Today in Literary History – September 4, 1986 – Belgian crime novelist Georges Simenon dies

Georges Simenon, the prolific Belgian detective novelist and creator of the immortal Inspector Maigret mysteries, died in Lausanne, Switzerland on September 4, 1989, at the age of 86.

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Over the course of his career Simenon wrote at least 400 books, 76 of them featuring his most famous creation, the pipe-smoking Inspector Jules Maigret of the French Criminal Brigade.

Simenon claimed that he could write a book in eleven days. (A week to write a first draft and three days for editing.)

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Simenon was also a serial womanizer who, according to a Guardian profile celebrating his centenary in 2003, “claimed to have had sex with 10,000 women and, while all claims of erotic prowess are subject to a certain rounding-up, it’s clear he used prostitutes at the rate Parisians get through Gitanes.” His most famous affair was with the dancer Josephine Baker.

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Simenon with Josephine Baker in Paris

Simenon was born in Belgium, but also lived in France and for the last forty years of his life in either the United States or Switzerland. Part of this had to do with his controversial behaviour during World War II. After the war Simenon was accused of being a German collaborator and sentenced to a five year publication ban.

There is still no clear consensus on how guilty he actually was, but he didn’t feel comfortable living in France or Belgium after that.

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Simenon famously said that he couldn’t make things up and credited his books’ verisimilitude to his early years as a newspaper crime reporter where he had to spend most of his time cultivating sources among thieves, prostitutes and petty criminals.

Simenon’s books have been translated into more than 50 languages and are popular around the world. He is the second most widely read crime novelist, being surpassed only by Agatha Christie.

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