Monday, January 11, 2016
The Night at the Crossroads by Georges Simenon
Maigret, man of action
The Night at the Crossroads is the seventh novel in the Inspector Maigret series of detective novels by Belgian author Georges Simenon. It was originally published in 1931 under the French title of La Nuit du carrefour. Alternate titles include Maigret at the Crossroads and The Crossroad Murders. I’ve often heard Simenon described as a “noir” author, but I never put much stock in that until reading this novel. This is the tenth Maigret book that I’ve read, and it’s definitely the one that most resembles an American film noir gangster movie of the 1920s or ‘30s. This book shows us Maigret at his most physical, displaying the sort of macho behavior one expects from a tough guy detective: dodging bullets and punching out perps—a marked departure from the sort of passive pursuit tactics employed in some of his later adventures.
The novel opens with an interrogation. Maigret is grilling a suspect for 17 hours and the guy just will not crack. A murder has taken place at a crossroads near Arpajon, an hour or two outside of Paris. Only three buildings stand at this crossroads: a gas station/mechanic’s garage and two houses, one the home of an insurance agent and the other the residence of Maigret’s interrogee, Carl Andersen, a Danish immigrant. A dead diamond merchant was found in a car in Andersen’s garage. The most baffling aspect of the case is that although the garage belongs to Andersen, the car belongs to the insurance agent. Meanwhile, Andersen’s car has somehow ended up in the insurance agent’s garage. Confusing? Maigret thinks so. Most of the novel is spent at the crossroads itself, a secluded stretch of road where the dark and foggy ambience is only alleviated by a sporadic stream of passing headlights. Every film noir needs its femme fatale, and that role is performed here by Andersen’s sister Else, a cinematic beauty who attempts to disorient Maigret with her seductive wiles.
In a couple places, The Night at the Crossroads reads a little too much like a familiar old movie, leaving one longing for the unconventionality Simenon usually brings to the genre. Thankfully, such passages are brief and far between. Though much of the police work in the novel is more muscular than cerebral, the mystery is sufficiently puzzling to keep you engrossed until the very end. I could barely put this one down and read the entire book in one day. This is one of the best Maigret novels I’ve read, ranking up there with The Late Monsieur Gallet. It may be somewhat atypical of Simenon’s work, but it’s nonetheless an exciting and captivating read.
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