.

Parisian police commissioner Jules Maigret is Georges Simenon's most famous literary character, and a prime contender for the title of most famous fictional French detective (his author was Belgian, however).

The unflappable bourgeois sleuth starred in 75 novels and 28 short stories from 1931 to 1972, calmly smoking his pipe and using his knowledge of psychology and patient routine investigation to understand the motives of the people he investigated to solve his cases. As being part of the police implies, he's not a Private Detective, but his methods and results easily rival the genre's biggest names.

Maigret has been adapted for radio, film and television numerous times since the '30s in France and abroad including Italy, the UK and even Japan.

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Case Closed has Inspector Juzo Megure. The name comes from Tokyo Megure Keishi, a live-action series from The '70s adapting Maigret stories in Japan.

    Film Adaptations 
  • Night at the Crossroads (1932, France, directed by Jean Renoir), starring Pierre Renoir (Jean's brother).
  • The Yellow Dog (1932, France), starring Abel Tarride.
  • The French film trilogy starring Albert Préjean:
    • Signed, Picpus (1942)
    • Cecile is Dead (1943)
    • The Cellars of the Majestic (1944)
  • The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949, USA), starring Charles Laughton.
  • The French film trilogy starring Jean Gabin:
    • Maigret Sets a Trap (1958)
    • Maigret and the Saint-Fiacre Case (1959)
    • Maigret Sees Red (1963)
  • Maigret und sein größter Fall (1966, West Germany), starring Heinz Rühmann.
  • Maigret in Pigalle (1966, Italy), starring Gino Cervi.
  • Maigret (1988 TV film, UK), starring Richard Harris.
  • Maigret (2022, France-Belgium), starring Gérard Depardieu.

    TV Adaptations 
  • Maigret (1959-1963 series, UK), starring Rupert Davies, Simenon's favourite portrayal of the character.
  • The inquiries of the superintendent Maigret (1964-1972 series, Italy), starring Gino Cervi.
  • The Investigations of Commissioner Maigret (1967-1990 series, France), starring Jean Richard. The actor who has played the role the most.
  • Tokyo Megure Keishi (1978 series, Japan), set in Japan and starring Kinya Aikawa as Juzo Megure.
  • Maigret (1991-2005 series, France), starring Bruno Cremer. Second actor to have played the role the most, often considered as the definitive portrayal.
  • Maigret (1992-1993 series, UK), starring Michael Gambon.
  • Maigret (2016-2018 series, UK), starring Rowan Atkinson.

Maigret novels and short stories provide examples of the following tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: Maigret is quite the hard drinker.
  • Artistic License – Law Enforcement: The first books are filled with this regarding Parisian police, such as Maigret working at the Sûreté yet investigating cases outside of Paris or tailing suspects alone. Director of the Police Judiciaire Xavier Guichard invited Simenon at the 36, Quai des Orfèvres in Paris for a visit in the early 1930s to help him make his subsequent novels more accurate. This led Simenon to ditch the Sûreté and use the Préfecture de Paris instead.
  • Clear My Name: "Maigret Defends Himself" finds the Commissaire falsely accused of assault.
  • Courtroom Episode: "Maigret at the Coroner's" and "Maigret in Court". In the former, Maigret is a spectator to a case unfolding at the coroner's court in Arizona during an official trip to the United States. The latter begins with Maigret's involvement in the court proceedings in Paris following one of his own investigations.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Maigret smokes a pipe in direct contrast to most of the other characters' cigarette habits. If he's not smoking, he's almost invariably fiddling with his pipe in one way or another.
  • Happily Married: Maigret is happily married to his wife Louise (usually referred to as Madame Maigret in the narrative). This is in stark contrast to most later Police Procedural protagonists who tend to be either divorced or in unhappy marriages that are falling apart.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: In most cases, the key to the solution lies not in evidence or deduction, but in Maigret's strong ability to emphasize and feel into criminals to sense their motives, find their weak spots or give them trust in him.
  • Lead Police Detective: Maigret's job, though he goes investigating alone most of the time anyway.
  • Number Two: Sgt. Lucas is Maigret's right-hand man. Janvier and Lapointe, also act as this at times.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Judge Coméliau the Examining Magistrate. He disapproves of Maigret's unorthodox methods, and tends to make his job that much harder.
  • Origins Episode: "Maigret's First Case", which recounts the first criminal investigation Maigret ever undertook as a police secretary back in 1913. The early chapters of "Maigret's Memoirs" also count as they expand on Maigret's early years in the Police Judiciare.
  • Police Procedural: Maigret being a police commissaire turns his investigations into this.
  • Prequel: The 1948 novel La Première enquête de Maigret (Maigret's First Case) is set in 1913.
  • Psychological Thriller: Simenon had a keen interest in human psychology, and it shows. Maigret looking behind his suspects' motivations often makes a large part of the plot.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: In 1922, a man hung himself at the door handle of a church. Simenon had met the man the night before and brought the drunk person back to his home. It would inspire him to write the Maigret novel Le pendu de Saint-Pholien.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Maigret is transferred to the small-town Luçon for a period as punishment.
  • Serial Killer Baiting: In "Maigret Sets A Trap" a serial killer is menacing Paris. Maigret announces that he already caught the culprit and lets several female officers pose as bait to lure the killer out. The whole operation is considered highly risky and born out of desperation. After an officer survives an encounter with the killer, the killer leaves behind key evidence that leads Maigret to him. It's fair to say that this story is the most famous one in the Maigret canon, as it has been adapted to screen multiple times, including as the first episode of Maigret.
  • Sidekick: Maigret has a quartet of loyal colleagues, known as his "faithful four": right-hand man Lucas, devoted family man Janvier, the youthful Lapointe and the imposing Torrence.
  • Signature Headgear: Maigret often wears a hat. In the first stories he wore a bowler, but then fashion changed, and he traded it for fedoras, and most adaptations followed suit.
  • Smoking Is Cool: You can't separate Maigret from his pipe. This was due to Simenon famously having one himself.
  • Vacation Episode: Numerous examples:
    • "The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien" (Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Germany)
    • "A Crime in Holland" (Delfzijl, The Netherlands)
    • "Maigret in New York" (New York, U.S.A.)
    • "Maigret at the Coroner's" (Arizona, U.S.A.)
    • "Maigret Travels" (Switzerland)

Adaptations provide examples of the following tropes:

  • Adapted Out: Most adaptations usually omit at least one of Maigret's "Faithful Four", usually Torrence. Sometimes they are present, but are Demoted to Extra, or become He Who Must Not Be Seen.
  • Continuity Reboot: In 1990, actor Jean Richard learned that his Maigret series was discontinued when opening a newspaper. The Bruno Cremer one started the next year.
  • Setting Update: The book series stretched from 1930s to the early 1970s, and Simenon made sure fashion and technology evolved accordingly. The preferred setting in most adaptations meanwhile is clearly the 1950s. Particularly prominent in the Bruno Cremer and Rowan Atkinson series, which change the setting of early Maigret stories from the 1930s to the 1950s.
  • Shown Their Work: The Bruno Cremer series boasted a near perfect recreation of the 1950s in ambience, fashion, technology and the like.
  • Truer to the Text: Out of the two major French series, the Bruno Cremer series was praised for sticking the closest to the character, whereas the Jean Richard version often deviated significantly.