I recall reading and enjoying some of the Inspector Maigret short stories in ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE back in the Sixties, when I was reading EQMM regularly. But those were the only things by Georges Simenon that I'd read. So when it was decided to have a Simenon week in the Forgotten Books series, I dug out a couple of Maigret novels I had on hand and figured I'd read one of them.
Well, funny thing. I started both books and didn't like either of them. Maybe it had something to do with the translation, always a concern when reading a book written in another language, but I found both of them bland and uninteresting. So I was about ready to give up on having a Simenon post this week, when I remembered that I also had a copy of a stand-alone novel by him called RED LIGHTS. I gave it a try, and this turned out to be a different story indeed.
At the beginning of RED LIGHTS, Simenon seems to be channeling Cornell Woolrich. The protagonist, Steve Hogan, works in an office in
, as does his wife. They live on Manhattan Long Island with their two children, who are away at summer camp. As Labor Day weekend starts, Steve and his wife start to drive to to retrieve the kids. But along the way they get into an argument because Steve drinks a little too much and feels trapped by his life, and after he stops at a bar along the way for a quick drink, when he comes back out to the car his wife is gone. And oh, what was that news flash on the radio about an escaped convict in the area . . .? New Hampshire
You may think you know where this is all going, but after that Woolrichian opening Simenon veers off into mostly different territory. Some things turn out about like you'd expect, and others don't. The book is well-written, and Steve is a compelling, if not very likable, protagonist. The pace is a little leisurely at times, but I still got through the novel quickly. It's fairly short, as most of Simenon's books appear to be. I remember reading that he wrote most of his books in about a week's time. That sounds about right. There are eight chapters in RED LIGHTS, and I can easily imagine him writing a chapter a day until he was done.
This is a pretty good book, although it's not going to make me rush out and read more Simenon. It bothers me that I didn't like those Maigret novels, since I had good memories of the stories I read. I may try them again one of these days.