Book Review: Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon (1931)

Pietr the Latvian is the first novel in the Jules Maigret series, written by Belgian author Georges Simenon and originally published in 1931. The novel introduces the iconic detective character of Jules Maigret, who goes on to appear in over 70 novels and numerous short stories, becoming one of the most beloved figures in detective fiction.

The novel is set in Paris, where Maigret is called in to investigate the arrival of a mysterious Latvian named Pietr. Initially, Maigret’s investigation is simply routine, but as he delves deeper into the case, he realizes that Pietr is not who he claims to be. The investigation takes Maigret to various locations across Europe, including Amsterdam, Berlin, and Riga, as he tries to uncover Pietr’s true identity and motive.

One of the key strengths of Pietr the Latvian is its focus on character. Simenon was known for his ability to create fully-realized, three-dimensional characters, and this is evident in the novel. Maigret is a compelling and sympathetic character, with a deep sense of compassion and understanding for the people he encounters in his investigation. Pietr, meanwhile, is a complex and enigmatic figure, whose true identity remains a mystery for much of the novel.

The novel’s setting is also notable, as Simenon evokes a strong sense of place and atmosphere in his writing. The novel takes place in various locations across Europe, and Simenon’s descriptions of these places are vivid and evocative, creating a strong sense of the novel’s setting. The novel also explores the complexities of European society in the early 20th century, including issues of nationalism and class.

The plot of Pietr the Latvian is well-constructed and suspenseful, with a number of twists and turns that keep the reader engaged. Simenon’s prose style is spare and direct, with a focus on Maigret’s observations and thought processes. The pacing of the novel is slow and deliberate, with a focus on the minutiae of Maigret’s investigation, which may not appeal to readers who prefer more action-oriented crime fiction.

One potential weakness of the novel is its portrayal of race and ethnicity. The character of Pietr is portrayed as a sinister and duplicitous figure, and his Latvian heritage is often invoked as a sign of his otherness. While it is important to note that the novel was written in a different time and cultural context, modern readers may find the novel’s treatment of race and ethnicity problematic.

In conclusion, Pietr the Latvian is a well-crafted crime novel that introduces the iconic character of Jules Maigret to the world. The novel is notable for its focus on character, setting, and atmosphere, as well as its well-constructed plot and Simenon’s spare and direct prose style. While the novel’s treatment of race and ethnicity may be problematic for modern readers, the novel remains a compelling and engaging work of detective fiction that will appeal to fans of the genre. You can get a copy of this mystery from Amazon here.


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