(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

To legions of mystery fans, Inspector Jules Maigret of the Paris Judiciary Police is a more familiar figure than his creator, Belgian novelist Georges Simenon. Now Pierre Assouline taps Simenon’s own life to tell a story only marginally less compelling than one of Maigret’s own cases.

The future novelist was born in Liege, Belgium, in 1903, the son of an easygoing insurance agent and a driven, embittered boardinghouse keeper who made no secret of her preference for Simenon’s brother. By the time he set out for Paris at age nineteen, Simenon was already an accomplished journalist. In France he published almost two hundred novels under some seventeen pseudonyms. Satisfied that he had finally mastered his craft, he began writing under his own name in 1931, producing another two hundred thirty or so novels and collections of short stories. Many featured the immortal Maigret, but many others were probing psychological studies that drew the praise of critics and fellow writers.

Along the way Simenon claimed to have bedded ten thousand women—a figure one of his wives put at closer to twelve hundred. Most were prostitutes, but one was famed American entertainer Josephine Baker, with whom he carried on a passionate affair. He stopped writing fiction in 1972, devoting himself to memoirs in which he attempted to come to terms with his mother’s bitterness and his beloved daughter’s suicide.

Simenon’s prodigious life has been recounted before, but Assouline is the first biographer to be given access to Simenon’s private papers. The result is the most thorough account to date, and likely to remain the standard for years to come.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIII, June, 1997, p. 1646.

The Economist. CCCXLIV, September 6, 1997, p. 6.

Kirkus Reviews. LXV, April 15, 1997.

Library Journal. CXXII, June 15, 1997.

The Nation. CCLXV, July 28, 1997, p. 25.

National Review. XLIX, September 29, 1997, p. 58.

The New Republic. CCXVII, October 20, 1997, p. 32.

The New York Times Book Review. CII, August 10, 1997, p. 5.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, April 28, 1997, p. 56.

The Spectator. CCLXXIX, September 6, 1997, p. 38.

The Times Literary Supplement. February 5, 1993, p. 9.

World Literature Today. LXVIII, Winter, 1994, p. 83.