A longtime fan of Georges Simenon, Burnet seems to have preferred to invent his own French novelist to tell the story than take the credit himself.
And this novel does indeed have the feel of a classic tale that's been knocking around for decades. Inspired by a visit to a brasserie in the very real town of Saint-Louis, where he discerned that the regular customers were locked into static daily routines, he came up with the character Manfred Baumann, a bank manager who has never fitted in, not with the boys at school, not even with the other habitués of the Restaurant de la Cloche. "Among those who lunched daily at the Cloche," Burnet writes, "there was, like railyway commuters, a tacit understanding of the boundaries of communication."
Manfred exemplifies this lifestyle of habit and routine. He thinks that simply changing his regular lunch order is an act of rebellion so momentous that it will cause a commotion among the staff, and is dismayed when it doesn't. Routine is protection for Manfred, and breaching it only invites suspicion.
While walking home one night, he sees the waitress, Adèle, being picked up by a boy on a motorbike. When he finds out that Adèle has gone missing, he can't bring himself to admit that he was spying on her and, having told the police that he saw nothing, won't go back on his original statement. But by sticking to his story he arouses the suspicions of Inspector Gorski, another well-drawn character, whose snooty wife is embarrassed to be married to a mere policeman, and the two men are forced into a situation where one has to outwit the other.
Burnet skilfully knits together a solid detective story and a compelling character study to make a captivating psychological thriller in which a man whose life is marked by underachievement is pitched against one who conceals his paranoia and sense of guilt behind an unvarying routine. Very accessible and thoroughly satisfying.