Before Georges Simenon invented the character of Jules Maigret, detective fiction was not particularly sociological. The giants of the genre — Doyle, Christie, Chesterton, and Sayers — were too caught up in the fantasies of a triumphant capitalist class to be much interested in other social realities. Their detectives — Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Father Brown, and Lord Peter Wimsey — were content with playing genteel logic games in drawing rooms and restoring property to owners.
Simenon had more in common with the hard-boiled authors of his time — Hammett, Chandler, and even Woolrich — who punched the genre in the gut and tossed it into the street. Sleuths like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe poked around back alleys, broken homes, and in other places where society’s rougher edges showed. When these dicks entered the drawing rooms of the bourgeoisie, it was often through a broken window, and what they discovered there was that property was the real crime. But as sociological as these hard-boiled writers could be, they never attempted to be systematic. Simenon’s Maigret, however, combined the street smarts and gut intuition of noir antiheroes with the method and consistency of the effete detective. In doing so, Simenon paved the way for detective fiction to become the most sociological of genres.
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