Maigret, Lognon and the Gangsters by Georges Simenon is the 39th book in the Maigret series, where Maigret goes up against a group of American gangsters and finds he just might have met his match.
Maigret, Lognon and the Gangsters (aka Maigret and the Killers) was the novel that made me a Maigret fan. I think I’d read a couple of Georges Simenon’s later efforts in the series and found them a little stale. Which is fair. Any series that runs to well over 70 installments is going to produce some duds. Like Picasso supposedly told André Malraux, “You can’t be a sorcerer all day long.”
With Maigret and the Killers (if you’ll excuse me for using the snappier American title of the old pulp version I know best), Simenon was working his magic. This is a classic installment in the series and a great place for newbies to begin. Fast, exciting, and compulsively readable, it is Simenon and Maigret at their best.
The book opens with Maigret fielding a phone call from the distraught wife of Detective Lognon, “the most dismal man on the Paris police force.” Madame Lognon’s husband has gone missing. There’s no love lost between the famous Maigret and his bitter colleague—“Lognon detested him. Lognon detested everyone who was a grade above him.”—but Madame Lognon’s story gets the Inspector’s attention when she tells him that soon after her husband disappeared, some men burst into their home. One man held a gun to her while the other searched the apartment. Neither men spoke French, and when they seemed satisfied that they would not find whatever it was they were searching for, they left.
Maigret’s search for Lognon and his attempt to unravel the mystery of the gun-toting strangers leads him into conflict with a different kind of adversary: the professional gangster. He discovers that the gang he’s chasing includes two killers, Charlie Cinaglia and Tony Cicero, and a slippery conman named Sweet Bill Larner. The gangsters are from St. Louis, and they’ve come to Paris to track down and kill another American, a gangster-turned-state’s witness called Sloppy Joe Mascarelli.
In some ways, this turn of events makes Maigret and the Killers a change of pace in the series. These American criminals are a different breed of crook than the good inspector is used to. At one point in the novel, he notes that he’s used to dealing with nonprofessionals. Most killers are, after all, amateurs. None of these thugs seem to have the slightest fear of operating openly in Paris, right under the nose of France’s most famous lawman. This is imported American crime: arrogant, brazen, and violent.
Maigret’s investigation leads him to an Italian restaurant called Pozzo’s, an Americanized joint that seems to have been airlifted right from New York:
Pozzo’s was not like a Paris restaurant. It reminded Maigret of the ones you find on many streets off Broadway. It was so dimly lighted it took some time before you could distinguish anything, leaving the faces floating in a kind of chiaroscuro.
The owner, Pozzo himself, is a shady character who seems to know everyone involved in the messy affair of Detective Lognon and the American gangsters. Pozzo tells Maigret, in blunt terms, that he’s out of his element dealing with the Americans. Best to let them finish their business so they can leave without hurting Maigret or his men. This suggestion does not sit well with the good inspector.
But it isn’t simply the morally suspect Pozzo who tries to warn Maigret. Later in the book, he runs into another restaurateur who explains it to him this way:
“You can’t understand. Here you don’t have any real criminal organizations like the ones over there. You don’t even have real killers. Supposing a crook in Paris went around to the storekeepers in his neighborhood and explained that they were in need of protection… The storekeeper would go right to the police, wouldn’t he? Or he would laugh in the man’s face. Well in America, no one laughs and only fools go to the police. Because if they do, or if they don’t pay up, a bomb explodes in their store or they’re riddled with machine-gun bullets on their way home.”
Maigret isn’t dissuaded by all this talk of the big, bad American gangsters, though there will be blood on the streets before he wraps up his case and returns the grumpy Detective Lognon back to the safekeeping of his longsuffering wife.
Maigret, Lognon and the Gangsters (which, released in 1952, was the 39th entry in the Maigret series) is Simenon operating at the peak of his powers as a master entertainer.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Jake Hinkson is the author of several books, including the novel No Tomorrow and the essay collection The Blind Alley: Exploring Film Noir's Forgotten Corners.