Classic Crime

Georges Simenon

Georges Joseph Christian Simenon (13 February 1903 – 4 September 1989) was a Belgian writer. A prolific author who published nearly 500 novels and numerous short works, Simenon is best known as the creator of the fictional detective Jules Maigret.

Georges Simenon was born at 26 rue Léopold (now number 24) in Liège to Désiré Simenon and his wife Henriette. Désiré Simenon worked in an accounting office at an insurance company and had married Henriette in April 1902. Although Georges Simenon was born on Friday 13 February 1903[2] superstition resulted in his birth being registered as having been on the 12th.[3] This story of his birth is recounted at the beginning of his novel, ‘Pedigree’.

In January 1919, the 15-year-old Simenon took a job at the Gazette de Liège, a newspaper edited by Joseph Demarteau. While Simenon's own beat only covered unimportant human interest stories, it afforded him an opportunity to explore the seamier side of the city, including politics, bars, and cheap hotels but also crime, police investigations and lectures on police technique by the criminologist Edmond Locard. Simenon's experience at the Gazette also taught him the art of quick editing. From 1921 to 1934 he used a total of 17 pen names while writing 358 novels and short stories.

Simenon's father died in 1922 and this served as the occasion for the author to move to Paris with Régine Renchon (her nickname was "Tigy"), at first living in the 17th arrondissement, not far from the Boulevard des Batignolles. He became familiar with the city, its bistros, cheap hotels, bars and restaurants. More importantly, he also came to know ordinary working-class Parisians. Writing under numerous pseudonyms, he found his creativity beginning to pay financial dividends.

In 1930, the most famous character invented by Simenon, Commissaire Maigret, made his first appearance in a piece in Detective.

During WWII, Simenon remained in France despite the German occupation. There is some rumour that Simenon was a collaborator for the Germans, although there is another rumour that the Gestapo believed Simenon was Jewish and had him under investigation.

When war ended, Simenon took his family, Tigy and Marc first to Canada (Quebec) and then to the States where they moved around, eventually settling in Connecticut with many journeys to New York.
Simenon met Denyse Ouimet, a woman seventeen years his junior. Denyse, who was originally from Montréal, met Simenon in New York City in 1945 and she was employed as his secretary. Simenon and Tigy were divorced in 1949. Simenon and Denyse Ouimet were then married in Reno, Nevada in 1950 and eventually had three children, Johnny (1949), Marie-Jo (1953) and Pierre (1959).

In 1952, Simenon paid a visit to Belgium and was made a member of the Académie Royale de Belgique. Although he never resided in Belgium after 1922, he remained a Belgian citizen throughout his life.

Simenon and his family returned to Europe in 1955, first living in France (mainly on the Côte d'Azur) before settling in Switzerland. In 1963 Simenon purchased a property in Epalinges, north of Lausanne, where he had an enormous house constructed to his own design.

Simenon and Denyse Ouimet separated definitively in 1964. Teresa, who had been hired by Simenon as a housekeeper in 1961, had by this time become romantically involved with him and remained his companion for the rest of his life.

Simenon underwent surgery for a brain tumor in 1984 and made a good recovery. In subsequent years however, his health worsened. He gave his last televised interview in December 1988. Georges Simenon died in his sleep of natural causes on the night of 3–4 September 1989 in Lausanne.

Simenon was one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century, capable of writing 60 to 80 pages per day. His oeuvre includes nearly 200 novels, over 150 novellas, several autobiographical works, numerous articles, and scores of pulp novels written under more than two dozen pseudonyms. He is best known, however, for his 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring Commissaire Maigret. The first novel in the series, ‘Pietr-le-Letton’, (Pietr the Latvian) was serialized in 1930 and appeared in book form in 1931; the last one, ‘Maigret and Monsieur Charles’, was published in 1972.

Currently several Maigret titles are being re-issued each year by Penguin Classics.

Review: Maigret and the Headless Corpse

This is one of the best Maigret stories ever. Simenon was a prolific writer, yet his command of character, story and plot gives no sign of this prolificacy. There are no short cuts and no contrivances to hurry things along. No stock characters and clichés are brought into play. The characters are believable, and drive the plot, rather than the plot driving the characters. Madame Calas especially is a complex woman, and her character is shown, not by description, but by her actions. The seediness of the bistro, of Canal Saint-Martin and the fictional Quai de Valmy is delineated with a deft hand.

Maigret himself is a man who doesn't like to hurry things, unlike Judge Coméliau, who has overall charge of the case, and who wants immediate results. The contrast between the two is neatly done, and though it is mentioned in passing, you can discern through the dialogue and his actions, Maigret's dislike of the man.

All in all, a book I would thoroughly recommend to crime aficionados everywhere.

Reviewed by: J.G.

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