Mother’s Day 2014: Simenon Redux – Barry Forshaw

As a treat, crime fiction expert Barry Forshaw tells us what his Mother’s Day present will be this year. . .

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Penguin continues to put crime aficionados in their debt with more Georges Simenon reissues in splendid new translations; The Night at the Crossroads (translated by Linda Coverdale) and The Yellow Dog (trans. Linda Asher). Simenon was a writer who, more than any other crime novelist, combined a high literary reputation with popular appeal, and the eclipse his reputation briefly underwent is now, thankfully, in the past.

Made famous by his Inspector Maigret books, the author was the world’s most successful writer in the 1960s, and has since inspired many writers of psychological crime, such as Patricia Highsmith with Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr Ripley.

Simenon’s life is itself shrouded in mystery: behind the closed doors of one room in his Swiss chateau, Simenon would surround himself with fetishes. Entering an almost trancelike state, he would write compulsively, usually completing an entire book in five, nine or eleven days. This ravenous excitement appears to have been mirrored in Simenon’s renowned sexual appetite, as he claimed to have taken hundreds of women to bed, sometimes as many as three in one day.

Both these novels show the psychological reach and sophisticated treatment of crime themes that made Simenon famous. His characters are keenly accurate portraits of the ordinary person – and how we can be driven to extraordinary behaviour. His evocations of loneliness, guilt and innocence are at once acute and unsettling.

Simenon was born on 12 February 1903, in Liège, Belgium. Aged sixteen, he began to work as a reporter for a local newspaper, and at nineteen he moved to Paris to embark on a career as a novelist. He has written over four hundred books, beginning with pulp fiction and novellas, written under various pseudonyms, later publishing the Maigret books and others in his own name.

Simenon died in 1989, in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he had lived for the latter part of his life.

The Night at the Crossroads (translated by Linda Coverdale) and The Yellow Dog (trans. Linda Asher) are published by Penguin.

Barry Forshaw’s latest books are British Gothic Cinema and Nordic Noir.

For more fantastic ideas for crime ebooks, visit The Murder Room.