With a heartbreaking and terrible story, the novel by Simenon paints intense portraits of main actors and extras: the female concierge living in poverty and fears; the bored policeman; Alice, the baker’s servant, who’s both sexy and gross; and Mr Hire, the scapegoat of a collective delusion.
Everything starts with the brutal murder of a prostitute. Is Mr Hide guilty? A fat man, looking harmless and yet creepy, is revealed to us with his habits, manias, and perversions.
Like a camera, the author’s eye follows Mr Hire in the bistros and brothels, up to his office and studio flat where, in the dark, he secretly peeks at the luscious, naked Alice.
Written in 1933, the novel has several interpretations and it seems to bring a dark prophecy, as Hire descends from outcasts, being the son of a Russian Jew and a fat, yellow as a quince, Armenian lady.
Beginning with a cold and detached writing, as the novel progresses we become more engaged and absorbed by the characters’ hearts; an expert storyteller, Simenon captivates us with a growing tension, culminating in an unavoidable, but still upsetting, ending.
Unforgettable characters. Ruthless representation of a humanity who’s hungry for a scapegoat. A masterpiece.
Translation by Sara Di Girolamo