More Simenon in mood than Sagan: an odd, dark, intensely narrow tale of sexual obsession and passive/aggressive psychology. Gueret, a young, passive bookkeeper in a dull provincial town, is pushed around by one and all--till the day he stumbles on a bag of stolen jewels, the loot from an unsolved robbery which also involved a savage, cold-blooded murder. But it's not this secret stash of new wealth that changes Gueret's life: it's the fact that his middle-aged landlady, sophisticated ex-prostitute Maria, finds the jewels and immediately assumes that Gueret is the thief/killer. . . a tough guy. ""Suddenly, for the first time ever, he thought himself almost handsome."" And so begins a strange love affair between the 55-ish woman and the 25-ish man, with Gueret soon totally dependent on the approval/affection of tough, aloof, un-amorous, demanding Maria: she goads him into a lethal nightclub brawl; she often spurns his loving, lustful attentions; she sneers at him when he becomes excited about an office promotion--as opposed to their future plans for exotic flight (with the jewels) to Africa. Through it all, the confused Gueret keeps slipping back and forth between his two roles: the ruthless, violent man that Maria thinks he is (and which he can be, on occasion) vs. the born victim--his more natural role. And the inevitable finale, after a series of humiliations for Gueret, is Maria's discovery that he isn't the thief/killer at all--though this only seems to bring them closer together at the end. (As Gueret, wounded in one of his Maria-engineered scuffles, is taken off to the hospital, Maria vows: ""I'll wait for you for the rest of my life, you little bastard. . . ."") Marred by the off-pitch slang of the uneven translation and by blurry, repetitious shifts--but not without curious impact: a folie Ã deux study in Oedipal fixation, the allure of violence, and mutual psychological manipulation.