While all Inspector Maigret novels are standalones, I feel the readers can benefit tremendously by reading Maigret Defends Himself, the previous installment in the series, before getting into Maigret’s Patience. Maigret’s Patience is set ten days after the events in Maigret Defends Himself, where Maigret had to clear his name against a bogus sexual harassment allegation which almost sent him into early retirement. The first time Maigret heard the accusation, his instinct was that it has something to do with the jewel thieves he has been after. For the past twenty years, Paris has been plagued by a gang of robbers who’d target small jewelers in the city’s outskirts and strike in broad daylight. Their MO is to smash and grab, so they’d shatter the window displays and run off with the jewels in a getaway car, while onlookers and bystanders are too shocked to act! In the past, the police have been able to catch some members of this gang. But every time, they were no more than foot soldiers – young boys from the provinces with a clean record, specially brought to Paris to perform a single robbery – who have no clue of the “upper management.”
This regular shakeup of the team who’d carry out the robberies has been one roadblock for Maigret in catching them. Then there’s also the fact that these stolen jewels have never reentered the market, which could only mean “the team” employs a diamond cutter, whose identity Maigret has not been able to pin down, to fence the loot. I don’t know how things are done nowadays, but in the 1960s, when this story was written, diamond cutting used to be a very specialized skill: “It’s a trade that gets passed down from father to son, and it has its secrets.” So Maigret can vouch that none of the handful of diamond cutters in Paris would risk their reputation and business by dealing with stolen jewels.
Even though this years-long investigation hasn’t produced any concrete leads, Maigret’s gut feeling tells him Manuel Palmari, a wheelchair-bound upscale restaurateur, is orchestrating these robberies. Palmari and Maigret go way back as Palmari is a police informer. But Maigret doesn’t think Palmari has ever revealed to him everything that he knows. For instance, when Palmari was shot three years ago which resulted in his paralysis, Palmari maintained he never saw his shooters. But two months after that, the same shooters ended up being murdered. Then there’s also the fact that the times’ jewelry thefts occur always coincide with Palmari coming to money. So based on his hunch, Maigret has Palmari’s apartment put under surveillance by posting two policemen across the street. This is why Maigret suspected Palmari of having a hand at the sexual allegation leveled against him, although it turned out Palmari had nothing to do with it.
In Maigret’s Patience, days after the Maigret proved his innocence, he gets called to Palmari’s apartment in Rue des Acacias – Palmari has been shot at the back and is dead. The only person who has entered the apartment around the time of the murder is a trusted butcher boy. And at the time, Palmari’s young girlfriend has been out shopping, followed by a detective who can vouch for her whereabouts. So to get to the bottom of Palmari’s murder, Maigret has to closely examine the other residents in the complex.
In past novels, I’ve seen Maigret growing a soft spot for some of the criminals he deals with. It’s the case in Maigret’s Patience too. Palmari was a criminal (Maigret is right about his jewel theft theory), but one with many admirable qualities, which leads Maigret to admit:
There are crooks and there are crooks. Some I would shake by the hand, like Palmari, for example. But you, you are the lowest sort, the ones you can’t look in the face without wanting to hit them or spit.
So it was satisfying to see Maigret nailing the people responsible, and putting them behind bars. A marvelous whydunit.
Note: Many thanks to Penguin for sending me a review copy of Maigret’s Patience.
** You can buy a copy of Maigret’s Patience here on Book Depository with free shipping.