The Night at the Crossroads by Georges Simenon is the seventh book in the Maigret series—a sensational tale of deceit and back-stabbing in an isolated community.
The Night at the Crossroads was Simenon’s seventh book in the Maigret series, released in the insanely prolific year of 1931. After the publication of the first book in the series, The Strange Case of Peter the Lett, Simenon had produced 10 more books almost monthly—books that burst out of him like a volley of gunfire.
His methods for achieving this level of prolificacy are legendary. Each book took about 11 days to write; working without an outline, he would plan the book in his head, put on a “lucky shirt” (not always the same lucky shirt), and then write a first draft in about a week, with a few days to revise. With a Do Not Disturb sign on the door and all connection canceled to the outside world, he’d produce one or two chapters in the morning, vomit in the afternoon, and then rest in the evening. This way of writing, complete with the daily puking, was like nothing so much as going on a binge.
The results of Simenon’s “produce and purge” technique were impressive, and the public scooped up the Maigret books as fast as he could write them. One of the best books of this first year, and in some ways the breakout book of the series, was The Night at the Crossroads.
The novel tells the tale of a murder on the outskirts of Paris, at the Three Widows Crossroads. A diamond merchant named Isaac Goldberg has been found dead in a car in the garage of a man named Carl Anderson. This Anderson is an odd fellow; he carries himself with “aristocratic grace” and “a touch of arrogance.” Tall, thin, and “rather colourless” he wears a black monocle over a “glass eye with a disconcerting stare.” Anderson has no good explanation for how the dead man ended up in his garage.
Maigret travels to the crossroads to investigate, and there Anderson introduces the inspector to his sister. She is quite beautiful, but the vibe between these siblings is odd:
She stepped forwards, her silhouette slightly blurred in the dim light. She stepped forwards like a film star, or rather, like the perfect woman in an adolescent’s dream. And her brother stood by her as a slave stands near the sovereign he is sworn to protect.
Maigret has barely had time to wonder what the hell is going on between these two when he discovers that the local garage at the crossroads, run by a creep named JoJo, is a front for a fencing operation. This discovery is followed by an attempt on his life and an almost fatal wounding of Carl Anderson.
To say more about the plot would be to ruin the pleasure of watching Maigret hack through the lies and secrets that drift over the crossroads like a fog. Simenon, as was his way, moves with swift efficiency as to pile up the complications and roll out the revelation. The book, written in his lean and unsentimental prose, ends on a perfect note of existential grittiness.
The Night at the Crossroads, like all those early Maigrets, was an instant hit, and it was seized upon as the perfect basis for a film. Famed French director Jean Renoir made La nuit du Carrefour (The Night at the Crossroads) in 1932, and working with two cinematographers (Georges Asselin and Marcel Lucien), he captured the brooding feeling of the novel in vibrant visual terms. The small community’s web of lies and simmering mistrust became a world of smoke and shadows.
La nuit du Carrefour was only the first in what would be an unstoppable output of Simenon adaptations. Currently, adaptations of his work outnumber those of either Cornell Woolrich or Raymond Chandler, and he’s been adapted more times than Dashiell Hammett, Evan Hunter, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Mickey Spillane combined. Among mystery writers, only the creations of Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Agatha Christie have bounded onto the screen more times. This trend continues. In 2016, a new Maigret series started in the UK, with Rowan Atkinson as the good inspector. One of his first adventures? Well, The Night at the Crossroads, of course.
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Jake Hinkson is the author of several books, including the novel No Tomorrow and the essay collection The Blind Alley: Exploring Film Noir's Forgotten Corners.