18 February 2011


First published in France 1955
Translated from French by Eileen Ellenbogen
This edition: Chivers Press Large Print 1990
238 pages
ISBN 0-7451-1079-7

Blurb from back cover
Two brothers find a grisly package clinging to the propeller of their barge in the Canal de Saint Martins, and by the time Maigret arrives most of a mysterious corpse has been assembled, except the head. The search shifts from finding the missing piece to finding a motive, as the Inspector's keen mind gathers clues from the torso which lead to a trio of suspects. A flash of intuition linking the principal suspect's sordid life to the whereabouts of the victim on his last day alive brings the case near its end but starts Maigret thinking about the reason for the crime.

My take:
This is one of the Maigret novels that demonstrates quite clearly how timeless an author Simenon was.
The discovery of body pieces without a head, thus making identification very difficult, is a scenario explored by a number of crime fiction authors since. In fact I have some books reviewed here in MiP:
    PRIME CUT, Alan Carter And then they are called to a murder scene, at HopeToun: a headless torso in the shallows on the beach. The local policewoman is Senior Sergeant Tess Maguire, recovering from sick leave after being beaten up. ... 
    SKELETON HILL, Peter Lovesey The bone discovered during the battle is re-discovered by three rescue dogs, and is found to belong to a headless corpse. Forensics tells Peter Diamond, Head of Bath CID, that not only are the bones not old, but the skeleton is female,
    THE SIMIAN CURVE, Mark Lalbeharry First of all when young Hattie Locke becomes stuck in a narrow walkway between two lockup garages in London, a headless corpse is discovered. Hundreds of kilometres away in a Frankfurt court, the charges against small time villain ...
It is a case just made for Maigret who worries tenaciously at identifying the corpse, and once he thinks he has that nailed, takes the focus to who killed him and why.
Another theme that emerges, that we tend to see frequently in more modern novels, is how the case takes over Maigret's thinking, and indeed his whole life. It serves to illustrate what a special person Madame Maigret is, in that this doesn't cause a marriage breakdown, but instead evokes a sort of sympathy from her, as she realises he is even eating without tasting.

THE HEADLESS CORPSE illustrates how, like Sherlock Holmes in many ways, Maigret can assemble minute observations and then make an intuitive leap that generates a bigger question.

My rating: 4.5

I am listing this book in my 2011 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge and of course among my "translated" books.

1 comment:

Joe Barone said...

Oh, my! How much I enjoyed Maigret. I think I once read all of them or at least almostall of them.


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