Shortly after writing the Maigret novel Les Caves du Majestic (Maigret and the Hotel Majestic), Simenon followed it with another, La Maison du Juge (Maigret in Exile), written by the end of January 1940 at his home in Nieul-sur-Mer. In these novels Maigret investigates in two very different locations. In the former his investigation is carried out in a luxury hotel on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, whereas in the latter he is in the village of l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer (Vendée).
Maigret has been sent to the town of Luçon in the Vendée under circumstances about which Simenon is vague. But it does give the author the opportunity to put Maigret in a very different place from his normal official jurisdiction of the city of Paris.
The Vendée in the south west of France was a region that Simenon knew very well and where he was to live during the whole of the Second World War and the Occupation.
It was in the spring of 1932 that he rented "La Richardière" at Marsilly as his home in the adjacent département until 1935. Later he bought a house at Nieul-sur-Mer just four kilometres south of Marsilly and north of La Rochelle. According to Simenon, this latter port and town, together with the island of Porquerolles off the coast of the French Riviera, were his two favourite locations in France.
A number of locations in the Vendée and the neighbouring département, which is now Charente-Maritime, feature in several of Simenon’s novels and short stories. In 1989 La Rochelle honoured the author by naming after him the Quai Georges-Simenon in the centre of the port.
With his wife, Maigret has been in the town of Luçon for three months and apparently has not had much to do apart from routine matters and occasionally playing billiards or cards in a local café, but his daily activities are changed when a married couple in their sixties, the Hulots, report that they have observed from outside a body in the home of a former judge. The judge’s house is in the village of l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer (Vendée) to where Maigret travels, booking into a local hotel.
He finds himself in a small community where some of the inhabitants work in the traditional mussel industry and various forms of fishing.
Under the cover of darkness, Maigret and Justin Hulot, only a few feet away from the judge’s house, observe, with a slight touch of farce, as the slimly built sixty five year old former judge attempts to drag a body out of his home towards the water.
When quietly challenged by Maigret, the judge calmly denies knowing or attacking the victim and his actions and his failure to inform any of the authorities only adds to the oddity of the situation.
In this small community, from then on Maigret finds himself wondering about possible suspects, aided by his young Inspector from Luçon, and the sixty four year old Didine Hulot who, often hovering around Maigret, seems to be the fount of local knowledge.
The pace of the investigation varies, and at times Maigret is at a loose end wondering what to do next. Although in this small place there are only a few who could be responsible for the crime, arriving at the truth seems to Maigret to be tantalisingly frustrating.
The English translation by Eileen Ellenbogen is close to the author’s text. It was only published first in hardback format in 1978 by Hamish Hamilton (UK) and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1979 (USA).
|A section of map from Luçon (north) to La Rochelle (south). At the western end of the D746 from Luçon is l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer, adjacent to La Faute-sur-Mer where in 1942 Simenon stayed in order to write Félicie est Là (Maigret and the Toy Village) and the second part of his longest novel Pedigree. Along the coastal region just north of La Rochelle are Marsilly and Nieul-sur Mer, both locations where the author established a home, and near by, Coup-de-Vague and La Prée-aux-Bufs, both of which feature in two of his other novels. (Loire-Atlantique, Vendée, Michelin 316, 2003). (click map to enlarge)|