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Mystery Writers You Should Know: Georges Simenon

Georges Simenon

Author Georges Simenon

Georges Simenon is quoted in THE WRITER’s QUOTATION BOOK by James Charlton, Editor, on page 52, as saying, “Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness.”

In case you are not already acquainted with this phenomenal author, you are in for a treat. The “facts” following have been gleaned from various internet sources and are not guaranteed to be totally accurate since writers have numerous ideas about his life. Read with a grain of salt!

Georges Simenon was Belgian, but he wrote all his books in French. His creation, Inspector Jules Maigret, is second only to Sherlock Holmes as the world’s most well-known detective.

Georges Joseph Christian Simenon was born on February 13, 1903 in Liège, Belgium. Because of superstition, his birth date was registered as February 12. Simenon’s father was an accountant for an insurance company. Because his father’s ill health, Simenon had to leave his studies to work first as a baker and later as a bookseller. He began his writing career at a local newspaper. This apprenticeship blossomed into Simenon’s first novel when he was only 17.

After becoming part of a group of writers, painters and dilettantes who called themselves La Caque (The Cask), he was married briefly to Règine Renchon, a young artist, but the marriage eventually ended in divorce. They lived for a while on a houseboat, the “Ostrogoth,” and traveled the rivers of France and Holland while Simenon wrote his “pot-boilers.”

Pietr Le Letton by Georges Simenon

Pietr Le Letton by Georges Simenon

Simenon moved to Paris in 1923 and began writing novels and short stories under two dozen pen names. He worked as an office clerk and later became secretary to a wealthy aristocrat, the Marquis de Tracy. Between 1923 and 1933, he wrote 200 books of pulp fiction under several pseudonyms. He then wrote 19 Maigret mysteries from 1931 to 1934. His first Maigret novel was published in 1930; called PIETR-LE-LETTON (1930, The Strange Case of Peter the Lett), the book is supposed to have modeled the character of Maigret on Simenon’s great-grandfather.

The Maigret series is loved by mystery readers all over the world. Reported to have been in excess of 100 stories, a reader can be delighted by each and every one of them. All have been translated into English for those who cannot enjoy them in the original French.

Readers should also examine the extensive information about Maigret on the Internet. Huge followings have catalogued books, magazines, movies and everything imaginable about this fascinating detective.

During the 1930s, Simenon, almost always photographed smoking a pipe, lived in many different houses and cruised the Mediterranean. He traveled to Lapland, Africa and Eastern Europe where he was followed by the secret police in Odessa, a port on the Black Sea. He cruised around the world from 1934 to 1935.

Appointed commissioner for Belgian refugees at La Rochelle in 1939, Maigret spent the war years in France, and continued writing. Nine films of his work were produced during the Nazi occupation.

Denyse Ouimet

Denyse Ouimet

In 1945, Simenon moved to Canada and then on to Tucson, Arizona. He met a French-Canadian, Denyse Ouimet, in New York and later married her in 1949. They moved to Connecticut where they lived for five years. During

the 1950s, Simenon wrote novels with American settings.

In 1955, Simenon moved back to Europe and eventually resided in Lausanne, Switzerland. His marriage was failing; he began an affair with Teresa Sburelin, a new servant, who became his devoted companion for the rest of his life. He claimed to have entered into liaisons with thousands of women but this has never been substantiated.

Simenon’s wife, Denyse, entered a psychiatric clinic in 1964. She wrote a book, UN OISEAU POUR LE CHAT (THE BIRD FOR THE CAT), in 1978; in it, she described her bitter memories of their marriage. Their daughter, Marie-Jo, who had been under psychiatric care beginning in 1968, committed suicide in 1978. In 1981, Simenon wrote a book in which he blamed Denyse for their daughter’s death.

In 1952 he was elected as President of the Mystery Writers of America, subsequently receiving the Legion of Honor in New York; he was President of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1960.

Simenon underwent surgery for a brain tumor in 1984 and made a good recovery. In subsequent years however, his health worsened. He gave his last televised interview in December 1988.

Georges Simenon died on September 4, 1989. Several sources relate that he was cremated, according to his wishes, and his ashes were scattered in the yard of his last home in Lausanne.

Deirdre Bair in “The Maigret Machine,” (NY TIMES, August 10, 1997) reported the following, “In the latter years of Georges Simenon’s prolific writing life, when he had already published close to 400 novels, Alfred Hitchcock was said to have telephoned, only to be told by Simenon’s secretary that he couldn’t be disturbed because he had just begun a new novel. Hitchcock, knowing that Simenon was capable of writing one novel — or two or three — every month, replied, ”That’s all right, I’ll wait.”

About Sue Freeman Culverhouse

    Sue Freeman Culverhouse

    Author of Tennessee Literary Luminaries: From Cormac McCarthy to Robert Penn Warren (The History Press, 2013) Sue Freeman Culverhouse has been a freelance writer for the past 36 years. Beginning in 1976, she published magazines articles in Americana, Historic Preservation, American Horticulturist, Flower and Garden, The Albemarle Magazine, and many others. Sue is the winner of two Virginia Press Awards in writing.

    She moved to Springfield, Tennessee in 2003 with her sculptor husband, Bill a retired attorney. Sue has one daughter,  Susan Leigh Miller who teaches poetry and creative writing at Rutgers University.

    Sue teaches music and writing at Watauga Elementary School in Ridgetop, Tennessee to approximately 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. She also publishes a literary magazine each year; all work in the magazine is written and illustrated by the students.

    Sue writes “Uncommon Sense,” a column in the Robertson County Times, which also appears on Clarksville Online. She is the author of “Seven keys to a sucessful life”, which is  available on and; this is a self-help book for all ages.

    Web Site:


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