Wednesday, September 19, 2012


From The Guardian:
Although perhaps best known as Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie's moustache-twirling detective, on BBC radio, John Moffatt, who has died aged 89, was a devastatingly clinical and classical stage actor of irreproachable taste and valour. He seemed something of a throwback, but there are very few today who could rival his armour-plated technique, his almost uncanny empathy with comic style ranging from the Restoration to Rattigan – his trademark stillness and decorum on stage was at odds with false notions of flounce and frilliness – or his incisive articulation.
- Michael Coveney


Georges Simenon

John Moffatt


Land of Remakes

The character Coméliau had already appeared, in his function as judge, in novels preceding the Maigret cycle, and thus before Simenon's work signed "Simenon". We find the judge mentioned for the first time in "Mademoiselle X", a novel signed Christian Brulls.

Coméliau plays a part in four novels signed Georges Sim, "La femme qui tue" [The woman who kills], "En robe de mariée" [In a wedding dress], "L'homme qui tremble" [The man who shakes], and "L'épave" [The wreck].

We also note that Coméliau is present in the last of the "proto-Maigrets", The House of Anxiety. He is not yet the "private enemy" of Maigret that he will become later. On the contrary, he seems rather amiable toward the Chief Inspector... the only words he addresses to him at the beginning of the investigation are, "Of course, you will take charge of the case... I'll make the first reports and leave you free rein... What do you think?" and "Just let me know if there's anything new... With you on the case, I can relax!" Not yet any rivalry at all between the two men, the judge lets Maigret work as he pleases... even if this polite withdrawal of the judge doesn't seem to be appreciated at face value by the Chief Inspector, who "welcomes flattery with the amenity of a porcupine." Hmm! If Maigret had known what was coming in his future relations with the judge, perhaps he would have had a greater appreciation of Coméliau's amiability...

And finally, we see that this character of Coméliau is strongly enough present in Simenon's imagination for him to make him the recipient of the "Letter to my Judge" (a novel by Simenon written in 1946), that Dr. Alavoine, convicted for the murder of his mistress, writes to explain the motives that had pushed him to kill. And in this novel we learn that the judge's first name is Ernest, that he lives at 23 bis, Rue de Seine. A few other details are revealed as well... Coméliau was born in Caen, and married the daughter of a doctor; he's nearsighted and wears glasses, and in his chambers there's a cupboard containing an enamel basin (well, well...). And we learn that the first impression he gives to Alavoine is that of a man who is seeking to understand... Astonishing similarities between the judge and the image of Maigret....

Coméliau is present from the beginning of the official cycle... in "The Engimatic Lett", it's to him that Maigret shows the photos of young Pietr, and to him that he tells the story of Pietr's origins that he has reconstructed. Coméliau, in this novel, plays in a way "without intending to" the role of Maigret's confidante. Not yet a trace of any particular animosity between the two men, and Maigret not only smokes his pipe in the judge's chambers (which the judge would hardly have tolerated later on), but the Chief Inspector even feels "at home there". It must be mentioned that the judge's chambers included a stove, a more than attractive object for Maigret.... We note further that we learn in this novel that Coméliau wears gold-rimmed glasses, whose lenses he has a habit of endlessly polishing.

Coméliau returns in "Maigret And The War Of Nerves", where he takes a more important place in the novel. Little touches are added to his portrait... he has a carefully trimmed narrow mustache, he smokes cigarettes, he is thin, nervous, and hates complications. His relationship with Maigret becomes more complex... he oscillates between the trust he shows to the Chief Inspector, the irritation when he sees that the experiment of Heurtin's escape fails, and finally a certain contrition in the face of the "success" of Maigret, who has in spite of everything has discovered the truth. We also note that Coméliau's chambers have already lost the stove, replaced by the central heating that Maigret hates... which does not improve the relations between the two men....

For more by Murielle Wenger on his many other appearances in the massive Maigret cycles, click here.

Here's a scene from 'Maigret' showcasing John Moffatt as Magistrate Coméliau:


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