Taking a bit of a wander back through some of the classic crime fiction authors, I've been reading a few Simenon's. In Maigret's Boyhood Friend, Inspector Maigret receives a visit from his old school friend Leon Florentin. Florentin had been the class clown, and despite only seeing him once since their childhood, Maigret can remember him well. Now, although, nobody is laughing as Florentin's mistress has been shot dead in her apartment, whilst Florentin was there and, not surprisingly, he is now the prime suspect in her murder.
MAIGRET AND THE IDLE BURGLAR - Georges Simenon
From the Book: Is Chief-Inspector Maigret the only person concerned by the death of a thief?
A burglar is found battered to death on a mid-winter's night in Paris. the victim was murdered, stripped of all ID and thrown from a car on to the icy streets, yet his criminal background has Maigret's superiors eager to dismiss the killing as an underworld vendetta. Certainly nothing the police should concern themselves with, especially when they are supposed to be on the trail of a gang of armed robbers.
There is an awful lot to like about Maigret in AND THE IDLE BURGLAR. Despite dreadful facial injuries, Maigret knows the identity of this man instantly from a single tattoo on his body. The victim, Cuendet, is well known to him. He's a career burglar - a Swiss man, who started out very young as a run of the mill burglar; graduating after a period in the Foreign Legion to an extremely professional, cautious and studied burglar. He has a particular method - he carefully cases out a target, using the newspapers and social magazines to pick a victim; frequently moving into a room or hotel nearby so that he can carefully watch his intended target. He often enters houses when the victims are home, quietly leaving with their jewelery or money, not even waking up the householders. He causes no damage, he lives very simply - he even hoards a lot of his booty. And he has earned a grudging respect from Maigret. Maigret is therefore deeply aggrieved when the French Justice system decides that there are bigger fish to fry than solve a seeming underworld vendetta.
But the French Justice system is currently upside down as far as Maigret is concerned - the police don't control their own actions - Public Prosecutors now control the priorities and methods of investigation, and that is causing a lot of resentment in long-term career Police. So whilst he is seemingly concentrating on finding a gang of hold-up men - because Justice is now obsessed with crime against money - not violence against people in Maigret's opinion - he also quietly works on solving the killing of Cuendet.
In the days before mobile telephones, faxes, email and other forms of instant communication, investigation's proceeded differently. Part of the attraction of these books is the way that a police force knows it's constituency - it's citizens. They sniff the wind and find the scent, and their methodology doesn't feel overly dated because the characterisations in Simenon's books are so vivid and so enjoyable. The sense of indignation that is almost seething from Maigret's pores over the focus in crime fighting is palpable.