It’s been a number of years since I last read any Georges Simenon — the stark nihilism of The Stain on the Snow (1953) and the diaphanous erotic tragedy of The Blue Room (1964) left an impression if not exactly a desire to read further. Simenon is hard to ignore, however, partly because he wrote so many damn books and partly because Penguin have done such a fine job of reissuing them lately that they take up about 40% of the shelf space in most bookshops. I’ve always been of the impression that he is far more about people than plot…which is probably just as well, since on the evidence of this early effort he can’t plot for toffee.
The mere existence of The Guggenheim Mystery is almost a piece of mystery metafiction in itself: the title was discovered among Siobhan Dowd’s papers following her untimely death in 2007, implying its intention as the follow-up to her impossible disappearance novel for younger readers, The London Eye Mystery (2007)…but no more was known. It fell to Robin Stevens to puzzle out a plot from these waifish beginnings and so continue the adventures of Ted Spark, his sister Kat, and their cousin Salim. So here we are — a painting disappears from the eponymous art gallery, the police jump on the most likely suspect, and it falls to this intrepid trio to hunt out the truth, recover the painting, and save the day.