Two short reviews for my second contribution to Paris in July – an annual tag hosted by Thyme for Tea which I love doing each year.
A Man’s Head by Georges Simenon
Translated by David Coward
A Man’s Head was the ninth Maigret novel, originally published in 1931, I read David Coward’s 2014 translation in the new Penguin covers. (See all my Simenon/Maigret reviews here.)
As we have often seen before, Maigret is the kind of detective who watches things take their course to catch the perpetrator. Sometimes he nudges things along, but rarely does he interfere so much as in this novel, where he engineers a prison break for a young drifter who is awaiting execution for two murders – a rich American woman and her maid. Maigret himself caught Joseph Huertin, but now believes the man in innocent, not clever enough to have committed the crime. Maigret persuades Coméliau, the examining magistrate to let him do this, so that the real murderer will be revealed, and Maigret offers his own resignation if the case isn’t resolved inside ten days.
Huertin duly escapes, followed doggedly all around Paris by Maigret’s men. The papers get the news of the escape rather sooner than Maigret would have liked – putting him under even more pressure. The matter is complicated by the introduction of William Crosby, heir of the murdered rich woman, but it is not long before Maigret homes in on the real murderer, who plays with the brusque Inspector. Maigret must play back, biding his time to get the evidence he needs in this cat and mouse game. Once Maigret is onto the murderer, there is an inevitability in both mens’ actions – the murderer now wants to be caught, but on his own terms. Will Maigret be able to bring him in inside the ten days?
I really enjoyed this Maigret novel, one of the best so far. (9/10)
Source: Own copy from the TBR. Georges Simenon, A Man’s Head (trans D.Coward) Penguin paperback, 176 pages. BUY at Amazon UK (affiliate link)
Smoking Kills by Antoine Laurain
Translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie
This is Laurain’s second novel from 2007, the fifth to be translated by Gallic Books. In tone, it sits much closer to his first novel, The Portrait (reviewed here), than the lighter The President’s Hat (reviewed here), for it is a dark confessional tale narrated by a convicted murderer. It begins:
Looking back over the somewhat dizzying landscape of my life, I would say that before the events that turned it upside down, I was an unremarkable man, bordering on the dull. I had a wife, a daughter, a profession in which I was respected, and my criminal record was a blank sheet. But then, I was a victim of an attempt to oust me at work, my wife left me, and I had four murders to my name. If I had to sum up my unusual trajectory in one sentence, I would say ‘it was all the fault of the cigarettes’.
Fabrice Valantine is approaching middle-age, a successful headhunter, and committed smoker, when the law changes and a smoking ban is introduced at work. At first, he rebels, but is persuaded to try hypnosis. It works! He is delighted, his wife is especially delighted, but then life takes a difficult turn and he lights up again. But this time he is unable to get any enjoyment from smoking. It is only after he is mugged on a Métro platform and accidentally pushes his attacker in front of a train that the cigarette he lights after running away gives him an intense experience of joy. He becomes addicted to murder, in the same way as he is to nicotine. Who will be next, and how will he commit the perfect kill?
Laurain’s trademark style of anchoring his story in an object, here, cigarettes of course, is firmly established as always. For anyone who was ever a smoker (as I was once), there will be a certain nostalgia for all the paraphernalia such as gold B&H packets, Bic lighters and so on that non-smokers may not appreciate. Apart from the title’s double meaning, Laurain doesn’t condemn smoking as bad for your health – all smokers know that – but does send positive messages that it is good to give up, for ones family and the environment for instance. I would wager that he is an reformed ex-smoker himself.
There is much humour as you’d expect from Laurain, much of it dark, but this book, unlike his others, took a lot longer to get going. The first half spent too much time setting everything up, then all the murders happened in the second half and felt rushed in comparison. A difficult second novel? Certainly, the subject matter, with its dwelling on the act of smoking so much, made it harder to love. I didn’t love this one as I did the other three of his books I’ve read, but did have a certain macabre fun to it. (7.5/10)
See also: Stu’s review at Winstonsdad’s Blog
Source: Own copy. Antoine Laurain, Smoking Kills (Gallic, 2018) paperback original, 224 pages. BUY at Amazon UK (Affiliate link)