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Red Lights (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – July 18, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


"Just the thing to take your mind off $4 gas: a truly chilling road-trip novel about a couple on their way to Maine to collect the kids from camp—and the escaped con who joins them." --New York Magazine

"Simenon saved the deep, dark, bone-chilling stuff for his psychopathological thrillers, books he called romans durs...Red Lights charts a hellish road trip, fueled by bad choices and their twisted consequences, soaked through with existential dread." --Men's Journal, "15 Best Thrillers Ever Written"

“Attention should be paid to the New York Review of Books' continuing reissues of Georges Simenon. Simenon was legendary both for his literary skill–four or five books every year for 40 years–and his sexual capacity, at least to hear him tell it. What we can speak of with some certainty are the novels, which are tough, rigorously unsentimental and full of rage, duplicity and, occasionally, justice. Simenon's tone and dispassionate examination of humanity was echoed by Patricia Highsmith, who dispensed with the justice. So far, the Review has published Tropic Moon, The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, Red Lights, Dirty Snow and Three Bedrooms in Manhattan; The Strangers in the House comes out in November. Try one, and you'll want to read more.” –The Palm Beach Post

"The most extraordinary literary phenomenon of the twentieth century." –Julian Symons

“The romans durs are extraordinary: tough, bleak, offhandedly violent, suffused with guilt and bitterness, redolent of place (Simenon is unsurpassed as a scenesetter), utterly unsentimental, frightening in the pitilessness of their gaze, yet wonderfully entertaining. They are also more philosophically profound than any of the fiction of Camus or Sartre, and far less self-conscious. This is existentialism with a backbone of tempered steel.”–John Banville, The New Republic

"This is what attracts and holds me in him. He writes for `the vast public,' to be sure, but delicate and refined readers find something for them too as soon as they begin to take him seriously. He makes one reflect; and this is close to being the height of art; how superior he is in this to those heavy novelists who do not spare us a single commentary! Simenon sets forth a particular fact, perhaps of general interest; but he is careful not to generalize; that is up to the reader."–Andre Gide

The Hitchhiker [title of an earlier English edition of Red Lights] is to date the best of Simenon's novels with American setting. A suburbanite, driven to occasional compulsive drinking by an unsatisfactory marriage, starts on a real bender while motoring to Maine. His wife abandons him; he picks up an escaped convict and confusedly feels that the man's criminality symbolizes the fulfillment of his own rebellion against convention. His sobering up, physically and spiritually, is a painful, convincing and rewarding process, and the novel skillfully uses the trappings of melodrama to explore psychological truth...a silken-smooth shocker, guaranteed to please all Simenon addicts.”–The New York Times

“No non-American writer, at least none who writes in a language other than English, has done a better job of it.The angry couple in The Hitchhiker [title for earlier English edition of Red Lights] come across as real Americans, with some of our best qualities, as well as monstrous flaws.”–The Washington Post

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; paperback / softback edition (July 18, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590171934
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590171936
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #608,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Georges Simenon is one of the most addictive and bestselling European authors of the 20th Century. His work consists of 391 titles, and he is best known as the creator of the fictional detective series consisting of 75 books featuring Inspector Maigret, translated into more than 50 languages and sold in more than 50 countries. There are over 800 million Simenon books sold worldwide and he is the most translated French speaking author of the 20th century and the second most translated author of all time in Italy after Shakespeare.

'A writer who, more than any other crime novelist, combined a high literary reputation with popular appeal' P.D. James

'My readings? I read Tout Simenon, and when I'm done, I start all over again' Claude Chabrol

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig VINE VOICE on October 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
Except you and me

So set 'em' up Joe, I got a little story

I think you should know

We're drinking my friend, to the end

Of a brief episode

Make it one for my baby

And one more for the road

Frank Sinatra's haunting signature song, "One for My Baby, (And One More for the Road) is an eerily suitable theme song for Georges Simenon's ode to a late night drinker, "Red Lights".

Simenon was prolific; he wrote hundreds of novels, most notably his Inspector Maigret mysteries. But Simenon's best work in my opinion can be found in what he called his "romans durs" ("hard stories"). In those stores you typically find a middle-aged male, leading a middle class life. In each story the protagonist hits a bump in the road (often of his own making) and this slight bump takes him off the level, boring road of respectability and puts him on a wild downhill road to the depths of darkness. "Red Lights" puts the protagonist, Steve Hogan, on a wild road, both literally and figuratively.

It is 1955 and the Friday of the Labor-Day Weekend. Steve and Nancy Hogan meet up at their local bar in Manhattan for a drink before setting off to Maine to pick their children up from Summer Camp. Steve wants another drink or two before he goes. He can sense he is heading to one of his periodic `tunnels' a dark place he finds within himself whenever he's had a bit too much to drink. His resentments, particularly toward his wife, come to the surface as they find themselves stuck in holiday traffic. He pulls over to a roadside bar (this was before the days when the interstate highway system covered the country) and tells Nancy he's going in for a drink. She tells him she's not going to wait.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Allen Smalling TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 18, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A typical middle-class couple from New York are on their way by car to pick up their kids from a Maine Summer camp. In that pre-Interstate Highway era, the husband impulsively pulls over to a roadside bar. The wife objects, and from this "petite deviation" a horror ensues. While French writer Georges Simenon is better remembered for his detective thrillers featuring Inspector Maigret, he was also well versed in the *durs* (tough) school of dark psychological fiction, noir in book form if you will. While this 1955 novel (originally published in France in 1953 as FEUX ROUGES) is not long, only 149 pp. of text, it is gripping and engrossing. Nothing is out of place, and the story gets very scary, very fast. With a brief but acute Introduction by Anita Brookner, RED LIGHTS is highly recommended.

Amazon amateur review ratings, noir in book form, 1955 (scale of 1-5):

After Dark, My Sweet by Jim Thompson (1955) - 4.0 STARS
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (1955) - 4.2 STARS
Red Lights (New York Review Books Classics) by Georges Simenon (1955) - 4.3 STARS
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. Schultz VINE VOICE on March 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book was originally published as a novella entitled "The Hitchhiker," and is included in Simenon's "An American Omnibus," a selection of four of his stories set in America where he lived for a decade, away from the French settings we usually associate with his mysteries. Actually, it's not even a novella. It is more of a long short story. You'll probably be able to read it in one sitting.

The edition of the story that I'm reviewing was translated from the French by Norman Denny and is perhaps not the best version. There are little mistakes. For example, the nurses in a city Hospital are still referred to as "Sisters," as they would be on the Continent. And what we call the "first floor," is elevated, European-style, to what we call the "second floor." But there is a more general faltering quality to the conversations that makes them sound somewhat unrealistic and stilted.

"Red Lights" will probably hold your interest though. Even before the threat of a killer-on-the-loose is introduced, you might get a couple of shocks from the narrative - you might cringe. The story was written in 1955, not that long ago in the larger scheme of things. But it's amazing to read how much society has changed in those intervening decades. The main characters drink copiously, then drive; they chain-smoke; they do all this without suffering any overall societal disapproval.

More important, there's an almost eerie homogeneity revealed about the lives of the people who counted in the action then. There's none of the close-grained diversity we have come to think of as the hallmark of American society. In the opening pages of the book, husband and wife become part of a mass Labor Day exodus from New York City.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michael Jones VINE VOICE on October 4, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was pleasantly surprised by this noir gem from NYRB classics. This was my first exposure to Simenon, the famously prolific creator of Inspector Maigret.
Red Lights is the story of a regular couple from New York, Steve and Nancy Hogan, who become fatefully entwined with Sid, a hardened criminal; a hard case. As they prepare to embark on a trip to retrieve their children from a Maine summer camp, Steve finds himself going where he calls "into the tunnel", an imaginary zone where he can shake out all his sillies (which means: consume a lot of rye whiskey). Unfortunately in the process, he loses Nancy, then proceeds to delve only deeper into the dark side of life.
***Spoilerphobes Beware***
Over the course of this short novel, in which there is a lot a drinking, driving, and overall criminal activity, the troubled couple lose each other, suffer a bit, and then finally find each other (in more than one way). This is all thanks to Sid, the escaped con, who I'm sure was happy to help.
I expect to read many more of these "romans dur", as Simenon liked to call them, since there are many other titles available now from NYRB Classics. Highly recommended especially to crime noir fans.
4.5 stars
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