A moving novel about the destructive power of greed starring the unrivaled Inspector Maigret
“Poor Cécile! And yet she was still young. Maigret had seen her papers: barely twenty-eight years old. But it would be difficult to look more like an old maid, to move less gracefully, in spite of the care she took to be friendly and pleasant. Those black dresses that she must make for herself from bad paper patterns, that ridiculous green hat!”
In the dreary suburbs of Paris, the merciless greed of a seemingly respectable woman is unearthed by her long suffering niece, and Maigret discovers the far-reaching consequences of their actions.
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About the Author
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CÉCILE IS DEADTranslated by Anthea Bell
About the Author
EXTRA: Chapter 1 from The Cellars of the MajesticABOUT THE AUTHOR
Georges Simenon was born on 12 February 1903 in Liège, Belgium, and died in 1989 in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he had lived for the latter part of his life. Between 1931 and 1972 he published seventy-five novels and twenty-eight short stories featuring Inspector Maigret.
Simenon always resisted identifying himself with his famous literary character, but acknowledged that they shared an important characteristic:
My motto, to the extent that I have one, has been noted often enough, and I’ve always conformed to it. It’s the one I’ve given to old Maigret, who resembles me in certain points … ‘understand and judge not’.
Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels.
PENGUIN CLASSICSCécile is Dead
‘I love reading Simenon. He makes me think of Chekhov’
– William Faulkner
‘A truly wonderful writer … marvellously readable – lucid, simple, absolutely in tune with the world he creates’
– Muriel Spark
‘Few writers have ever conveyed with such a sure touch, the bleakness of human life’
– A. N. Wilson
‘One of the greatest writers of the twentieth century … Simenon was unequalled at making us look inside, though the ability was masked by his brilliance at absorbing us obsessively in his stories’
‘A novelist who entered his fictional world as if he were part of it’
– Peter Ackroyd
‘The greatest of all, the most genuine novelist we have had in literature’
– André Gide
‘Superb … The most addictive of writers … A unique teller of tales’
‘The mysteries of the human personality are revealed in all their disconcerting complexity’
– Anita Brookner
‘A writer who, more than any other crime novelist, combined a high literary reputation with popular appeal’
– P. D. James
‘A supreme writer … Unforgettable vividness’
‘Compelling, remorseless, brilliant’
– John Gray
‘Extraordinary masterpieces of the twentieth century’
– John Banville
The pipe that Detective Chief Inspector Maigret lit on coming out of his door in Boulevard Richard-Lenoir was even more delicious than usual. The first fog of the season was as pleasant a surprise as the first snow for children, especially when it was not that nasty yellowish fog you see on certain winter days, but a misty, milky vapour with halos of light in it. The air was fresh. The ends of your fingers and your nose tingled on a day like this, and the soles of your shoes clicked smartly on the road.
Hands in the pockets of his large velvet-collared overcoat, famous at Quai des Orfèvres and still smelling slightly of mothballs, his bowler hat well down on his head, Maigret made his way to the Police Judiciaire on foot, at his leisure, and was amused when a girl suddenly shot out of the fog at a run and collided with his dark, solid form.
‘Oh, I’m sorry, sir.’
And she set off just as fast to catch her bus or Métro train.
It seemed as if all of Paris was enjoying the fog that morning, just like Inspector Maigret, and only the tugboats on the Seine hoarsely announced their uneasiness.
A memory was to stick in his mind for no good reason: he had just crossed Place de la Bastille on his way to Boulevard Henri-IV. He was passing a little bistro. The door opened, because it was the first time this season that the chill in the air had made the cafés close their doors. In passing, Maigret walked through a gust of aromatic air that was, to him, the quintessence of the Parisian dawn: the smell of good white coffee, hot croissants and just a touch of rum. He guessed that behind the steamed-up windows ten, fifteen or twenty customers were sitting at the metal counter, enjoying their first meal of the day before hurrying off to work.
At nine o’clock precisely, he reached the vaulted entrance of the Police Judiciaire building and climbed the vast and ever-dusty staircase at the same time as several colleagues. As he reached the first floor he automatically glanced through the waiting-room windows and on recognizing Cécile, sitting on one of the chairs upholstered in green velour, he scowled.
Or rather, to be absolutely frank, he adopted a deliberately curmudgeonly expression.
‘Hey, Maigret, there she is!’
The speaker was Cassieux, head of the Drug Squad, coming upstairs just after him. And the joke would go on, just as it always did when Cécile visited the office.
Maigret tried to get past without being seen. How long had she been there? She was capable of staying put for hours in the same place, motionless, her hands folded on top of her bag, her ridiculous green hat always tilted slightly sideways on her rather too carefully arranged hair.
Of course she spotted the inspector and sprang to her feet. Her mouth opened. She was inaudible because of the glazed partition, but she must be sighing, ‘At last!’
Shoulders hunched, Maigret hurried to his office at the end of the corridor. The clerk came over to tell him …
‘I know, I know,’ growled Maigret. ‘I don’t have time at the moment.’
Because of the fog, he had to switch on the lamp with its green shade on his desk. He took off his overcoat, his hat, looked at the stove, thinking that if it was as chilly as this tomorrow he would ask to have it lit, and then, after rubbing his cold hands together, sat down heavily, with a growl of contentment, and took the telephone off the hook.
‘Hello … is that the Vieux Normand café? … Will you get me Monsieur Janvier, please? … Hello, is that you, Janvier?’
Inspector Janvier would have been sitting in that little café-restaurant in Rue Saint-Antoine since seven in the morning, keeping watch on the Hôtel des Arcades.
‘They’re all back in the nest, boss. The woman went out half an hour ago to buy bread, butter and a quarter kilo of ground coffee. She’s just back.’
‘Is Lucas in position?’
‘I saw him at the window when I got here.’
‘Right, Jourdan will be along to relieve you. Not too frozen, I hope?’
‘A bit chilly. Not too bad.’
Maigret smiled, thinking of the change in Sergeant Lucas, who had transformed himself into a disabled old man four days ago. It was a case of keeping watch on the gang of Poles, five or six of them, who were staying in a squalid room in the squalid Hôtel des Arcades. There was no evidence against them, except that one of them, known as the Baron, had paid at the tote on Longchamp racecourse with one of the banknotes stolen from the Vansittart farm.
The members of the gang moved around Paris with no obvious purpose, but they met in Rue de Birague, and the central figure there was a young woman; the police hadn’t yet worked out whose mistress she was, or what exactly her role was in the gang.
At the window of an apartment opposite, muffled up in scarves, Lucas was keeping watch on them from morning to evening in his disguise.
Maigret rose to empty his pipe in the coal scuttle. He chose another from the desk, where he kept quite a collection, caught sight of the form that Cécile had filled in and was about to read what she had written, but at that moment a bell rang in the corridor and went on ringing.
The briefing! He snatched up the files he had ready and, along with all the other departmental heads, went to the office of the commissioner of the Police Judiciaire. This little ritual took place every morning. The commissioner had long white hair and a goatee beard like a musketeer’s. Everyone shook hands.
‘Did you see her?’
Maigret looked surprised.
‘Cécile! Now if I was Madame Maigret …’
Poor Cécile! And yet she was still young. Maigret had seen her papers: barely twenty-eight years old. But it would be difficult to look more like an old maid, to move less gracefully, no matter how hard she tried to be pleasing. Those black dresses that she must make for herself from bad paper patterns, that ridiculous green hat! It was impossible to perceive any feminine allure under all that. Her face was too pale, and she had a slight squint into the bargain.
‘She’s cross-eyed,’ claimed Inspector Cassieux.
He was exaggerating; she wasn’t exactly cross-eyed. It was just that her left eye didn’t look in quite the same direction as her right eye.
She would arrive at eight in the morning, already resigned to her fate. ‘Detective Chief Inspector Maigret, please.’
‘I don’t know if he’ll be in this morning. You could see Inspector Berger, who …’
‘No, thank you. I’ll wait.’
And wait she did, all day, without moving, without any sign of impatience, suddenly leaping up, as if she were a prey to emotion, when the inspector came upstairs.
‘I tell you, old friend, she’s in love with you.’
The officers stayed on their feet. They chatted about this and that at first, and then, almost imperceptibly, got down to work.
‘How’s the Pélican case going, Cassieux? Any news?’
‘I’ve called in the manager for ten o’clock. He’ll have to talk.’
‘Go carefully, will you? He has a parliamentary deputy protecting him, and I don’t want a lot of fuss. What about your Poles, Maigret?’
‘I’m still waiting. I’m planning to investigate their hideout myself tonight. If there’s nothing new tomorrow I’ll try to have a heart-to-heart with the woman.’
A nasty bunch. Three crimes committed within six months, all at isolated farms in the north of the country. Coarse, brutal banditry, axe murders …
The fog was turning golden. Electric light wasn’t necessary now. The commissioner of the Police Judiciaire drew a file towards him. ‘If you have a moment this morning, Maigret … here’s some research into family interests. A young man of nineteen, the son of a large industrialist, who …’
‘Let me have a look.’
The briefing went on for half an hour, while the air in the room was filled with pipe and cigarette smoke, and was interrupted from time to time by phone calls.
‘Yes, sir … certainly, minister.’
And there was a constant racket of police officers coming and going in the huge corridor, doors opening and closing, telephone conversations in the offices.
Maigret, his file under his arm, went back to his own office. He was thinking of the gang of Poles. Automatically, he put the file down on the form that Cécile had filled in. Almost as soon as he was sitting down, the clerk knocked on his door.
‘It’s about that girl …’
‘Are you going to see her?’
‘In a little while.’
Excerpted from "Cécile Is Dead"
Copyright © 2015 Georges Simenon.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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