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Simenon, creator of the unforgettable Inspector Maigret mysteries, published over 400 books in his lifetime. Almost a decade after his death, his detective and psychological crime novels remain both popular and influential. Assouline, editor of the French magazine Lire, patiently chronicles the evolution of Simenon's style and sifts fact from fiction in the novelist's own memoirs. He examines Simenon's egocentric behavior and compulsive womanizing (he bragged of bedding ten thousand woman) with a noncensorious Gallic shrug. Assouline is at his best when uncovering suppressed areas of Simenon's life, such as his early anti-Semitic writings and his wartime near-collaboration. But for the most part the writer fails to come to life in this narrative, in which mountains of facts take the place of revealing anecdotes. Simenon took his business dealings as seriously as his writing, and Assouline follows suit by presenting his every contract negotiation in tedious detail. Rather than discussing Simenon's art while documenting his life, he saves his discussion of Simenon's body of work for one chapter awkwardly placed near the book's end. In addition, Assouline finds the key to understanding Simenon's character in his relationship with his daughter Marie-Jo, whose obsessive love for her father ultimately led to her suicide. But he hides this information until the last chapter of the book, when he springs it on the reader, acting rather like Maigret revealing some villainy. But playing detective novel tricks with a real family's tragedy comes across as coy at best, exploitative at worst.
Assouline's biography fails to be what Simenon's novels almost always were: concise, perceptive, and readable.