Either these books are growing on me or they’re getting better. Or perhaps it’s a bit of both.
Inspector Cadaver has a lot of familiar ingredients. We begin with Maigret taking another trip out of Paris to visit a provincial town that he finds disturbingly alien and depressing. Saint-Aubin is a typical Maigret destination in its crappy weather and secretive attitude toward outsiders. Worst of all, “As for his name, who knew if anyone had heard of it in this village surrounded by slimy bogs and pools of stagnant water?” Not heard of Maigret!
Looking out on the empty, rainswept streets and “houses like blind people,” Maigret is driven to wonder at how there are people who spend their whole lives in Saint-Aubin. But by the end of his visit he will experience a remarkable moment of epiphany: “Now he was almost like God the Father. He knew this village as if he had lived there, or better still, as if he had created it. All the life going on in these small low houses hidden in the dark was familiar to him.” Try keeping your dirty little secrets from God!
Also carrying over from the other novels is the interest in looking behind the façade of bourgeois life (those blind houses, those twitching curtains). There’s always something nasty going on in these sleepy little towns, some dark secrets being kept. Also, as in The Yellow Dog and The Misty Harbour, the notion of justice being done is stretched quite a ways. Only, as in Signed, Picpus, here it’s less about being forgiving than it is a cynical shrug at the evil of the world. What’s the point of holding the leading citizens of Saint-Aubin to account? What good would it do? As for poor Albert Retailleau, he suffers a fate not unlike that of his father, killed off by accident and converted into a payout to his mom. He is, in fact, the story’s punchline: “There’s always got to be some poor fellow who carries the can for everyone else!” Ha-ha! The leading citizens are then free to head to Argentina, where they can enjoy lives of wealth and decadence in a place where it doesn’t rain so much.