The more I read books similar to it, the more of a sluggish bore Albert Camus’ The Stranger becomes. Paraphrasing another, it seems written with the intent to be shoved down the throats of unwilling high school students, although I was lucky enough not to be one (I read it on my own in the 11th or 12th grade). Its execution is clinical and cold and Meursault is nothing more than a cipher for existentialism, and from a narrative perspective, that bores me to tears. But there are alternatives, great unheralded masterpieces from writers then and now, from Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me to the modern neo-noir of Daniel Woodrell’s The Death of Sweet Mister. And now, you can add to that oeuvre Georges Simenon’s arguable masterpiece, Dirty Snow. Simenon is a writer most known for writing almost 200 novels in his lifetime, most dealing with the Inspector Maigret character. I have not read any of those, but when he was not writing them, he was instead focusing on what he called his “roman durs”, or hard novels, novels that dealt with extreme, more serious themes as opposed to his formulaic Inspector novels, and this one is widely considered his best. This is not a fun read, although it is an interesting and engaging one. It skillfully crafts a world devoid of hope, a character far from redeemable and contains violence and cruelty that is swift and brutal but banal, committed by characters that don’t even enjoy doing it. At the center of this novel is Frank Friedmaier. He is young attractive blond boy who lives in his mother’s brothel and enjoys the slim benefits that come with slivers of privilege in an occupied country (it is loosely based on France’s Nazi occupation, but it and war itself, are never explicitly mentioned). In the opening scene, he is contemplating a murder. You see, he wants to kill because Fred Kromer, a hanger on at one of Frank’s favorite watering brags about the time he strangled a girl while they were having sex. While the story is not verified (it’s probably false) and even though he doesn’t like Fred (Frank likes no one), he goes through with the murder of an occupying officer. In a brilliant flourish, Simenon doesn’t even let us see the murder. Instead, the focus is on Holst, one of Frank’s neighbors, whom he thinks and hopes witnessed him at the scene of the crime. From there, the bored Frank keeps slipping, committing one more murder, this one even more disturbing than the first (and again, we are not witness to it). After a few more cruel acts, one being the proxy rape of one of the few redeemable characters, Frank is thrown in jail for an unspecified crime. The shift in tone is jarring, but Simeon makes it work as this is where the book’s dark hearts beats fastest and loudest, and we, along with Frank, find out who he really is and what he must do to redeem himself and it is not pretty. This novel never feels false or melodramatic, and is filled with memorable scenes, especially towards the end, with one final meeting between Frank and those he has hurt most, and his self-eviscerating monologue is among the best writing you will come across. This book is the real deal, a grim yet eloquent masterpiece of self-destruction.