Tag Archives: Georges Simenon

The Intel: Pierre Lemaitre

Pierre LemaitreWe like Pierre Lemaitre here, but you may have guessed that — we like his tightly-plotted, quick-witted novels featuring the diminutive detective Commandant Camille Verhoeven. Lemaitre is the author of Alex, Irene and most recently concluded — or perhaps hasn’t — his trilogy about Verhoeven, with Camille. We recently reviewed Camille — and, if you’re tall enough to reach the mouse, you can click here to see it.

Lemaitre worked for many years as a teacher of literature and now devotes his time to writing novels and screenplays. With Alex he won the CWA 2013 International Dagger Award and he was awarded the 2013 Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary award, for Au revoir là-haut, his epic about World War I.

We’ve long wanted to talk to Lemaitre, there’s been a big, gaping hole in the Intel Interviews until now, so we’re delighted that he’s agreed to talk to us about Camille, why he’s not nice to his characters and how, if you’re looking for advice about writing, you’re on your own…

How does Camille differ from its predecessors Alex and Irene?

CAMILLE is the final part of a trilogy, describing the destiny of a man (Camille) through those of three women (Irene, Alex and Anne). This novel does not resemble its predecessors, because the narrative is very different, but I imagine a reader who has followed this character since the beginning would want to know how his story ends.

The seeds for this final book are planted in the previous volumes – did you plan the trilogy in its entirety at the beginning?

No. Camille was not meant to be a recurring character. I wrote two other crime novels after IRENE, which did not involve detectives, but when I found myself confronted by Alex, and indeed every time I needed a police officer, Camille was always knocking on my door, in a fairly friendly way. As you know, he’s someone who has had to deal with a lot of problems in his life, so it was difficult to turn him down…

CamilleCamille Verhoeven is one of the most-singular protagonists in crime fiction – where did you get the inspiration for him?

I wanted a detective who would view the world in a slightly different way to other people. His height makes him see everything from a low-angled shot, which is unusual, and makes him view life from a different perspective to other men. Moreover, I wanted this character to be a tribute to painting, and Dutch painting in particular. I therefore created a man who thought with his hands as much as his brain: he only really understands what he can paint, because painting is a form of expressing the way he contemplates different problems.

Is it true that there’s a fourth book in your trilogy?!

Yes, it’s a book with the French title of Rosy & John – I’m very proud of it. It will be published in English as I have an excellent UK publisher, who is planning to publish all my books.

You’re a great connoisseur of crime fiction. How do French writers differ from their British or American counterparts, do you think? 

It’s quite difficult to say in a few words. I think that, (very generally) French authors spend more time on the question of the atmosphere of the novel (doubtless a legacy of Simenon) and they are perhaps more willingly concerned with political problems than social ones.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing? 

It is a lesson that is probably just as difficult for my characters as it is for me. When I was writing my second novel, I was unhappy with it from the very beginning. I re-wrote a lot, and then corrected it again – but it still didn’t work, and finally I came to understand that I had been too sparing with my main character, (a delightful young woman, who I didn’t want to suffer too much). I remembered a lesson from Jean Cocteau: “to amuse the gods, man must fall to earth.”

I realised that I loved my character, but that you can’t write a good crime novel with such sentiments; so I had the head of my main character held under water until she was almost dead – and straightaway the book was much better. I do have a reputation of not being terribly nice to my characters. I’ll let you be the judge of that.

51EZo357u5L._SY445_Give me some advice about writing…

No, everyone must find their own method, their rhythm. Maybe good advice would be to make yourself happy first of all because a reader can tell if a book has been written with an enjoyment that the author wants to share.

And if I knew how to write good books, I’d keep the recipe to myself! 

What’s next for you?

I’m planning to write a TV series, roughly 8 or 10 episodes long, about a crime that takes place in modern-day Paris. I hope I will be able to tell you more in a few weeks…

The Intel: DA Mishani

DA MishaniDA Mishani was destined to be a crime novelist. A literary scholar specializing in the history of detective literature, he worked as an editor of fiction and international crime literature before hitting it big with the publication of his first novel. The Missing File was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger Award.

Now the second in his Inspector Avraham Avraham series, A Possibility Of Violence, has been translated – it won the prestigious Bernstein prize for best Hebrew novel in 2014 – and is getting all sorts of acclaim. In the novel, a suspicious device is found inside a suitcase near a nursery in Tel Aviv. The children are taken to safety; a man is caught fleeing the scene. Then comes the phone call: ‘the suitcase is only the beginning.’

Both A Possibility of Violence and The Missing File were shortlisted for the Sapir Award, the Israeli equivalent of the Man Booker Prize.

Where did the inspiration for A Possibility of Violence come from?

A Possibility Of Violence was born from an uncanny conversation I had with my 4-year-old son Benjamin. One day he suddenly asked me, “Do you know I had a father before you?” I looked at him, shocked by what he had just said, and then he added, “But he’s already dead.” This conversation haunted me – and finally inspired a similar scene in the novel I started writing.

What kind of man is Avraham?

Unlike most literary detectives, probably, he’s a trusting man, somewhat naïve maybe, and also partly insecure. But he’s passionate and truly caring for the lives of people he meets during his investigations, and he’s imaginative – and when he believes he knows the truth he doesn’t let go.

Your crime novels have won and been shortlisted for numerous awards – do you feel the weight of expectation on your shoulders when you sit down to write?

I think that on the contrary, the fact that my novels have gained some appreciation from readers and critics, helps me keep going, avoiding the voices most writers probably hear around them, whispering, “is that really any good?”

You’re a scholar specializing in the history of crime literature – do you find that a help or a hindrance when you came to write your first Inspector Avraham novel?

A huge help. I believe you can’t be a good crime writer without being first a good crime reader, because writing a good crime novel is initiating yourself to a glorious literary tradition that you have to respect and follow, while betraying it, but just a bit, in order to speak with a voice that is also your own.

A Possibility Of ViolenceYou have probably read more detective novels than most people. What are the traits of personality that link fictional detectives down the decades and across the continents, do you think?

Most of the literary detectives that made the genre’s history were vain but their vanity was just a cover for their deep insecurity and solitude, traits that I really like about them. Most of them pretended to be genius but only in order to hide their blindness, which is what I find fascinating about them. And some of them were the most humane characters ever written in literature, faithful witnesses for human sufferings and pain.

Who are your own favourite crime writers?

Henning Mankell. Fred Vargas. P.D. James. Karin Fossum. Hakan Nesser. Jan Costin Wagner. Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall. Georges Simenon. And many more.

We’re familiar with the political situation in Israel, but Tel Aviv, like any other city, must have its share of social and domestic crime – how important is it to you to accurately portray this aspect of the city?

I don’t believe that writers are, generally speaking, good sociologists (apart from Balzac, maybe?) I’m definitely not sitting down to write in order to describe a society or denounce its problems. But I do believe that we are all social-beings and so in a way complex “products” of the societies we live in – and that when you write well a personal story you always write a social story too.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

Oh, they can be so painful sometimes. I go to my office early in the morning, after leaving my children in school, and then I sit for hours in front of the computer, sometimes four hours and sometimes even eight. The hardest part is that you can never know how well you’ll do today and that weeks can pass without a truly good page…

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That you can’t rush it.

How do you deal with feedback?

I love good feedback and I find it very helpful to my writing. Bad reviews I pretend not to read.

Give me some advice about writing…

Me? I can maybe try and give advice about writing crime: start from feeling a certain proximity and even intimacy with your criminal and your crime.

What’s next for you?

I’m about to write the last pages of the third Avraham novel, The Policeman Who Went Down The Stairs And Disappeared. And then, who knows? But I guess Avraham and I will not separate for long…

The Intel: Roberto Costantini

Roberto Costantini

Roberto Costantini’s Commissario Balistreri books are about as far from the cosy Montalbano as you can get. Introduced in the international bestseller The Deliverance Of Evil, Balistreri is a flawed Italian detective searching for redemption.

In the second thriller in Costantini’s trilogy, The Root Of All Evil, the damaged Balistreri searches for the murderer of a student in 1982 on the evening of Italy’s World Cup victory – and the scars of his childhood in Libya are revealed.

Costantini was born in Tripoli in 1952 himself. A former engineer, he now teaches on the MBA program at the Guido Carli University in Rome. Crime Thriller Fella is delighted that he’s agreed to give us the intel on Balistreri and his link to Italy’s troubled past…

How would you describe Commissario Balistreri to a new reader?

In modern thrillers the hero (the detective) is normally a troubled person, but troubled in a way that makes them likeable to the reader. Balistreri is also troubled, but is depicted differently: in the sense that, when we first meet him, he is likely to be unlikable, yet very intriguing, to a large portion of the readership.

Balistreri is a damaged man – and The Root Of All Evil delves into his childhood in Tripoli. What made you set a portion of the novel in Libya?

Libya was chosen for two reasons: because the events of Gaddafi’s rise to power in 1969 are real, and fascinating, but are still not widely documented; and because Libya is a perfect example of a place wherein the values of the old world (loyalty and trust) were replaced in favour of the values of the new world (making a lot of money very quickly).

Is it true to say that Balistreri perhaps represents Italy’s troubled past?

Balistreri is an ex-fascist. His vision of fascism before the alliance with Hitler is positive. This opinion was (and is) shared by a large portion of Italians, even today. It is a minority view, but not a minor one, and needs to be understood in order to fight properly against modern Fascism.

How important is it to you that crime fiction has something to say about the society you live in?

It is not fundamental. While this trilogy is very much anchored to society, my next book will probably be far from that.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I work full time in a University. So typical writing days are weekends and holidays. This fact, coupled with the Italian weather, allows me to write on a terrace in front of a beautiful beach or a beautiful mountain. Which makes things much easier.

The Root Of All Evil What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That at a certain point you need to stop trying to make the book better. After a certain point you can only make it worse. Good writers are not perfectionists.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Kundera writes extraordinary ‘thrillers of the soul’ even though no one would classify him as a thriller writer. And Raymond Chandler. With regards to thrillers, my ideal combination would be the plots of Agatha Christie and the characters of Georges Simenon.

What can you tell us about the third novel in the Balistreri trilogy?

That, to put it the Nietzschean way, existence is a circle, everything comes back to the starting point; but in a circle there is no starting point. That the truth about all the killings across the fifty years lies both in time past and time future. Sound mysterious?


The Root Of All Evil by Roberto Costantini is out now, published in hardback by Quercus Books.

Radio Crime Log: Missing, Simenon

BBC Radio 4Not much on the box this week. However, those of you who own a radio  – and I sincerely hope that means all of you – should be alerted to a couple of crimey things with dramatic potential.

Missing In Action is BBC Radio 4’s Afternoon Drama, on Thursday at 2.15pm. Sadly, it’s not an adaptation of Chuck Norris’s action franchise – my god, I’d listen to that – but a drama about a woman who believes she sees her lost soldier husband in a supermarket.

The blurb will now tell you much the same thing, but using more words:

Natalie’s husband was listed in Helmand as Missing In Action. Then one day, she spots him in a supermarket. But is this man really him? Her belief is so overpowering, that the man himself begins to wonder if she might be right. Or perhaps he wants her to be?

It’s Clare Lizzimore’s first play for radio.

Not so long ago I believe we mentioned the superhuman writing output of Georges Simenon. To find out how many novels the Maigret author unleashed on the world – and I know you have an insatiable curiosity about these things – you just have to click here.

On Friday, at 2.15pm, Radio 4 begins the first of three adaptations of some of his psychological thrillers under the banner of The Other Simenon. 

The blurb doesn’t know when to stop:

In A New Lease Of Life, Maurice Dudon, a reclusive bachelor who works as an accountant with no emotional or private life except for furtive and ritualistic visits to a prostitute every Friday, finds his life changing after he is seriously injured in a car accident. In a private nursing home he forms a growing relationship with a nurse, but is it all fate or is his life being manipulated?

The Chuck Norris for Radio 4 Campaign starts here. Who’s with me?

Criminal Minds: Georges Simenon

41YGk835K-L._SY445_French detective Jules Maigret was one of the major crime characters of the 20th Century. Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret books – and some of his other noted novels – are getting republished by Penguin over the coming months, so it’s time to take a look at his creator. Maigret is a man of simple tastes – he likes a smoke and a drink – but Simenon, a writer of considerable stamina, was a different fish altogether. Here are ten facts about his life:

1/ Although his most-famous creation is French, Simenon was actually a Belgian. Born on February 13th, 1903, on Liege, in those superstitious times his birth-certificate was altered to state the 12th.

After 1922 Simenon never lived in Belgium again. He uprooted himself restlessly, living in France, the States and Switzerland among other places – but despite repeated offers to become a French citizen he remained Belgian.

2/ Simenon was extraordinarily prolific. He wrote nearly 200 novels under his own name, and another 200 using pseudonyms – as a young man he would churn out pulp novels under 17 different names. He also completed 150 novellas  and many short-stories. Simenon usually wrote 6,000-8,000 words a day, or anything up to 60 to 80 pages.

Most of his novels were written in less than two weeks, and he once wrote a novel in seven days while sitting inside a glass cage outside the Moulin Rouge.

As a result, it’s estimated 550 million copies of his works have been printed.

21cdWRVi69L._3/ Simenon worked intensely and found writing a book a great physical and mental strain – his wife had Cartier make a solid gold ball to keep his hands busy while he was thinking. If he was kept away from a book in progress for a couple of days or more he would lose interest and abandon it.

Simenon’ s writing style was famously sparse and unadorned. He once said he wanted nothing in his novels to resemble literature. ‘If it rains, I write “it rains.’’’

4 / He wrote 75 novels featuring his famous creation Inspector Maigret. The first Maigret book Pietr-le-Letton appeared in 1931 – but a character with the same name appeared in a book from 1930 called Train de Nuit – and the final book, Maigret et M. Charles, was published in 1972.

Simenon had initially been given a contract to write five novels featuring the character and – typical Simenon – had written all five before the first was even published.

41sjKlFUuDL._SY445_5/ Commissaire Maigret is a detective in the Paris Brigade Criminelle who has an uncommon understanding of the actions of criminals. He’s a less showy fellow than Holmes or Poirot, but with a strong sense of moral justice. He’s fond of a pipe and a drink, and wears a heavy raincoat in all weathers.

Like his creator, Maigret got around a bit in his adventures, which were set all over Europe and in the US.

There have been numerous worldwide television adaptations of Maigret down the years, including two noted British Maigrets, Rupert Davies and Michael Gambon. A French television series starring Bruno Cremer ran for 14 years.

6/ Simenson was an unabashed self-publicist  – he was convinced he would one day win the Nobel Prize – and launched Maigret with a party for 1,000 guests in a Montparnasse nightclub.

7/ As well as his detective novels, Simenon wrote many acclaimed psychological novels, including The Strangers In The House, Red Lights and The Man Who Watched Trains Go By.

In his celebrated 1987 survey of the 100 best crime novels, English crime writer and critic HRF Keating awarded Simenon three places, for two Maigret novels – My Friend Maigret (1949) and Maigret In Court (1960), and the stand-alone The Stain On The Snow (1948).

8/ It’s incredible that he found the time to do anything else but write, however Simenon reputedly slept with two or three women a week, suggesting that over the course of his life the final tally added up to 10,000 women. Married twice, his relationship with mistress Henriette Liberge survived both marriages.

51I3jh3ChEL._SY445_9/ Simenon stayed in France during the war, working for a German film company. After the war the French government found insufficient evidence to condemn him as a collaborator, but Simenson settled in the US and refused to return to France. The subsequent air of suspicion that surrounded him made Simenon a voluntary exile from France for the most of the rest of his life.

10/ Simenon’s later years were dogged by ill-health and personal troubles. Having given up writing in 1972, Simenon died in 1988.