The Saint-Fiacre Affair

By Georges Simenon

Penguin. 160 pp. $11

nolead ends nolead begins Inspector Maigret
Omnibus 1: Pietr the Latvian, The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien, The Carter of La Providence, and The Grand Banks Café
nolead ends nolead begins By Georges Simenon

Penguin. 533 pp. $30

nolead ends nolead begins The Mahé Circle
nolead ends nolead begins nolead ends nolead begins By Georges Simenon

Penguin. 160 pp. $11

nolead ends nolead begins nolead ends nolead begins

Reviewed by John Timpane

nolead ends nolead begins B nolead ends elgian novelist Georges Simenon (1903-1989) is a big name in 20th-century literature, available in English and dozens of other languages for 80 years. The long-running Maigret series on PBS's Masterpiece made millions familiar with Simenon's most famous creation, Inspector Jules Maigret of the Police Judiciare in Paris.

And now, over the next few years, Penguin is bringing out, in fine, new translations, all the Maigret novels (75 in all, singly, or bound in hardcover "omnibuses": Omnibus 1 contains a few of his earliest Maigret books) plus a few of Simenon's romans durs ("tough novels"), brief realist masterpieces such as the obsessive Mahé Circle and the devastating Mr. Hire's Engagement.

There probably will never be a complete, collected Simenon. He wrote around 200 novels under his own name and another 200 under about 18 pseudonymns. Writing like a maniac, he turned himself into a remorseless, stripped-down, modernist storyteller. His novels are short, single-sitting reads. He distinguished between his vast body of "commercial novels" and his romans durs, which he wrote for himself and for art.

The Maigret books may be commercial, but they're also tough and pitiless. The Saint-Fiacre Affair leads Maigret back to his hometown to solve a mysterious murder. Sense details fly, along with boyhood memories: "Maigret savoured the sensations of youth again: the cold, stinging eyes, frozen fingertips, an aftertaste of coffee. Then, stepping inside the church, a blast of heat, soft light; the smell of candles and incense. . . . " There's a wildness, events beyond control, fragmentary conversations, glimpsed faces, half-understood movements. An off-balance tenor runs throughout, not least of all in Maigret himself, who "forgot how uncanny his presence was."

The non-Maigret novels are remarkable. In The Mahé Circle, a doctor and his family vacation somewhere new, with funny, superb, ominous consequences.

For the next couple of years, we'll have new Simenon on shelves and e-readers everywhere. Great for the world of readers.

215-854-4406 @jtimpane