The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien, Georges Simenon
Book 4 in the Maigret series, which I'm wandering back through via the medium of audio books. Which as we all know is successful based hugely on the narrator. In this case Gareth Armstrong does a great job, with a voice that's laid back enough to make it pleasant listening, but not so much as to become soporific.
At this point in the series most of the fundamentals of Maigret are in place - tenacity, attention to detail, observational and keenly aware of his surroundings and the people around him. This novel however introduces the concept of guilt - and how Maigret deals with his own. After correctly fearing his curiosity about the odd behaviour of a shabbily-dressed man, waiting in a Netherlands train station in 1930, has lead to the man's suicide, he finds himself on an odd journey - wanting an explanation of the background and circumstances that would have contributed. Taking him from Germany to France and Belgium it's the life of the dead man that Maigret believes holds the key to explaining his death.
In a particularly interesting side-note I read somewhere that the story was informed by the youthful suicide of a friend of the author in Belgium in his earlier life, something that obviously affected Simenon deeply as well.
Georges Simenon's haunting tale about the lengths to which people will go to escape from guilt, translated by Linda Coverdale as part of the new Penguin Maigret series.
A first ink drawing showed a hanged man swinging from a gallows on which perched an enormous crow. And there were at least twenty other etchings and pen or pencil sketches that had the same leitmotif of hanging.
On the edge of a forest: a man hanging from every branch. A church steeple: beneath the weathercock, a human body dangling from each arm of the cross... Below another sketch were written four lines from François Villon's Ballade of the Hanged Men.
On a trip to Brussels, Maigret unwittingly causes a man's suicide, but his own remorse is overshadowed by the discovery of the sordid events that drove the desperate man to shoot himself.