bag·man (băg’mәn) n., pl. –men (mĭn). 1. Slang.

dishonest official; a person who collects, carries, or distributes illegal payoff money.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

the Heavy Noir Review: Dirty Snow by Georges Simenon

Having finely dined on just about everything I could find by Friedrich Glauser, I was still interested in the realm of mystery, so I figured I’d read a little Simenon. If you’re not familiar with Simenon, you should be. He wrote over two-hundred books and at one point was lauded by Dashiell Hammet as “the best mystery writer today.” Go check out any of his Maigret mysteries, or, another Noir, The Blue Room (recommended). Having read a few Maigret mysteries before, I figured it for another quick, easy read.

Instead I picked up Dirty Snow.

Written in 1948, and set in occupied France, it’s the story of nineteen-year old Frank Friedmaier. While everybody else in town is struggling just to eat and stay warm, Frank has no such worries. His mother runs the local whorehouse, and their stores are packed with fine food, the coal bins overflowing.

Frank really doesn’t have to do anything. He’s clothed, fed, sleeps in, and gets to watch the hookers ply their trade through the wooden slats in the floor above, when he’s not sleeping with them for free. His mom—in a style that corporations would envy—brings the new whores in, wears them out, makes them clean house a few months and then tosses them back in the street. Frank and his mom know this, the girls never do.

While well off, the Friedmaiers are despised by most of the people in their building. Not only for the moral question of their trade, but also because they’re better off than most. The occupying forces bring in customers.

Frank has no real friends. Once you read about him you’ll know why. He hangs out at a club called Timo’s, where he listens to his ‘friend’ Kromer bragging about killing a woman, because she had the nerve to want to have his baby. (That’s right, there are no good guys in this book.)

Frank wants to kill somebody, and he compares it to losing his virginity, which was no big deal. He’ll kill a non-commissioned German officer, steal his gun, and be a big shot.

The murder leads to worse crimes. Frank kills some more. He steals from little old ladies he knew as a child, with no remorse, and arranges the rape of a girl who’s infatuated with him for his “friend” Kromer. While these may sound horrid in mention, they’re wrenching in the book. (There’s more, but I won’t spoil it.)  As we travel with Frank, what we find is a psychopath who doesn’t know what he wants.

He’s searching for himself through violence.

Needless to say, in Nazi occupied France that sort of self-actualization could cause you some trouble—but when trouble comes Frank isn’t even aware of what to confess to, not that he would. In the end, we’re treated to Frank finding himself. Not a pleasant proposition.

Is there even a chance for redemption?

This one’s not for fun. There’s a little action, not adventure. Things just happen. It’s Noir in a hopeless place. And as bad as occupied territory can be, inside Frank’s head is worse.