In "LOCK 14", Simenon makes alive to the reader the lives of the people --- bargees. boat owners and sailors, carters, barmen, cafe owners, restauranteurs, and lockmen --- whose lives and livelihoods were intimately or tangibly linked to the network of locks and canals of France's network of inland waterways of the Marne River and its tributaries. Indeed names such as Epernay, Vitry-le-François, and Chalon are often mentioned. (Any reader well-versed in French history will have already known of these places, which figured prominently in the First World War and some other key, historical eras in the life of la belle France.)
A woman's corpse is found near one of the locks in a stable, hastily concealed in the hay. Cause of death: strangulation. Maigret is brought in to investigate. As he begins to piece together the case, a number of suspects come to the fore. The woman's husband ("the colonel"), a tight-lipped Englishman in his 60s, who, in an earlier life, had been a privileged army officer in India, but is now retired and lives aboard his own yacht: The Southern Cross. Vladimir, an expatriate White Russian and former sailor, who is the Colonel's special attendant, and has full run of the yacht. Willy Marco, another of the colonel's attendents travelling on the Southern Cross, who, at the Colonel's behest, fields Maigret's initial queries. (The colonel, for his part, avoided speaking directly with Maigret as if the chief inspector were beneath him.) And a Madame Negretti, a Spaniard, and the colonel's mistress who is also a passenger on the Southern Cross.
As the story unfolds, the reader is made aware that the murdered woman (Mary Lampson) and her husband had a rather loose, if not wholly open, marriage. The colonel's apparent unconcern about her death made me suspect him immediately as a suspect. But as I read more of the book, Willy and Vladimir became prime suspects. Usually, when I read a mystery, I try to keep an open mind because I'm always fearful of guessing who the suspect(s) is (are). Nevertheless, I can't help but try to determine who committed the foul deed and the reasons why.
Simenon did not disappoint me. "LOCK 14" has a number of subtle twists and turns which lead to a rather unexpected denouement. All in all, this was a satisfying story. (I leave it to the reader of this review to find out who really "done it" should he/she be keen on reading this compact, easy-to-read novel.)