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New Yorker
October 24, 1931


Paris, Oct. 14


The N.R.F., which ordinarily expends its strength publishing rhymes by Paul Valéry, has taken an option on crime. The popular detective story, originally nurtured here by Gaboriau, Gaston Leroux, and Maurice Leblanc, has suddenly developed a new local vogue and a new writer; Monsieur Georges Sim, who at the age of twenty-eight has already written two hundred and eighty yarns. He is of Breton Dutch stock, is handsome, can write an excellent book in four days (one was started in a glass cage, for publicity's sake), lives on a yacht in canals, and has used sixteen pseudonyms, of which Simenon (the signature of the latest dozen of his books) will probably become permanent. To turn out mystery stories as novel as "Monsieur Gallet Décédé," "Le Chien Jaune," and "Le Charretier de la Providence" once a year is rare; to turn them out at the rate of four a month is rarer.

Simenon's detective is fat and named Maigret; the crimes he solves are published monthly, are the talk of the town, and sell for six francs. The stories are distinguished by a talent for suspense, begin better than they end, and contain in each case a crime curiously suitable to the geographic setting: Antwerp for "Le Pendu de Saint-Pholien," and the Brittany town and inhabitants of Concarneau for "Le Chien Jaune," so realistically undisguised that Simenon will probably be sued. And after his "Crime en Hollande," it is unlikely that he can ever steam back to the Netherlands again.

However, according to his admirers, he never goes anyplace twice anyway. He always travels (always on his boat, and always on canals), hates heat and wants to go to Tahiti, and spends half a million francs of his royalties a year doing what his year's characters do; hiring a liveried chauffeur because his villain does, losing two hundred thousand francs at Monte Carlo because his hero must. For he says: "I have no imagination; I take everything from life" (and from the exploits of certain of his acquaintances, who apparently include some of the liveliest crooks in France). "I get up at half-past five; go on deck; start typing at six, with either a bottle of brandy or white wine at my side; and write a chapter an hour until noon, when I go to land and lie down in the grass, exhausted. My ambition is to arrive little by little in the class of a Jack London, or — who knows? — even of a Conrad." Monsieur Simenon is mistaken; he is already in a class by himself.

[Janet Flanner]

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