My first Maigret and the first Maigret.
It was interesting to see many of the existentialist themes with which Simenon grapples in his other work here in a procedural format. While the noir genre does deal with anxieties about identity and gender, in Simenon’s hands noir is a cultural critique of all of these anxieties brought to a head between the two World Wars.In Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett, Maigret faces the brick wall most detective face: circumstantial evidence. While he tries to amass concrete evidence against Pietr Lett, a known criminal on paper but whose life is too clean to place him under arrest, Simenon personalizes Maigret: we see his penchant for cigar smoking and standing too close to stoves for warmth; we see him using his physical body as part of the questioning process; we see him caring for his colleagues and yet also worried that this somehow shows a crack in the veneer of his masculinity. I imagine these are all traits Simenon uses to further make Maigret a real personage to readers in the rest of the Maigret books.While trying to collect information, Maigret faces a case of mixed, doubled, and uncertain identities; this is something Simenon spends a lot of time on—and he even does this in his non-Maigret books, at least from those that I’ve read—for the way identity is shattered and destabilized in this specific time period in France. Simenon’s strength as a writer of detective fiction/police procedurals speaks to his talent evident elsewhere with regard to pacing, an insistence on alienating the reader to underscore the characters’ states of alienation, and a deft manipulation of a fictional personal crisis into an metacommentary of a very real national one.