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Maigret and the mysteries of the crossroads

by Murielle Wenger

original French

On rereading La nuit du carrefour [NUI], and watching the episodes adapted for the television series with Jean Richard and Bruno Crémer, I wondered about the description of the location, the "Three-Widows Crossroads" where the core of the action takes place.

Several years ago, a Maigretphile, Guido de Crook, had a site online where he presented certain locations of Maigret investigations outside of Paris. This site, Maigret's journeys in France, disappeared from the web in 2006, but Steve Trussel was able to recover a part of it. Among the novels studied, we find La nuit du carrefour. Guido, in analyzing the text of the novel, presented his version of the location of the three houses at the crossroads, an important element of the plot. I'd like to reexamine this description, and present my version, relying on my rereading of the text, and compare it with the adaptations mentioned above. Let us then follow step-by-step, the text of the novel...

In the first pages, we find Maigret at the PJ, at the end of the interrogation of Carl Andersen, following the discovery of the murder of the diamond merchant. Maigret is summarizing the major points from the transcript of the interrogation, and makes a statement that allows our first determination of the locale of the scene of the crime...

"You then rented a country house on the national road between Paris and Etampes, some two miles from Arpajon, at the place called the Three-Widows Crossroads."

Thus we realize that the intersection actually exists. Represented schematically it is something like this (north is at the top):

After releasing Andersen, Maigret went to the spot himself...

A crossing. A garage with its five gasoline pumps, painted red. On the left, the Avrainville road, marked with a signpost.

Since we know that Maigret has come from Paris, passing through Arpajon, we know that the route to Avrainville is actually on his left. We're at a true crossroads.

The text continues...

All around, fields as far as you could see.

"We're here!" said the driver.

There were just three houses. First, that of the garage keeper... Opposite that, a millstone villa... A copper plaque, "Emile Michonnet, insurance."

The other house was 200 yards away. The wall surrounding the yard only allowed a view of the second floor, a slate roof, and some fine trees."

Now we have to position the three houses around the intersection. Two early indicators allow us an approach to the locations... first, in the transcript of the interrogation Maigret was reading, it said, "At 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning, M. Emile Michonnet, insurance agent, who lives in a villa 100 meters from you..."; Lucas, on location, had telephoned Maigret: "Hello! I'm at the Three-Widows Crossroads. I'm calling from the garage which is about 100 yards from Andersen's house"

We can thus place Michonnet's villa closer to Andersen's house than the garage.

But how to position the three houses with regard to each other? That, as we will see, is where the problem lies.

After Maigret's first visit with Andersen, Lucas went to find him...

"The two of them walked in the darkness, along the shoulder of the road... They had reached Michonnet's villa, which was like one of the points of a triangle, whose other angles were formed, on one side by the garage, and on the other by the House of the Three-Widows. Forty yards between the garage and the Michonnets. A hundred yards between them and the Andersens. Connecting them, the shining, regular ribbon of the road..."

It's most logical to begin by situating the garage. By definition, it's along the national road. But on which side? The following text will help...

"Maigret regarded the triangle... On the right, the main road, opposite the garage, the Avrainville road branching off..."

So Maigret and Lucas are walking north on the national road, and if the Avrainville road which branches right is opposite the garage, then it must be situated on the left. We can add it to our map with a box containing a "G" for garage...

To this point, we are in agreement with the representation made by Guido de Crook (here). But now the problem is to situate the Michonnet's house with regard to the garage. We know, from the extract above (Maigret's arrival at the crossroads), that the insurance agent's villa is "opposite" the garage. The problem is, where is this "opposite"... to the east, or the south of the garage? Guido proposes a location to the east, while I advocate a position to the south. Why? Here is my explanation...

Like Guido, I rely on the scene of the attack on Mme Goldberg: Maigret and Lucas are at the inn at Avrainville, which, according to the text, is relatively close to the crossroads, since the following can be seen from there...

"Three more times they covered the 200 yards to the crossroads, then suddenly Maigret veered off in the direction of Avrainville. When he got to the front of the inn, the lights were out... They turned back... A pair of headlights pierced the night in the direction of the village. A car was turning in front of the garage, idling... The car finally approached, lighting up the telegraph poles one after another. Maigret and Lucas were caught in the beam of light, both standing in front of the inn."

Based on that, we can add the position of the inn to our sketch (in blue)...

The following provides more indications... "The shot [fired at Mme Goldberg] came from the field on the right side of the road." Maigret dashed into the field, in pursuit of the shooter... he was illuminated by the headlamps... "He zigzagged like a chased rabbit. Because of lights, there was no way to judge distance. And so all of a sudden the gas pumps of the garage were less than 100 yards away." He is accosted by Oscar, and then notes "a red glow, on the national road in the direction of Arpajon."

All this leads us to imagine the path taken by Maigret in the field (in green on the sketch):

Up to this point we're still in accord with Guido's analysis. But where we will differ is in the positioning of the Michonnet's house. What leads me to place it to the south of the garage, is the following clue... just after noticing the red taillight of the vehicle heading towards Arpajon, Maigret asks Oscar,

"What's that?"

"A truck for les Halles."

"Did he stop?"

"Long enough to get 5 gallons..."

There was still some commotion by the inn, and the lights continued to sweep the empty field. Maigret suddenly noticed Michonnet's house, crossed the road, and rang."

The end of the sentence which I've underlined seems definitive to me... At this point, Maigret is in the field, or on the side of the road. Opposite him is the garage. If he "crosses the road", there are only two possibilities, either he crosses the Avrainville road or the national road. Now Michonnet's house being "opposite" the garage, it can only be at the southwest or the northeast. But if it's the northeast, there's no reason for Maigret to cross the road to get there... Conclusion: Michonnet's house can be positioned as in our sketch:

As a result, if the three houses form a triangle at the crossroads, there remains but one possibility for the location of Andersen's house, the southeast:

All that's left now is to see whether the remainder of the text will confirm our hypothesis or not. The day after Mme Goldberg's death, Maigret retraces the route of the night in the field...

"The footprints left in the field seemed to show that... the killer had not come closer than 30 yards from the inn... The trail went in a circle ending up at the Three-Widows crossroads about an equal distance from Andersen's house, Michonnet's villa, and the garage... Maigret, when he got back to the road... saw M. Oscar in his doorway, hands in the pockets of his baggy trousers, a smug expression on his rough face.

"Already awake, Chief Inspector," he shouted across the road.

At the same moment, a car stopped between the garage and Maigret. It was Andersen's little 5-CV."

All this supports our hypothesis... at the end of the arc of the circle traversed by Maigret is the national road, on the other side of which is the garage. Thus, when Maigret had crossed the road the night before, it was certainly the national road. In other words, the Michonnets' house must also be on the other side of the national route, in the southwest.

After Carl's departure for Paris, which Maigret had authorized, the Chief Inspector headed to Andersen's house... "He had to pass in front of the Michonnets' villa.", the text tells us. So, Maigret follows the road, and since Andersen's house is a little further than the two others, he passes in front of Michonnet's, which he sees on the other side of the road. The hypothesis is confirmed on Maigret's return, after his visit with Else... "M. Michonnet... was standing in his miniscule garden, watching the road through the grill.", and by all the other times Maigret passes in front of Michonnet's, on each of his comings and goings between the inn and the Andersens' house...

... after his nap in the courtyard of the inn, "Maigret, flanked by Lucas, passed near the garage... continued on his route towards the house of the Three-Widows. The doors and windows of Michonnet's villa were closed, but once again he saw a curtain move at the window of the dining room."

... after his visit with Else, Maigret left the house and saw "Lucas covering the hundred paces of the road... He could see Michonnet in his little garden, watching them."

... at the end of the day, Maigret went to visit the Michonnets, and then Else, whom he told he'd come back later. He left the Andersens' house, and "In passing in front of the millstone villa, Maigret automatically glanced at the second-story window... On the shade was illuminated the silhouette of M. Michonnet seated in his armchair."

... Maigret has returned to the inn to give instructions to Lucas, then he returns to the crossroads, "back on the main road" he passes in front of the Michonnets', where he sees, as usual, the shadow of the insurance agent.

We note also that when Maigret went to drink an apéritif at Oscar's, he returned to the inn at Avrainville, and there was no mention of passing in front of the Michonnets' (while it said that "on the way to Avrainville, he was preceded by a yellow butterfly": we note the term "way" [chemin] for this path, while the Michonnet's house is on the "national road" [route]).

... Maigret, during his nighttime vist to Else (when he discovers the revolver hidden behind the picture), opens at a certain time, the window of the young woman's room ... "The road was below him, like a flow of ink... The gasoline pumps were illuminated. In the Michonnet's villa, a single light, on the second floor, and as always, the shadow of the chair and the insurance agent". Conclusion: the window of Else's room opened onto the road, and she could see, opposite, but 100 yards further along, Michonnet's villa, and further still, the garage.

... after the return of the wounded Carl, Maigret leaves the Andersens', "got on the main road... The garage was closed, but you could see the glow of the milky disks of the gas pumps. There was a light on the second floor of the Michonnet villa... Behind the shade, the silhouette of the insurance agent was always in the same place."

... Maigret, having discovered the dealings of the garage, is trying to learn who gives the danger signal to the cars that pass... "For a quarter of an hour, Maigret surveyed in vain 50 yards of the route, searching for what could be the signal. At Michonnet's, the light was off."

After all that, we have to recognize that Guido's thesis can be defended as well, and that after all, it is difficult to give a definitive solution to this riddle of the crossroads. That's why the television adaptations propose their own versions to make the plots reasonable... So, in the version with Jean Richard, the garage and Michonnet's house are side by side, and Andersen's villa is on the other side of the intersection, as shown in the map presented by Lucas to Maigret on his arrival at the scene:

In this version, the story is moved to another region (the intersection at Harravilliers, in the north of Paris, while the Arpajon road is to the south of the city), probably to facilitate filming. In that episode, the national route passes in front of the garage, as in the novel, but Paris is on the left of the map. The Andersen villa is closest to the crossroads, for the episode shows how Michonnet's car winds up in the garage of Andersen, which is located just opposite that of the insurance agent.


The Andersen villa...

...and, on the other side of the road,
Michonnet's house and the garage

In the Bruno Crémer version, they've made a different choice. If the plot is set fictitiously near Avrainville (the actual filming was in Luxembourg), the houses are arranged differently. The national road passes in front of the garage and the Michonnet's house, which are separated from one another by a secondary road. The house of the Andersens (renamed Von Ritter in the episode), a kind of manor, is much further from the crossroads, seen only as a silhouette behind a woods. To get there you have to take a smaller road, branching off the secondary road.


Maigret and his inspector on the secondary road. In front of them on the left, the garage, and on the right, Michonnet's house. Paris is to the left. The inspector is showing Maigret the direction Von Ritter's house.


Maigret and his inspector in the same area. Maigret is looking in the direction of Von Ritter's house, which the local road leads to.


Maigret on the local road, about to visit Von Ritter's house.

And so we see that it is possible to give numerous interpretations to the actual arrangement of the locale, while retaining, however, an essential element, indispensible for the plot to work... the garage and Michonnet's house must both be on the route to Paris. The distance to Andersen's house, mentioned in the text of the novel (100 yards from Michonnet's house and 200 yards from the garage) provide the scenario writers some latitude, without affecting the consistency at all.

To finish, it would be interesting to see how other adaptations of the novel have resolved this puzzle of the crossroads. I haven't had the opportunity to see the cinema adaptation by Jean Renoir, nor the episode with Rupert Davies. If any Maigretphile is familiar with one of these versions, the addition of that information would be greatly appreciated...

 

translation: S. Trussel
Honolulu, May 2013

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