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by Georges Simenon
Penguin, December 2006
176 pages
ISBN: 0143038451

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Hemingway loved the crime fiction of George Simenon, so I was excited to read the French novelist's THE HOTEL MAJESTIC. Now published in a new translation by David Watson, THE HOTEL MAJESTIC is one of a series of Simenon tales featuring hardboiled Paris detective Inspector Maigret. In this one, a prep chef in the titular swanky Parisian hotel gets to work late due to a flat bicycle tyre, and finds the body of an American business tycoon's trophy wife stuffed in a locker. Inspector Maigret must find out who murdered her, and why.

This is a plot-driven story, and the plot is fast-paced and intricate. It's an easy read: a less gritty variation on Dashiell Hammett's style. Unfortunately, I couldn't help constantly comparing it to that master of American hardboiled detective stories, and noticed one major difference. Hammett's protagonists -- Sam Spade and the Continental Op, for example -- are fully fleshed-out human beings. They are brilliant, but also sometimes flawed, confused, and vulnerable. Apart from a bit of guilt after interrogating a drug user who is delirious under the influence, Maigret doesn't have any doubts, any introspection. He's so hard-boiled, everything except his job is evaporated.

It doesn't help that the other characters are equally one-dimensional: the basically good guy in a bad situation; the former prostitute saved by a fortuitous marriage; the dumpy, nagging housewife type; and the tug-of-love child, who excites little sympathy because he is barely ever seen and has no dialogue.

If THE HOTEL MAJESTIC isn't a profound study of character and theme, it has other virtues. Penguin's compact 5x7 inch edition makes it great for reading on public transport. Just don't get so caught up in the rapid-moving plot that you miss your destination. It seems definitely intended as escapist literature. First published in 1942, it appears to take place before the war, as the hostilities make no appearance in its pages as far as I can tell.

In short, if you like plot, and want a brief trip to prewar Paris, read THE HOTEL MAJESTIC. Hemingway developed a Simenon addiction, so you might too.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, December 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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