In the police station in Paris where Maigret works, the room where people wait, hoping to be seen by a police officer, is known as Purgatory. And wait they do, sometimes for hours, depending really on the whim of the officers concerned. This is precisely what happens to teacher, Joseph Gastin, who is running from a small village near La Rochelle on the French Atlantic coast. An elderly woman has been shot and killed and it seems Monsieur Gastin is the prime suspect. Fearing he will not get a fair hearing in the village, the teacher has headed for Paris hoping he can persuade the famous Maigret to come back with him and help prove his innocence.
Spurred on by he knows not what, possibly the approach of summer, possibly the promise of oysters, Maigret decides to go. It's not his patch so he has no jurisdiction... luckily the officer in charge in La Rochelle doesn't mind, but the minute they arrive he nevertheless arrests Gastin. Maigret is left to settle into the village, look at what's going on and try somehow get beneath the front the villagers have errected to keep the truth to themselves.
These are my favourite Maigret yarns... those where he leaves Paris and takes up residence in what is often a coastal area, cut off from civilisation in a manner in which we find hard to fully understand these days with our motorways and instant communication. It does mean we lose the presence of his other officers, Luca, Le Point, Janvier etc. and that's a shame but it's made up for in my opinion by Simenon's brilliance at depicting these insular regions.
Because insularity is what's damning the school teacher of course. He's not local, not 'one of them', so they have no compunction whatsoever in letting him go down for a murder he may or may not have committed, just as long as it's not 'one of them'. Luckily Maigret, coming from another such village himself, understands this very well. He also knows about the secrets that lurk behind the front doors of these places, who's sleeping with whom, who drinks too much, who likes guns...
I enjoyed this very much but I do sometimes wonder if they present better on-screen than they do on the page. We've recently been watching one of the original Maigret series from the 1960s, starring Rupert Davies, on one of the obscure Freeview channels. I think I saw somewhere that his was a portrayal that Simenon himself enjoyed, and I'm not surprised as each episode has been really excellent. I'm actually old enough to have watched this version as a child, it was 'must watch' TV, so I was a big crime fan even that far back. In fact, I've enjoyed all of the various series I've seen with actors, Michael Gambon and, more recently, Rowan Atkinson, and it does seem to me they translate very well onto the small screen. Some of the books are better than others but all of the TV episodes are enjoyable.
I should add that I know the area this book was set in as we had family who lived near La Rochelle for a while, so it was quite nice to be transported back there while I read the book. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads and am now thinking I might've been a bit mean as Maigret Goes to School really was very readable indeed.