Scott Bradfield at the New York Times:
In many ways, the Maigrets were a sort of comfort food — the books that Simenon wrote to recover from the physical and psychological stress of writing his better, and far less comforting, novels. In these non-Maigret “thrillers,” often referred to as the romans durs (but to most aficionados known simply as the “Simenons”), the central, usually male character is lured from the stultifying cocoon of himself — and his suburban, oppressively Francophile (and often mother-dominated) life — into a wider, vertiginous world of sexual and philosophical peril, where violence, whether it occurs or only threatens to occur, feels like too much freedom coming at a guy far more quickly than he can handle.
Even though Simenon was widely published, and translated, in his lifetime, there still seem to be some very good “serious” books — like “The Mahé Circle,” which recently received its first English translation — falling loose from forgotten cupboards and laundry hampers. That novel’s Dr. Mahé is the quintessential Simenon protagonist: Raised in a provincial village, overshadowed by a local-legend father who died showing how far he could lift and carry a horse, and hemmed in by the always disapproving eyes of his family and neighbors, he discovers his first taste of existential freedom on holiday in the Porquerolles, where he falls in love (or in fascination) with a bohemian teenage girl in a red dress.