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M enters the world of canals and barges when a woman is found strangled in the stable at Lock 14 at Dizy. Who she was and how she could have gotten there are a total mystery until the arrival of Sir Walter Lampson's yacht, the Southern Cross, and her identity is revealed as Mary Lampson, his wife. But her real name is unknown. Traces of tar and horse hair are found on her body, and suspicion falls on the barge Providence, which had been at Dizy the night before she was found, and the carter, Jean Liberge, an old man more at home with horses than people. Then Walter Lampson's companion, Willy Marco is found strangled in the canal, with Lampson's yacht club pin near the scene.
M tracks the Providence down the canal, and finds that a bicycle from the lock-keeper at Pogny had been used the night of Willy Marco's murder, and that the Providence hadn't been far away. When M confronts Jean Liberge with the evidence of the pedal marks on his boots, the old man jumps into the canal and is crushed against the lock. Barely alive, he is taken to a hospital, where he is hardly expected to live out the night, but in fact he jumps from the window and returns to the barge. His fingerprints are sent to Paris, where it is learned that he was Jean Évariste Darchambaux, a doctor who'd been sent to the penal colony in Guiana for poisoning his aunt. His wife, Céline Mornet, who'd promised to follow him faithfully, in fact turned to a life of luxury on the Riviera, and eventually became Mrs. Lampson. Jean had recognized her and brought her back to his barge, killing her when she refused to stay. When he went back to lay a false trail, he'd been seen and confronted by Willy Marco, whom he'd strangled as well. He died on his barge, under the eyes of M and Lampson.
Maigret of the Month: April, 2004
Maigret's Journeys in France