I never acquired a taste for the detective stories, whodunits or crime mysteries however high their quality might be, so I was surprised many years ago when I read Simenon's "The Venice Train" and "Prison". I used to think, as everybody else, that Simenon is all Maigret, the Great Detective.
Both "The Venice Train" and "Prison" though should be considered as part of French realist and existentialist tradition, the later in full swing in the middle of XX century. Both books are about people who struggle (mostly unsuccessfully) to find their true identity and raison d'être. I liked both books very much, so when I found that NYRB has published quite a few Simenon's "non-Maigret" books, I decided to give one of them a try.
To my today's taste the book is not as good as the previous two I read, though I read them many years ago, so I guess I need to read them again to be able to compare. Also I read them in Russian translation, and Russian translations to my experience are almost always better than English ones (be it from German or French). English speaking world never considered translation to be an art (see "Translators Struggle to Prove Their Academic Bona Fides" in "The Chronicle Of Higher Education").
"The Strangers in the House" is very much in vein of "realist/existentialist" Simenon. The story is about a sensitive and intelligent man, one Hector Loursat, a lawyer, who, after his wife left him for another man, has abandoned his practice, and withdrew from the society to live a life of solitude in his house with his daughter and a maid. Incessantly drinking wine, smoking, reading, losing shape both in the physical sense and in terms of his ability to communicate - this goes on for years and years. Extremely skeptical and/or cynical, unwilling to know anything about real world, one day he's being intruded upon by a murder committed in his house.
The chain of events follows which makes him to become involved in the life of his previously mostly ignored daughter and the life of here young lover, a local boy who becomes a prime suspect in this crime. Involved to such an extent that Loursat undertakes the defense of the boy and surely he wins - happy end very uncharacteristic of Simenon, but strangely believable & acceptable in this book. Small French town, inhabited by regular people, usual conflicts of the generations, mendacity and hate underneath niceties of provincial bourgeois life... this book one more time shows Simenon as a great realist writer.