Charles Petzold

Summer Reading: “The Engagement”

June 22, 2007
Roscoe, N.Y.

The Engagement is a new translation of Georges Simenon's 1933 novel Les Fiançailles de M. Hire, recently published by New York Review Books, the 8th in a series of Simenon novels this kind publisher has issued.

There's no question that Mr. Hire is not the most attractive man around; outwardly the life he leads is one of consistency and routine.

There is also no question that Mr. Hire leads a secretive life, and every revelation makes him seem less pleasant. He lives alone in a small rented room in the Paris suburb of Villejuif. He makes money filling orders in a get-rich-quick mailorder scam. He makes periodic trips to a brothel. At night, from a window of his darkened room, he silently watches the girl who works in the dairy store and who lives in the opposite apartment as she gets ready for bed. Parents instinctually don't let their children get close to Mr. Hire.

But did he really kill the prostitute found in the vacant lot nearby? And what does he carry around in that briefcase? And can he trully be one of the best bowlers in Paris?

The Engagement is relentless and disturbing, with several startling twists and a harrowing conclusion packed into 130 scorching pages.