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.
Mr. Hire was sitting in the same seat he occupied every day, the one at the very back of the tram, his briefcase laid flat on his knees, reading the newspaper. Just like every other day, he had set aside his fare, which he held in his hand and offered to the conductor without so much as raising his eyes.
He was not fat. He was flabby. His volume was no greater than that of any ordinary man, but one sensed in him neither flesh nor bone, nothing but soft, flaccid matter, so soft and so flaccid that his movements were hard to make out.
Very red lips stood out from his orb-like face, as did the thin mustache that he curled with an iron but that looked as if it had been drawn on with India ink; on his cheekbones were the symmetrical pink dots of a doll's check.
He didn't look around him. He didn't know that a detective was watching him....
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.