Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Review: A MAN'S HEAD, by Georges Simenon

A Man's Head, by Georges Simenon. Published 2015 by Penguin. Originally published 1931. Crime fiction. Translated from the French by David Coward.

Georges Simenon's novel A Man's Head falls somewhere midway in his Inspector Maigret series, that moody and taciturn detective who haunts the streets of 1930s Paris. In this installment, he's helped a convicted murderer escape the gallows in the hopes that the man will lead Maigret to the real killer of a society lady found dead in her boudoir. The killer plays a game of cat and mouse with Maigret, leading the detective up and down and around again through high society and low, until it all ends where it began.

A Man's Head was my first Maigret and though it may not be my last, it will be for a while. I read the book in conjunction with a reading group I joined, an 8-week program at NYC's Center for Fiction focusing on classic crime fiction. I was kind of bored by the book, but the discussion we had was fascinating and I learned a lot about Simenon's craft and art with respect to the Maigret series. I have read Simenon before, his dark Tropic Moon, a stand-alone suspenser, but that novel was very different from this one and I get the feeling that the Maigret novels are a like a loaf of bread, a whole split up into slices.

The plot has some holes and the main appeal is the portrait of Paris and the different people inhabiting it. But this story takes place far from the glamour and instead is colored in grays, with a sense of doom and hopelessness pervading. Nobody is happy in Simenon's little world. And while justice is served at the end, there is no satisfaction to be had, no sense of relief or release, just the animal comfort of burning coals warming a solitary room, which may yet offer some kind of hope. My opinion of A Man's Head did not represent the majority but the discussion did leave me with an appreciation of Simenon and his creation if not exactly a love for the book itself. Maigret is probably required reading for crime aficionados and while A Man's Head is considered a classic, it wasn't quite the right book for me.

Rating: BORROW

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive a copy for review.