Having already read a few of Simenon’s Inspector Maigret novels and not massively enjoyed them, when the opportunity arose during a charity shop book hunt I decided to take a chance on one of Simenon’s novels which did not contain Maigret.
The Murderer (1937) begins with Dr. Hans Kuperus, who lives in Sneek in Holland, murdering his wife, Alice and her lover Herr Schutter, tossing their bodies into an icy cold canal in January, 12 months after having receiving an anonymous note telling him about the affair. What piqued his anger even more was that Schutter was not being socially punished by other town members and even gained the position of President at Kuperus’ billiard club; a position he had been angling for, for ages. The rest of the novel chronicles the disintegration of Kuperus mentally, socially, emotionally and even physically, as he finds that his murderous actions have not improved his lot:
‘The house he had lived in for sixteen years seemed suddenly to have changed – or rather it seemed to have died.’
Nor had they avenged the deep feelings of humiliation which provoked him in the first place. Moreover, an attempt at a new relationship develops into a deeply possessive, obsessive and abusive relationship, where even Kuperus eventually ends up finding no joy or solace in it, seeing her as a ‘hostage’ he is unable to relinquish. This process begins even before he commits his crime:
‘Kuperus wished he hadn’t got his brief case… It was going to be of no further use to him, but in a confused way he felt he must not let go of anything. The brief case was somehow part of him, and he must keep himself intact.’
But it becomes rapidly more pronounced as time passes in the novel, with Kuperus becoming more and more paranoid about what others think about him, only to become belligerent and reluctant to move from Sneek when his worst fears are confirmed. The novel ends inconclusively with the final moment of self-destruction envisaged and predicted, but not having happened, left to the realms beyond the pages of the story, although it is undecided whether it will be voluntary or involuntary.
Obviously in such a book there is no specific mystery to solve, being more akin to a why dunnit, although it does take a while for the mystery letter writer to be revealed and in a way I think it would have been a more interesting novel if it had focused on this writers’ motivations and subsequent actions after the murders have taken place. In novels such as this the focus is on psychology, with the narration being from the killer’s perspective and there were interesting points in the book occasionally which looked at Kuperus’ motivations for his actions and the effects of social exclusion on him. Yet I didn’t really enjoy this book, as I could predict what would happen and I feel other authors such as Francis Iles and his novel Malice Aforethought (1931) wrote this type of novel better, still managing to include great twists and more engaging killer.
I feel like I have never had much luck with a Simenon novel. Has anyone read one which they would strongly recommend?