The plot takes place in the mid-twentieth century, and the characters in it – principally from the Reilhan family – are not exactly sympathetically portrayed. If the bleakness and the extreme harshness of the area – from which most of the people have already moved and most remaining ones move in the process of the book – suggests Jean Giono (who was Carrière's friend), another author is suggested in the book itself by two quotations: William Faulkner. There is certainly more than a hint of Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha here.
One of the quotations is from Sartoris and the other from Absalon: 'Tell about the South. What's it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all.' The rather farcical coffin scene also recalls Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Perhaps more than anything, though, the names of the brothers Abel and Samuel – and the apocalyptic nature of the pitiless weather, the violence at the end, recall the Bible.
L'Épervier de Maheux sold almost two million copies, and Carrière suffered because of this literary Grail, went into a deep depression, probably never really recovered. It was eight years before he published another book, and fifteen years after the Goncourt he wrote Le Prix d'un Goncourt (better translated as 'The Price of a Goncourt' rather than its homonym 'Prize', and it was also published as Les Cendres de la gloire ('The Ashes of Glory')). Essentially, Carrière's problems were existential: the way others saw him, the sensation of being divorced from himself. Fame, fame, fatal fame.
Maheux is a fictional name, and although the hamlet Mazel-de-Mort exists, its true location exists in a different place than in the book. And as far as I know there are no characters in the book who bear the same name as any living characters in the region, although locals certainly recognized some of the characters and were very less than happy about it. Ah, Life...
This is a demanding book but the effort pays off.