In Paris, at Shakespeare & Company Bookstore, under the residence cat’s paws, I discovered Georges Simenon’s mystery novels. A stash of them. The staff labels him as the most “re-readable author”, who started with high literary ambitions and ended by writing commercially successful books. Originally from Liège, Belgium, Simenon came to Paris in search of fortune and spent his 20s writing pulp fiction at a break-neck speed. in ten years and 200 short novels later, he followed the advice of Colette, to whom he acknowledged debt, and cut out literature.
It was Maigret who made him famous, and it is the Maigret novels that I found in Paris. The Maigret books are crime novels, but not as much whodunits. Maigret is a policeman, but the novels are far from being police procedurals. The books recount in considerable detail the investigation and the roundup of suspects. It is Simenon’s empathy, his insight into how people behave when they approach the breaking point, that lifts his work high above the common run of crime fiction. Simenon also has a unique sense of place, of ambiance, and his books often evokes the less known sides of Paris, through a look at the backs of houses, as seen from canals and railways.
The Strangers in the House
The Madman of Bergerac
Monsieur Monde Vanishes
The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien
Maigret Sets a Trap