French police inspector Jules Maigret has enjoyed a long and colorful career since he was first introduced by Belgium novelist Georges Simenon in 1930's The Case of Peter Lett (Pietr-le-Letton). The patient, pipe-smoking detective's dogged determination, keen eye for detail and impeccable logic help him unravel the thorniest of puzzles and catch the cleverest of criminals.
Simenon wrote 75 novels and 28 short stories about Maigret with the last one being Maigret and Monsieur Charles (Maigret et Monsieur Charles) in 1972. And much like his British counterpart Sherlock Holmes, he has had a broad range of TV, film and radio incarnations. He's been portrayed by actors from all over Europe and in Japan.
On British TV, Rupert Davis set the standard for Maigret with his long-running portrayal in the early '60s, and Richard Harris also played the character in the late 1980s. But what is now considered the definitive version is the 1992-93 series, which starred Michael Gambon (Hogwarts' headmaster Albus Dumbledore to Harry Potter fans). It aired in the U.S. on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery! There is now talk that he may be brought back to revive his role in new episodes.
But before that happens, you can catch up with the fedora-wearing sleuth with Maigret: The Complete Collection (1992, Acorn Media, not rated, $60). The four-disc DVD set includes all 12 episodes and comes with an eight-page booklet with essays about the author, the character and the series. Such stars as Brenda Blethyn (Pride & Prejudice), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) and Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) make appearances on the show.
Maigret's cases are as eclectic as the crooks he collars. In "The Patience of Maigret," after seven years of trying to nail the mastermind of a jewelry theft ring, he winds up investigating a murder when his chief suspect is shot. "Maigret and the Burglar's Wife" finds him looking into the disappearance of a woman the burglar claims he saw dead when he broke into a doctor's estate. In "Maigret and the Night Club Dancer," a stripper who reports overhearing a murder plot at the club winds up dead shortly thereafter. "Maigret and the Hotel Majestic" has him trying to figure out why a wealthy American's murdered wife has a gun in her purse. The detective gets help in solving his various head-scratchers from a sharp crew of less-senior policemen and the gentle nudging of his wife, Louise (Ciaran Madden).
Simenon, who died in 1989 at age 86, was a prolific writer who wrote more than 200 novels and hundreds of articles in his career. More that 500 million copies of his works have been printed. He received numerous honors, including the Grand Master Award from Mystery Writers of America in 1966. Also that year, a statue of Maigret - commissioned by the Dutch publisher Bruna - was unveiled (by Simenon himself) in Delfzijl, the Netherlands. The itinerant Simenon created Maigret while living there and waiting for his boat, Ostrogoth, to be repaired.