British firm buys rights to Inspector Maigret

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The family of Georges Simenon, the Belgian author who created Inspector Maigret, has sold the rights to his 400 books to a British company for more than £5m.

Chorion, whose stable of authors includes Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton, intends to use its controlling interest to bring Simenon's detective to cinema screens in time for the centenary of his birth in 2003. John Simenon, the late writer's son, will join the company's board as part of the deal.

Simenon more or less invented the psychological thriller but he was just as well known for his sex life. He boasted that he had slept with 10,000 women, once having sex with a hotel chambermaid while his wife was packing their luggage in the next room. Explaining his actions, Simenon said: "It wasn't a vice. Just a need to communicate."

Despite Simenon's complex personal life, the heart of his legacy remains the 76 Maigret novels, the best-known of his books.

A spokesman for Chorion said: "We are delighted to be able to add Georges Simenon to our portfolio. We believe that this large literary estate still has significant untapped material.

"The Maigret series of books is well-known but currently unexploited in the UK, the USA and throughout the English-speaking world, where we are confident we can develop substantial publishing, television and video opportunities."

John Simenon said: "My family has decided to conclude this transaction with Chorion because of the impressive management skills and entrepreneurial flair they have demonstrated in reinvigorating the Agatha Christie brand."

When Simenon died in 1989 he had two estranged wives ­ one of them, by her own admission, driven mad ­ a brother for whose death he felt responsible and a daughter who had committed suicide. It was his daughter's death that prompted him to write Intimate Memoirs, his last book.