Early French Crime Fiction in America


FantomasusPierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain, Fantômas , Marcel Brentano’s, 1915

The Circulation of French language crime fiction in America starts with  Gaboriau, and before him Vidocq (whose Memoirs, first published in Paris 1828-1829 by Tenon, Libraire-Editeur, owe much to fiction, and in turn would influence Balzac and most of 19th Century writing on crime, and early crime novels). It is in America that Gaboriau’s L’affaire Lerouge, his first detective novel, published in Paris in 1866, first appeared  in English translation (in the 1873  Boston Edition reproduced below). Continue reading

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)


A Crime Classic a day (11)


Georges Simenon, The Rules of the Game (La Boule noire,  Presses de la Cité, 1955)

The Rules of the Game (La Boule noire) is the first novel Simenon wrote in France upon his return from his decade-long stay in America. Written in April 1955 and set in Connecticut, it drmatizes issues of belonging and membership, and the small-town mentality. It is apparent that, in writing it, Simenon had just come to terms with the realisation that he had never truly belonged in American society.


Original edition,  Presses de la Cité, 1955

A Crime classic a day (4)


Georges Simenon, The Saint-Fiacre Affair, Pocket Books, 1942

L’Affaire Saint-Fiacre is one of the earliest of Simenon’s  75 well known Commissaire  Maigret novels (and 28 short stories). The investigation brings Maigret back to the village of his birth. Memories  come back to him  with all the vividness and rich textures of those of Proust. Maigret savoured the sensations of his 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.

Alternative English language titles are  Maigret Goes Home and  Maigret on Home Ground.

The novel was adapted in 1959 to the screen by Jean Delannoy, with Jean Gabin.

French Authors in the Circulo del Crimen Series


Source :

Compared with other Spanish series, Circulo del Crimen from the 1980s seems to suggest a decrease in the influence of “French” crime fiction in Spain. Out of a series of 120 books, Boileau, Dard, Exbrayat,  Japrisot, Kassak, Leblanc, Le Breton and Simonin  are the only French language authors, and they feature with solely one book each. Simenon, the only other translated from the French in this series, has two. Ten out 120 is a poor return for one of the literary traditions in which the crime novel was co-invented (together with the USA and GB) and in a country like Spain, where cultural exchanges with France were frequent and long standing.

Simenon Circulo

Continue reading

Bad blood over Dirty Snow

Simenon 4è de couv Simenon avec jaquette (1) Simenon sans jaquette

Georges Simenon, La neige était sale, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1949

The cover above (courtesy of Didier Poiret’s collection) is from a 1949 edition of Georges Simenon’s 1948 noir novel La neige était sale, translated in English both as The Stained Snow and Dirty Snow. The following year (1950) Simenon and Frédéric Dard would co-write an adaptation of the novel for stage. The play, also entitled la Neige était sale was produced in December 1950 at the Théâtre de l’Œuvre. Dard and Simenon fell out in the process and would never truly reconcile. Dard owes to the play his encounter with Robert Hossein, who played the leading role. Dard and Hossein went on to work together on plays, films and books across four decades. Simenon, meanwhile, probably owes to Dard the inspiration for his novel. He had praised Dard’s 1946 novel, La Crève, calling its 25 year old author a master.

Both La Crève and La neige était sale are short, and noir, and both have a teenage criminal for their central characters. Both are violent and seedy, and live with their mothers. Both novels, published in the aftermath of the Second World War are set in an occupied (although in Dard’s case it is rather the liberation army which is perceived as a threat) and unnamed town. Both are stories of bad blood and reckonings.

Yellow Cover Series in Argentina: Editorial Tor (Buenos Aires)


Georges Simenon, Maigret in Nueva York,  Buenos Aires,  Editorial TOR, Serie Amarilla. Policial, aventura y misterio, 1952

In the 1940s and 50s, the Argentinian publisher Editorial Tor brought out a large number of international crime fiction books under a distinctive yellow cover. Printed in 12x17cm paperback format, these books acknowledged both  the standardisation of Crime Fiction books and the canonisation of an international group of authors, from Doyle and Leblanc, to Sax Rohmer and Simenon as the most representative of the genre and its subgenres Continue reading