For his next meal ticket, Petit Louis zeros in on Madame Ropiquet, a middle-aged woman who, herself, depends on the generosity of elderly, married lovers. She takes Petit Louis to her apartment, where he lives an idle but satisfying life. He brazenly has his lover, Louise, move in, passing her off as his sister. Even when Madame Ropiquet learns the truth, she allows Louise to stay. They form a congenial, if unusual, family.
Petit Louis returns to the apartment one day to find Madame Ropiquet murdered, her jewels and money missing, and Louise gone. He knows that this is the revenge of Gene, Louise’s sometime boyfriend and his own colleague in crime, whom he has double-crossed. Calmly, Petit Louis disposes of the body and, by forging Madama Ropiquet’s signature, manages to get enough money to escape. It looks safe, but always the shadow of capture hangs over him.
He is indeed arrested for the murder, and the meat of the novel occurs during the trial: Petit Louis watches in rage, in disbelief, and finally in resignation as he is systematically proven guilty of a crime he did not commit. His real crime-- the life of a petty crook--convicts him, as a wealth of information reveals the many wrong-doings of his short life. Manipulated by the prosecution, witnesses mix up important facts that could save him.
In this recent translation of a 1941 novel, Simenon’s story unfolds with his characteristic spare prose. “Petit” Louis is the “little” man, a despicable one, caught in a system he barely understands. Once set in motion, “justice” works toward its own end, a conviction. This is Simenon at his hardest, his most uncompromising.