Presses de la Cité

Seeing Simenon: Loustal’s illustrations of The Rico’s brothers


Les Frères Rico, published in 1952 with Presses de la Cité was written in July of the same year, in Lakeville, Connecticut. It is not one of the most well known of Simenon’s American novels, although it deserves to be, even leading to a film adaptation, with Richard Conte cast in the leading role. Conte is not the only link between this novel about business, family and the mafia and Coppola’s epic trilogy, The Godfather.  And there are elements in the main character’s personality which evoke De Niro’s in Scorsese’s Casino.

Written during the decade Simenon spent in America (1945 to 1955) and dealing with American settings, characters and topics, it is a novel which could equally have been published in the Série Noire, save for the fact that, maybe, it had much more authenticity than anything published by French crime authors in that series at the time.  Like so many of the Série Noire novels, Simenon’s novel is really a tragedy, a tragedy with ordinary people. Blood and sacred family ties, duty and honour, being forced to make the most cruel of choices are its tragic elements. Businessmen instead of heroes, and corporate organisations (here, the mafia) with their dispassionate, mechanical rules instead of gods, are the elements of ordinariness. Simenon of course is one of the 20th century’s true poets of the ordinary and the novel is poignant in its evocation of the melancholy of submission.

The noir atmosphere, the lingering sense of betrayal, displacement and sorrow left by the novel is captured beautifully by Loustal’s colour drawings for the Omnibus illustrated edition (Paris, Omnibus, 2004)