|Cover design by Geoffrey Martin.|
The Seine donned a halo of milky mist which turned white, and it was daybreak, lighting up the empty embankments. Footsteps sounded in the corridors. Telephones ringing. Voices calling. Doors banging. The charwoman's brooms.
And Maigret, putting down his overheated pipe on the table, stood up and looked the prisoner over from head to foot, with an irritation not unmixed with admiration.
The short paragraphs are familiar, but I cannot recall having read another Maigret which begins quite this way, with a mass of short sentences, each capturing a single fleeting impression. I imagine the intention is to emphasise just how worn out Maigret is at this point of defeat, reached after a day and a night spent interrogating a witness who stood firm against the offensive. Carl Andersen maintained a quiet dignity throughout the process and never amended a single detail while being questioned for seventeen hours on recent events at the Three Widows Crossroads.
Andersen had found himself at the Prefecture on the Quai des Orfèvres because the body of Isaac Goldberg, a dealer in diamonds from Antwerp, had been found inside a car parked within his garage, with a bullet through the chest. The incriminating car was not the property of Andersen: it was his neighbour's prized new six-cylinder, while his worn out vehicle had in turn been moved to the neighbour's garage, and yet no one had heard a thing. But the sight of the dead man and the foreign car had been enough to panic Andersen into flight: the police had picked him up at the Gare D'Orsay after he fled by train towards Paris in the company of his sister.
And so there are many questions which remain unanswered at the conclusion of Andersen's interview. Why was Goldberg at the Three Widows crossroads, how had he made his way there, who had lured him and for what purpose, and why had the killer thought it necessary to switch the cars? At the end of the interrogation, a sleep-starved Maigret heads to the crossroads, twenty kilometres from Paris on the main road to Étampes, preparing to spend another day and night watching at the secluded location.
There are only three dwellings at the crossroads, including the ancient one in which the three old women had been found dead many years before, and which gives the intersection its name. This is Andersen's home, which he shares with his enigmatic sister Else - he had chosen it because of the reduced rent and the secluded location. His reluctance to mix with his neighbours means there is little community at the crossroads, but considerable tension and suspicion. His neighbour across the road is Monsieur Michonnet, the outraged owner of the transplanted car, who lives with a wife who maintains a constant vigil at her upstairs window. Forty yards away is the home of Monsieur Oscar, who runs a petrol station and workshop supplying the trucks which travel through the night delivering their produce in time for the morning markets of Paris.
This was written much earlier than the other Maigret stories I have read, which tend to portray a Maigret who is more sedate and more inclined to spend his time musing on his methods or reflecting on his childhood, with a glass of brandy in his hand, and to rely upon instinct and experience to infer motive from behaviour. But the Maigret presented here is anything but sedate - in the course of this short novel he chases the presumed murderer across a muddy field in the dark with a drawn revolver, he prevents a suspect from fleeing through a window by breaking through a bolted door, and he disables another gun-wielding suspect by jumping down several metres into a well, before raining blows upon his head.
And when he is not being active he is inscrutable, keeping to himself, declining the hospitality he is offered - even when it involves alcohol - and allowing no one to have any idea of his thoughts. There are even moments when he is perplexed by the case, knowing that an answer exists and must be observable, and yet finding himself unable to discern it.
The case he must solve is more complex than usual, and the resolution less expected; it made the final chapters particularly interesting to read.
La Nuit du carrefour first published 1931. This translation (by Robert Baldick) first published in Penguin Books 1963.
By the same author:
Penguin no. 1222: Maigret's Mistake
Penguin no. 1362: Maigret and the Burglar's Wife
Penguin no. 1419: My Friend Maigret
Penguin no. 1594: Maigret's First Case
Penguin no. 1678: Maigret and the Old Lady
Penguin no. 1680: Maigret Has Scruples
Penguin no. 1854: The Little Man from Archangel
Penguin no. 2024: Maigret Mystified
Penguin no. 2251: Maigret in Court
Penguin no. 2253: The Widower
Penguin no. 2590: The Iron Staircase