The Man Who Watched Trains Go Byby Georges Simenon
Kees Popinga is a solid Dutch burgher whose idea of a night on the town is a game of chess at his club. Or so it has always appeared. But one night this model husband and devoted father discovers his boss is bankrupt and that his own carefully tended life is in ruins. Before, he had looked on impassively as the trains to the outside world swept by; now he catches the first train he can to Amsterdam. Not long after that, he commits murder.
Kees Popinga is tired of being Kees Popinga. He's going to turn over a new leaf—though there will be hell to pay.
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Simenon, a prolific author best known for his Inspector Maigret books, also wrote a large number of 'romans durs', hard novels which are somewhat akin to 'noir' fiction. This book is in the romans durs class and tells the tale of a Dutch burgher, Kees Popinga who, after discovering the perfidy of his stolid employer, abandons his conventional existence and becomes a James Thompson type character. He murders a prostitute, assists a car-theft ring, beats and presumably rapes another prostitute and lives a generally degenerate life along the lines of a Bukowski until, finally, he attempts suicide. He is incarcerated in an insane asylum and the book ends. Simenon is an obvious master of mise en scene and is quite adroit at character development. Perhaps because of his hurry to complete his various books, this one abruptly turns course and adopts a conventional and improbable ending. While I found the book interesting, the 'Killer Inside Me' theme was best exploited by Thompson, further developed by James M. Cain and the 'Black Lizard' hard-boiled authors. New York Review Books has re-issued several of the Simenon romans durs and Penguin is re-issuing many of the nspector Maigret series. As Simenon is a foundation stone of mystery writers, this book is a worthy introduction to his work, despite it's shortcomings.