Regular readers of this site will know that I love the work of Georges Simenon. I love the Maigret novels, which are harder and darker than their reputation might suggest, but I also love the Roman Durs, of which this novel is one. These novels are equally as dark and cold and mean as their American noir cousins.
The Engagement isn’t a Simenon that I had encountered before, but it’s definitely a high quality addition to his superb back catalogue; one that should appeal to both fans of his previous work and make a perfect introduction for new readers.
The Engagement is about Mr Hire, an overweight and slightly creepy man, who runs a legal, but hardly ethical, postal scam. Hire is a furtive and shy individual who keeps himself to himself, ensuring the suspicion of those who live and work in the block of flats where he resides. So when a prostitute is brutally murdered in the area all eyes are focussed on him. There are reasons for Hire’s odd behaviour but, because the police are brought in and nobody thinks enough of him to ask the reason why, they automatically assume that he is guilty. As the story progresses and the tension ratchets up to almost unbearable levels the reader is genuinely unsure what Hire’s fate will be.
For a writer who has been lauded for the ‘psychology’ in his novels, there is surprisingly little in The Engagement. Most of what goes on is rendered in clean, camera-eye prose that gives little insight into the psychology of the characters. And yet, Simenon’s brilliant word choices and descriptions give us all the information we need to know about the shy and reserved Hire, the conceited and unpleasant concierge and the other characters, mostly unpleasant, who populate this tale. Also, his effortless handling of the tension is a lesson to any writer who wants to know how to create a page-turner with minimal fuss, and without drawing attention to his writing. The Engagement is a superb read and comes highly recommended to those who like their stories dark and diamond hard.