Wait, is that title symbolic or did they actually still use the guillotine in 1931? Someone mentions it, but I didn't know if they were being flowery or not...
Anyway, this was my introduction to Simenon and his extremely famous (in much of the world) Maigret character, and it was a pretty unique experience. Would it seem as unique if I'd read a few more of the seventy-plus books written about the character? Probably not, but to see where detective fiction was going in France in a time as pivotal for the genre as 1931 is fascinating, and Maigret, or at least this book, seems to sit in a spot somewhere between the eccentric crimes and whodunits that were Doyle's legacy, and the hardboiled private eyes that were starting to come out of California.
This definitely isn't a whodunit, as it's pretty easy to tell who the murderer is relatively early on, it's more of a "howdunit," if you will. We begin to figure out who was involved, and what may have happened, but what we really need our hero to tell us is how it all came about, who did what, and why. On top of that, while the crime does contain some of the strange criminal showboating of some Sherlock Holmes stories, those elements aren't made clear until the end, and they don't change the fact that the murder itself is extremely brutal, which lends itself more toward the hardboiled school.
Also leaning toward what was going on in America at the time, is Maigret himself, although really he's entirely his own thing. Though smart, and big, and gruff, Maigret's greatest virtue as a crime-solver seems to be patience. It strikes me as more realistic than most that our hero largely figures things out by waiting and following and waiting and following and glaring and keeping silent until something cracks. In fact, the story begins with the singular idea that our hero has arrested the wrong man, and so he helps said wrong man escape rather than let him be executed, so that he can make up for an earlier quick judgment and take more time to really figure it all out. When asked whether his career and reputation are worth some nobody, Maigret always answers by asking what a man's head is worth. This is part of what makes the character great: he actually fucking cares. It isn't just he solves the crime and the villain is led off to be executed after the book is over, Maigret thinks about the fact that lives are in his hands and risks everything to make sure he's making the right decision. And in the end, we're even shown the murderer's execution, and Maigret's reaction, and that's what makes him seem stronger than a normal series character. I'll have to read more to see if that's kept up.