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A Man's Head (Penguin Modern Classics)A Man’s Head by Georges Simenon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Maigret Mysteries of Simenon are not so widely read anymore, which is a shame, because this is a good little book to delve into when you have the time. Although it is not as complex as Poe’s tales of ‘ratiocination’ or as refined as Christie’s Poirot; Simenon’s story stands as a good example of how to do a character study of a villain. In short, it dusts off the quaint Victoriana and Gothic garbs that became synonymous with the genre, and sets a decidedly gritty, modern tone. Within Simenon’s sharp prose, Paris comes to life in all its gaudy splendour. One can also see this easily influencing crime-noir authors like Raymond Chandler.

As the title suggests, the storyline hinges on the ‘psychological’ aspect of detective work, the second-guessing, the think-work rather than the action. This is the classic tale of two adversaries on opposite sides of the law who come to loggerheads. On one hand there is Maigret; a gifted, well-seasoned detective who has proved himself beyond doubt in his professional field. On the other hand is Joseph Huertin, a convicted murderer who miraculously escapes prison with the help of… well, Maigret himself. This explosive start to the narrative whets the appetite for what’s to become a very dark and cunning cat-and-mouse chase.

It is then that we discover that Heurtin, with his slow mental faculties, is an unlikely candidate for the calculated, brutal killings he has been tried for. Instead, Maigret puts his job on the line in one final attempt to nab the real murderer, with Heurtin as bait.

This rollicking start to the novel is sustained with the gradual introduction of said ‘real’ killer, who turns out to be a devilishly cunning adversary clever enough to go toe-to-toe with Maigret. I certainly appreciated how Simenon gave a lot of thought to his villain. He really made the effort to make this a ‘match’. Most detective stories are filled with bad guys who in the long run are not geared up to really fight the system. But I am glad to say that this one does.

This is a great read for those looking for something a little bit different in the genre. If you go into this expecting Booker Prize winning prose then you will be disappointed. This is definitely good, clean ‘pulp fiction’. Just have fun with it. Who knows, you might even like it!

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