Authors: Georges Simenon
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First published in French as
La tÃªte d'un homme
by Fayard 1931
This translation first published in Penguin Books 2014
Copyright 1931 by Georges Simenon Limited
Translation copyright Â© David Coward, 2014
GEORGES SIMENON Â® Simenon.tm
MAIGRET Â® Georges Simenon Limited
Cover photograph (detail) Â© Harry Gruyaert /Magnum Photos.
Front cover design by Alceu Chiesorin Nunes
All rights reserved
The moral rights of the author and translator have been asserted
Georges Simenon was born on 12 February 1903 in LiÃ¨ge, Belgium, and died in 1989 in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he had lived for the latter part of his life. Between 1931 and 1972 he published seventy-five novels and twenty-eight short stories
featuring Inspector Maigret.
Simenon always resisted identifying himself with his famous literary character, but acknowledged that they shared an important characteristic:
My motto, to the extent that I have one, has been noted often enough, and I've always conformed to it. It's the one I've given to old Maigret, who resembles me in certain pointsÂ â¦Â âunderstand and judge
Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels.
âI love reading Simenon. He makes me think of Chekhov'
â William Faulkner
âA truly wonderful writerÂ â¦Â marvellously readable â lucid, simple, absolutely in tune with the world he creates'
â Muriel Spark
âFew writers have ever conveyed with such a sure touch, the bleakness of human life '
â A. N. Wilson
âOne of the greatest writers of the twentieth centuryÂ â¦Â Simenon was unequalled at making us look inside, though the ability was masked by his brilliance at absorbing us obsessively in his stories'
âA novelist who entered his fictional world as if he were part of it'
â Peter Ackroyd
âThe greatest of all, the most genuine novelist we have had in literature'
â AndrÃ© Gide
âSuperbÂ â¦Â The most addictive of writersÂ â¦Â A unique teller of tales'
âThe mysteries of the human personality are revealed in all their disconcerting complexity'
â Anita Brookner
âA writer who, more than any other crime novelist, combined a high literary reputation with popular appeal'
â P. D. James
âA supreme writerÂ â¦Â Unforgettable vividness'
âCompelling, remorseless, brilliant'
â John Gray
âExtraordinary masterpieces of the twentieth century'
â John Banville
When a bell somewhere rang twice, the prisoner was sitting on his bunk with his two large hands clasped about his folded knees.
For the space of perhaps a minute he did not move, as if suspended in time; then with a sudden release of breath, he stretched his arms and legs and stood up in his cell, a huge man, ungainly, his head too big, his arms too long and his chest
His face was unreadable, expressing only numbness or perhaps a kind of inhuman indifference. Yet before he moved across to the door with the spyhole, now closed, he brandished a fist towards one of the walls.
On the other side of that wall was an identical cell, one of the cells on the SantÃ© prison's High Surveillance wing.
In it, as in four other cells, was a convicted criminal waiting for either a stay of execution or the arrival of the solemn party of men who would come one night and wake him without saying a word.
Every day for five days, every hour, every minute, the other prisoner had groaned, at times in a low monotonous whimper, at others accompanied by screams, tears, howls of defiance.
Number 11 had never set eyes on him, knew nothing of him. At most, judging by his voice, he could make a guess that his neighbour was young.
At this moment, the groaning was weary, mechanical, while in the eyes of the man who had just got to his feet there was a flash of hatred, and he clenched his large-knuckled fists.
From the corridor and passageways, from the exercise yards, from every part of the fortress that is the SantÃ© prison, from the streets surrounding it, from Paris, no sound reached him.
Except for the moaning of the man in cell 10.
Number 11 pulled jerkily on his fingers, then froze twice before reaching out to put one hand on the door.
The cell light was on, as laid down in regulations for High Surveillance watch.
Normally, a guard was required to be on duty in the corridor, to open the doors of all five prisoners every hour.
Number 11's hands played around the lock with a gesture made solemn by a tremor of fear.
The door swung open. The guard's chair was there. No one was sitting on it.
The man began walking, very fast, bent double, his senses reeling. His face was dead white, and only the red-tinged lids of his greenish eyes had any colour.
Three times he stopped and went back the way he had come because he had taken a wrong turning and had come up against locked doors.
At the end of one corridor he heard voices. Guards were smoking and chatting in a duty room.
Finally he found himself in a yard, where the darkness was punctured at intervals by the round discs of lamps. A hundred metres ahead, in front of the outer gate, a sentry was walking to and fro.
To one side was a lighted window through which a man could be seen, pipe in mouth, bent over a desk littered with papers.
Number 11 wished he could have taken another look at the note he had found three days earlier stuck to the bottom of his dinner pail, but he had chewed and swallowed it following the instructions of whoever had sent it. For while, only an hour
before, he had known what it said by heart, there were now parts of it which he could not remember exactly.
At 2 a.m., 15 October, your cell door will be left open and the guard will be busy elsewhere. If you follow the directions as marked belowÂ â¦
The man passed a burning hand over his forehead, stared in terror at the discs of light and almost cried out loud when he heard footsteps. But they came from the other side of the wall, from the street. Free people were talking out there, and their
heels clacked on the pavement.