|Cover design by Denise York.|
Photos by Chris Marker.
'For fifty years or more they've been studying Stendhal's letters to get a clearer idea of his character...
'Isn't a crime almost always committed by someone out of the ordinary, in other words less easy to comprehend than the man in the street? They give me a few weeks, sometimes only a few days, to steep myself in a new atmosphere, to question ten, twenty, fifty people I knew nothing at all about till then, and, if possible, to sift out the true from the false.
The frame maker Gaston Meurant is being tried for a gruesome double murder. His elderly aunt Léontine Faverges had been found dead in her apartment in the Rue Manuel, with her throat cut and her savings stolen. The young child for whom she had cared had been throttled and then smothered. The blue suit Meurant normally wore when visiting his aunt had been found in his apartment with blood stains which matched the elderly victim's blood. This had been enough to trigger his arrest, and he had spent eight months in prison awaiting his trial.
Maigret in Court begins with Maigret apprehensive and uncomfortable. He is appearing at the Assize Court for Meurant's trial, but wishes instead that he could absent himself from this part of the process and have the trial take place without him knowing anything about it. Even though it could be viewed as the culmination of a process which begins months earlier in his office at the Quai des Orfèvres, and an inevitable consequence of almost every investigation he undertakes, attending court is the aspect of his job Maigret least enjoys.
He finds the Court solemn and pompous, and with its traditions and procedures, it reminds him of the conventions of the Mass. And even though he has given evidence on hundreds of occasions, he still feels uneasy at the prospect, nervous in the same way he was years before in his village church in the presence of the priest.
He is not even certain that this method of dispensing justice offers the best approach to determining the facts of any case. It is necessarily limited, with the judge and the jurors offered only a summary of the facts, and one which is shorn of all context. He must convey all that has been gathered during the many months of investigation, all the information gleaned from interviews and inferred from visiting the scene of the crime and the home of the accused, in a testimony which will last barely an hour. And how can these jurors, who are ordinary people leading uneventful lives, have any understanding of extreme happenings so far outside their everyday experience?
The case against Meurant had not satisfied Maigret and so he had continued with the investigation unofficially, instructing his officers to watch Meurant's wife and to continue to show her photograph now and again at hotels in Pigalle in the hope that someone would recognise her and perhaps provide a little more background information. They had seemed such an incongruous pair, the husband with his collection of second-hand books and the wife with her glossy magazines and popular records, and Maigret had not forgotten that it was she who had encouraged Meurant to present himself at the police station, and that the clue about the blue suit had come via an anonymous phone call. Now he has some unexpected information to impart at the trial.
The story has an interesting structure, with the court case used to explain the crime, the evidence and the investigation, and Maigret's thoughts on the imperfections of the system. But the real focus of the story is on what takes place after the trial when Meurant's unexpected acquittal transfers suspicion from husband to wife, and when the acquitted man must return to his home and pass an evening with a wife who has been exposed during the trial as leading a double life. It becomes a police procedural, following the decisions Maigret makes, and the steps he takes, to see the true killer identified and justice served.
Maigret aux Assises first published 1960. This translation (by Robert Brain) first published by Hamish Hamilton 1961. Published in Penguin Books 1965.
By the same author:
Penguin no. 1419: My Friend Maigret
Penguin no. 1680: Maigret Has Scruples
Penguin no. 1854: The Little Man from Archangel
Penguin no. 2024: Maigret Mystified
Penguin no. 2253: The Widower