Monday, 3 March 2008

Sons of Simenon

I've mentioned before that such successful and prolific writers as W.J. Burley andAlan Hunter, creator of Charles Wycliffe and George Gently respectively, were disciples of the late Georges Simenon. Lately I’ve discovered that the legendary Belgian’s work has had a significant influence on John Banville, since he turned to writing crime fiction as Benjamin Black.

Banville says that it was not so much Maigret as the non-series books like Dirty Snow that impressed him: ‘I found them just extraordinary – I was astonished by how good they were. He had a genius for setting scenes. The first three or four pages of Monsieur Monde Vanishes are superb…very odd, very dark. Men and women readers interpret the leading character’s actions quite differently.’

Long before he encountered Simenon, Banville had read most of classic crime fiction’s usual suspects: ‘Agatha Christie, of course, and those other polite English ladies with murder in their heart, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Josephine Tey. Then I moved on to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Later I read James M. Cain. The Postman Always Rings Twice is very dark, very hard, very truthful. More recently, I’ve enjoyed the Richard Stark books, such as Point Blank, written by Donald E. Westlake. The recent Parker titles are as good as the early ones. Reading the stories is almost like reading a Capablanca chess game. I met Don Westlake last year and he told me that he didn’t plan out his books. But you can’t tell. They really are very fine.’

Point Blank also made a superb film, starring Lee Marvin and the under-rated Angie Dickinson. I saw it again last year, after a gap of three decades, and was even more taken with it the second time around.


john morris said...

Stark certainly is good, and Westlake as Westlake is just as good -- like tragedy and comedy masks.

Just to clarify one point about Point Blank -- at least in the States, it's still published under its original title, The Hunter. (And as you may know, it was filmed yet again as Payback, starring Mel Gibson. Dreadful.)

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for this, John. I didn't know about Payback, but in view of what you say, I think I'd better avoid it!