In the 1930s, he was closely aligned with the Surrealists, and was close friends with Andre Breton, Rene Magritte and Yves Tanguy amongst others. During this time, he published several volumes of poetry.
He died in Chatillon, the little town just south of Paris where he had lived for most of his life, the day before his 87th birthday.
Though having dabbled in many genres, he is most famous for Nestor Burma, the anti-hero of Les Nouveaux Mystères de Paris. Burma, a cynical private detective, is an astute speaker of argot (French slang), an ex-Anarchist, a serial monogamist and an inveterate pipe smoker. Of the 33 novels detailing his adventures 18 take place in a sole arrondissement of Paris, in a sub-series of his exploits which Malet dubbed the « New Mysteries of Paris » quoting Eugene Sue‘s seminal « feuilleton »; though he never completed the full 20 arrondissements as he originally planned. Aside from the novels 5 short stories were also published, bringing the total of Burma’s adventures to 38.
The comic artist Jacques Tardi adapted some of his books much to the author’s approval claiming that he was the sole person to have visually understood his books; Tardi also provided cover illustrations for the Fleuve Noir editions of the novels, released from the 1980s onward.
- 120, rue de la Gare (1943)
- Le cinquième procédé (1948)
- Le soleil naît derrière le Louvre (1954) (First of the « New Mysteries of Paris » series)
- Des kilomètres de linceuls (1955)
- Fièvre au Marais (1955)
- La nuit de Saint-Germain-des-Prés (1955)
- M’as-tu vu en cadavre (1956)
- Brouillard au pont de Tolbiac (1956)
- Casse-pipe à la Nation (1957)
- Micmac moche au Boul’ Mich’ (1957)
- Nestor Burma court la poupée (1971)
- Poste restante (1983)
- Brouillard au pont de Tolbiac (Casterman, 1982); drawn by: Jacques Tardi
- 120, rue de la Gare (Casterman, 1988); drawn by: Jacques Tardi
- Une gueule de bois en plomb (Casterman, 1990); drawn by: Jacques Tardi
- Casse-pipe à la Nation (Casterman, 1996); drawn by: Jacques Tardi
- M’as-tu vu en cadavre ? (Casterman, 2000); drawn by: Jacques Tardi