This picture shows the recent Penguin edition of this 1955 novel, but in fact I read it in a very battered French paperback found in an attic sale. I've since discovered that it has been made into a TV adaptation with Rowan Atkinson, but I was so disappointed with his first outing as Maigret that I've avoided any future ones. I now rather wish I had seen it, though I can't imagine it did justice to what is a fascinating novel.
Maigret is caught up in what is one of the most challenging cases of his career - a series of five violent murders, all taking place in the same small area of Montmartre. Women are the victims, and seem to have nothing in common apart from all being slightly plump. They have been viciously stabbed, their clothes shredded by the same knife. Maigret is at his wits end.
He and Mme Maigret go to a dinner party with their old friends and neighbours M. and Mme Pardon. Another guest is a psychiatrist, M. Tissot. After dinner, Maigret gets into a long discussion with him regarding the probable psychology of the murderer - Maigret is sure that if he understood the man's motivation he would be able to track him down. The conversation leaves him with much to think about, and next day he makes a decision - he will let it be known to the press that he has caught the killer. His hope is that the real culprit will be immediately impelled to start again, to prove he is still on the loose. The entire Paris police force is sent to Montmartre the evening after the press announcement - all dotted around in disguise in various likely locations in order, hopefully, to catch the man before he commits another crime. In fact an attempt is made, but the murderer is disturbed before he is able to kill, and he escapes without being caught. However, the intended victim, a young policewoman in plain clothes, thinks she may be able to identify him, and has managed to pull a button off his suit jacket. It is this button which, having been taken round the various button wholesalers, leads to the identification of a man who is almost certainly responsible. The man is taken in for questioning, and Maigret is convinced he has found the culprit, but then another identical murder takes place. Was Maigret mistaken?
It's hard to convey what is so gripping about this story without giving too much away. The character of the killer and those of his family members are wonderfully well observed and wholly convincing. One of the high points of the novel is a long passage near the end which consists of a long monologue addressed by Maigret to the obstinately silent suspect, in which he lays out all the details of his past life and describes with great accuracy the feelings and events which led him to commit these terrible crimes.
I've read a few Maigret novels in the past few months, and others in the past too. I've enjoyed them all but this one seemed to me peculiarly interesting - though maybe I say that every time. Definitely recommended.