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M, assigned for the past month to Rennes to reorganize the Flying Squad [Brigade Mobile], is called to Concarneau, where M. Mostaguen, Concarneau's biggest wine dealer, was shot after leaving the Admiral Café. Circumstances make it appear that it was only chance that made him the victim. When M arrives at the Admiral Hotel, and is drinking with the other members of Mostaguen's group, Ernest Michoux, a non-practicing doctor and real estate dealer, notices powder in the drinks which turns out to be strychnine. The next day, Jean Servières, another member, disappears, his blood-stained car found abandoned. Journalists descend on Concarneau, and a vagrant is arrested, a giant bear of a man, but he breaks free. Apparently it is his yellow dog which has been noticed around since the first shooting. M arranges with his assistant, Leroy, to watch a room across the street, where they see the escaped man meet with Emma, the waitress at the hotel. Meanwhile M has had Michoux arrested, apparently to protect him: Yves Le Pommeret, another member of the group, had been found poisoned in his home.
Then there is another shooting, and the customs officer is slightly wounded in the leg. Servières is found in Paris, and brought back to Concarneau, where M arranges a confrontation of all the main characters: Dr. Michoux, Servières, Michoux's mother, who had returned to Concarneau, the giant man, Léon Le Glérec and Emma, who'd been caught at the railroad station, and the mayor, who'd been pressing M for a conclusion. The story went back 5 or 6 years, when Le Glérec had started making payments on his boat, and planned to marry Emma. Michoux, Servières and Le Pommeret had approached him to carry cocaine to America instead of vegetables to England, but when his boat had arrived he'd been immediately arrested. He learned in prison that they'd set him up to receive a bounty on smugglers, and when he was finally released he vowed to have them imprisoned, even if it was for killing him. He'd shown himself to the doctor, who'd tricked Emma into writing a note to meet him at the doorway where Mostaguen was shot by mistake. Michoux had poisoned Le Pommeret when he'd apparently had a change of heart, and Michoux's mother had shot the customs officer to make her son, in jail, appear innocent. Léon and Emma set off to restart their lives, and Michoux to battle against a 20-year hard labor prison term on Devil's Island.
Maigret of the Month: January, 2004