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Pietr the Latvian - Georges Simenon, David Bellos

"Pietr the Latvian" introduces the world to Jules Maigret, Detective Chief Inspector of the Police Judiciaire in Paris for the very first time. The setting is a cool, rainy autumn afternoon in interwar Europe a little more than a decade after the end of the First World War. Simenon provides the reader with the following description of the Detective Chief Inspector: "He didn't have a moustache and he didn't wear heavy boots. His clothes were well cut and made of fairly light worsted. He shaved every day and looked after his hands.

"But his frame was proletarian. He was a big, bony man. Iron muscles shaped his jacket sleeves and quickly wore through new trousers.

"He had a way of imposing himself just by standing there. His assertive presence had often irked many of his own colleagues."

Maigret is seated at his desk, warmed by the fire emanating from a coal stove near his desk, his beloved pipe perched in his mouth, reading a message from the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC), which informs him of the movements of Pietr the Latvian whose reputation precedes him as a master criminal extraordinaire involved in a variety of criminal syndicates throughout Europe from Warsaw, to Berlin, to Amsterdam.

According to the latest information available, the Latvian boarded a train from Brussels and is headed to Paris. So, Maigret heads to the Gare du Nord train station in Paris. And that is where the story takes off, with a murder. Maigret is put through his paces, going from luxury Parisian hotels to grimy dives in a port city near the English Channel on a blustery day in search of his quarry.

In sum, "Pietr the Latvian" is a short, rollicking novel with a number of twists and turns that'll keep any fan of detective fiction captivated and entertained.