Category Archives: Georges Simenon

Mid-year reading report back: David Whish-Wilson, Simenon takes a train & 1970s Mexico noir

It already half-way through the year, and I thought a quick report on the highlights of my reading so far is in order. This is especially since I have a couple of big writing projects on the go and, as a result, will probably not have the time to do anything of the sort again before the end of the year.

So, let’s get to it.

The Sawdust House, David Whish-Wilson

Regular readers will have seen me talk before on this site about how much I rate David Whish-Wilson. I genuinely believe he is one of the most underrated crime writers working in Australia today and his latest does nothing to disabuse me of this view. The Sawdust House is Whish-Wilson’s second book to explore the lost Australian history of mid-19th century San Francisco. The Coves (2018) told the story of Australian criminals, many of them former convicts, who drifted to the San Francisco in the hopes of making a fortune amidst the gold rush gripping the west coast of the US at the time, and who assumed a major role in the lawless city’s criminal world. The Sawdust House focuses on the life of one of these men, Irish-born James ‘Yankee’ Sullivan, who has been arrested as part of the nativists attempt to root out and crush Australian criminal influence in San Francisco.… Read more

The bleak, propulsive noir of Georges Simenon’s Romans Durs

If forced to nominate any positives at all out of the last two years of global pandemic, it is the increased time I’ve had to read. In the first year of Covid I made good on a long-standing desire to read John le Carré’s George Smiley books. A literary focus of 2021 was the work of the Belgium born writer, Georges Simenon. Simenon’s output was a staggering 400 novels, although some have claimed he wrote as many as 500. The best known of these is his acclaimed series of crime procedurals featuring the French police detective Jules Maigret, 75 of which appeared between 1931 and 1972 (Simenon died in 1989). But my interest in Simenon is in his other, somewhat more shadowy body of work, his so-called romans durs or ‘hard novels’: tightly plotted, intensely psychological, often quite slim stand-alone volumes that have so far yielded some of the best noir fiction I can remember reading.

My latest piece for the US site CrimeReads, on the bleak psychological noir of Simenon’s Romans Durs is live and can be read in full here.Read more

My cultural highlights of 2021

In past years, I have always tried to conclude the writing year with wrap up of my top fiction/non-fiction reads. But this year I want to do something a little different and look more broadly at the culture that has sustained me in what has been another difficult and stressful 12 months, dominated, as it has for so many of us, by the Covid pandemic.

Film

As was the case in 2020, Covid meant that I spent far more time than I would’ve liked at home. So, most of the movies I watched had to be on the small screen. One of the standouts for me was a 1953 Argentinian retelling of Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic, M, called El Vampiro Negro or The Black Vampire. Helmed by one of Argentina’s most famous mid-century directors, Roman Vinoly Barreto, the story focuses the panic that engulfs Buenos Aires as children are stalked and murdered by a paedophile. Barreto particularly focuses on a nightclub singer and mother, played by Argentina’s equivalent of Marilyn Monroe, Olga Zubarry, who is the sole eyewitness to the child killer and who fears her daughter may be the next victim. Proof positive that classic noir was not just a North American phenomena, El Vampiro Negro is a powerful film, stunningly restored by the US Film Noir Foundation.… Read more

Book Review: The Snow Was Dirty

For reasons that I have not quite been able to pinpoint, over the last couple of years I have found myself reading more and more older crime fiction. The most recent of these was on the recommendation of a US crime writer I have recently had a bit to do with on Twitter, called Max Thrax, Georges Simenon’s The Snow Was Dirty – or Dirty Snow as it appears in some territories – originally published in 1946.

I had, of course, heard of Simenon but must come clean that before doing some research about him as a result of reading The Snow Was Dirty, knew virtually nothing about him or his work. Indeed, without any basis, I had dismissed as a writer of cosy procedurals.

No one knows exactly how many books Belgium born Simenon wrote over the course of his career. There are not many authors you can say that about. He started off in the 1920s, like so many mid century writers, as a pulp hack, working under a bewildering variety of pseudonyms. In the 1930s he started to churn what would become approximately 75 novels featuring the fictional French police detective, Jules Maigret, many of which were subsequently adapted for radio and the screen, large and small.… Read more