I’ve been a lover of Simenon’s Maigret books for longer than I can remember – particularly as they tick the box for two of my great passions, crime novels and French books! So when I read about this little Hesperus book, which appears to be no longer in print, I thought I should track down a second hand copy.

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And it certainly is an unusual one, quite different from the Maigret stories. Three Crimes tells an autobiographical tale of Simenon’s early life in Belgium during and just after the First World War/occupation by the German Army. It’s very dark in places – the compromises and horrors of dealing with an occupying force are made clear – but it is a fascinating read. Simenon tell of friends of his who murdered, cheated, blackmailed and lived a very dissolute life, and he seems to be asking why they turned to the path of crime and he did not.  Was there just one thing in their lives that pushed them along that particular road while he became a writer? The answer seems to be that we’ll never know – but my view is that Simenon’s talent for writing and need to write carried him out of the circle of crime and into being a writer who chronicled it.

The characters are a nasty bunch – a paedophile blackmailer, a crooked journalist, a fake Fakir, two smugglers plus a variety of misfits and con men who all hang around the periphery of Liege society. They display a considerable amount of hypocrisy in their attitudes (particularly the paedophile bookseller, who is very quick to judge and condemn others, and who seems to think he is some kind of poet). There is a constant threat of violence and aggression – you would want to meet any of these people down a dark alley one night!

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I do recommend this book – it’s not an easy read in places but I feel it illuminates Simenon’s work and gives reasons why he was so drawn to write about the milieu he did. Worth tracking down a copy if you are at all interested in the genesis of this great writer!