By fixing his curtain to one side with a clothes peg, Lucio could better observe the new neighbour at his leisure.
As you may already know I’m a big fan of Fred Vargas’ work and while this one is a library copy I’ll be buying this when it comes out in the proper size. I can’t stand these trade publications versions. They make no sense to me. All the negatives of a hardback with none of the positives. But enough about that; on to the plot.
The most straight-forward way of describing this book is to say that it is a murder-mystery. But with characters like Adamsberg there is no such thing as a straight-forward case. So when he spots something a little “off” about the two bodies that have shown up he decides that this case his rather than giving them over to the Drugs Squad.
But those two murders aren’t the only ones in this book. There is the strange case of the “Angel of Death”, a nurse who murdered her patients and who recently escaped from gaol. There is the ghost in Adamsberg new house. The New Recruit who seems to have a history with Adamsberg. And the strange killer of stags in Normandy.
And through it all there is Vargas’ wonderful writing. Whether dealing with the characteristics of specific French regions or the differences between men and women Vargas always manages to inject some humour along with those odd truths.
He had been told that Normans never ask a direct question, a myth, as he had thought, but in front of him he had a clear example of their proud silence. If you ask too many questions you reveal yourself, and if you reveal yourself you’re less of a man.
Although he was well used to the ponderous music of the evening male ritual. Adamsberg understood that the Normans, true to their reputation, were more difficult to get through to than other people. They didn’t say much. Here their sentences came out cautiously and suspiciously, as if testing the ground with every word. They didn’t speak loudly, nor did they tackle their subjects head-on. They went round them, as if putting a subject directly on the table was as indelicate as throwing down a piece of raw meat.
Like the other Vargas books there are hints at possible supernatural interventions, hints of ghosts for example. But in a way I suppose it is more like magic realism mixed with crime. There is nothing hugely fantastic about anything that happens, rather it is the abnormal that gets treated as though it is normal. From the New Recruit who speaks in verse, to the cat tracking across country in search of his favourite cop followed by helicopters and squad cars.
But overall it is the characters that really make these books work. Each is somewhat odd. Adamsberg, of course, is almost dreamy and otherworldly, Danglard is a straight-thinker who hates Unsolved Questions, Retancourt has her ability to calm any situation, never mind use her considerable size to great effect. And that is only a sampling.
This really is a great mix of characters, mystery, murder and weirdness. Weirdness being a positive by the way.
The one criticism I’d have is that some of the other covers I’ve seen are so much cooler. The French and US version for example look fantastic.