Death of a Nobody


My second advent story is Georges Simenon’s Death of a Nobody, a title which offers little in the way of Yuletide cheer despite originating in the collection Maigret’s Christmas. In fact there’s not a bauble in sight, with Simenon going out of his way to tell us it was a hot August day (clearly the Trades Description Act was not in force in 1976 when it was first translated by Jean Stewart). It is, though, the bleak mid-summer with Simenon outdoing himself to emphasise the depressing nature of the murdered man’s life. Take, for example, his wife:

“…her air of desolation was not due to the tragedy. Even on the portrait she wore a weary resigned look, as though she bore all the weight of the world on her shoulders.”

Maigret sums it up:

“’Poor beggar.’
Not because he was dead but because he had lived!”

(Simenon is often cagey about revealing Maigret’s thoughts, but he is a master at using the exclamation mark to do so). As the title reveals, the central question is why a man so unassuming and unimportant should be murdered at all. That he has been shot from anther building, apparently by an experienced marksman, only adds to the mystery.

Of course there’s more to the victim than first meets the eye but interestingly, given that the story is only a third of the length of Simenon’s already short novels, Maigret’s discovery of what happened relies on patience as much as action.

Death of a Nobody includes a second story which also showcases Maigret’s patience, ‘The Man in the Street’. Here Simenon cleverly creates a thrilling story by removing almost all action. Identifying a suspect, Maigret begins to tail him, a game of cat and mouse which continues for days, with the man he is following fully aware of Maigret’s presence.

Penguin is currently publishing the entire series of Maigret novels in order. Hopefully this will include the short stories.

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8 Responses to “Death of a Nobody”

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    I read “Death of a Nobody” for the 1947 Club and I thought it was excellent. I love the way he says so much so concisely and so atmospherically.

    • 1streading Says:

      One of the things I admire about Simenon’s novels are their brevity – especially compared to much modern crime fiction. To achieve this in a short story is even more impressive.

  2. JacquiWine Says:

    Ah, the ever-reliable Maigret – what an enjoyable way to end the working week. It’s hard to imagine him in the height of summer as I always associate these stories with the drizzly rain of Paris in autumn or winter.

  3. winstonsdad Says:

    I just brought an old copy of two of his novels

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