Murder on the Canal Lateral a la Marne

Lock 14 (previously published as Maigret meets a Milord, and originally as Le Charretier de 'La Providence') is the earliest Maigret I've ever read. Published in 1931, there were a flurry of Maigret novels in this year (10) following his debut in Detective magazine. I've read a few from this first year (A crime in Holland and A face for a clue aka The yellow dog). Maigret as a character is very well developed. All the elements that Simenon fans will love - the psychology of the crime, the humanity of Maigret, his relationship with his colleagues are already there; but this is a rather different Maigret. He's younger, a leading light of the Flying Squad, and Paris has yet to feature as strongly in the tales as it would later do.

So several of the stories - and certainly the three that I have read from 1931 are all set outside the city, two of them oddly enough on canals (perhaps this may have been because the very first Maigret was written while on a trip to Holland). For crime fans who fancy a bit of a ghoul's holiday, you can't do much better than visit the Canal lateral a la Marne as this is the exact route that is followed in Lock 14.

Maigret is called out to investigate when the wife of an upper-crust Brit is found brutally murdered in a stable-block beside the canal. Maigret finds that there is a very strange set-up on the yacht owned by her husband, but when another member of the boating party is murdered, the detective begins to suspect that there is rather more going on than a simple marital tiff.

As always with Maigret, it's a well-written novel with a taut brooding atmosphere. This is no "tea-time" crime, this is brutal and for its time astonishingly realistic. It's an odd read in some ways, the mixture of horse drawn barges and motor barges that appear throughout the novel gives it both a timeless feel, and the sense that it's set in a dim obscure past (in reality less than 100 years ago). Well constructed, well written, and with some great characters, the aura of menace outlasts the closing of the last page. It's early, but I think it is one of Simenon's best.


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