Tuesday, October 31, 2006

FRENCH MISTRESS



I am rather ashamed to admit that this is the first book by Fred Vargas that I have read, but it won't be the last.

Fred Vargas is the pseudonym of French historian, archaeologist and writer Frédérique Audouin-Rouzeau, born in 1957 in Paris, she works at the French National Scientific Research Centre .

Fred is the diminutive of her given name, Frédérique, while Vargas derives from the Ava Gardner character in The Barefoot Contessa, and is the pseudonym adopted by her twin sister, Joëlle Jo Vargas, the painter.

She mostly writes police thrillers (policiers). They usually take place in Paris and feature the adventures of Commissaire Adamsberg and his team.


Earlier this year she won the 2006 Duncan Lawrie International Dagger with The Three Evangelists, and has been described by the Guardian as "the hottest property in crime fiction."

Her latest book, Sous les Vents de Neptune, was published earlier this year and has already passed the quarter-million mark, a huge success in France.

Sous les Vents de Neptune is to be published in 2007 in the UK as Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, and has been translated from the French by Sian Reynolds.

Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, unlikely head of the Serious Crime Squad, located in the 13th arrondisement of Paris is preparing to go on an expedition. The eight designated members of the Quebec mission will be soon investigating the scientific mysteries of genetic fingerprints, sweat, urine, semen, maple leaves, caribou and computers under the tutelage of the Gendamerie Royale du Canada.

But when a murder is reported near Strasbourg it reawakens in Adamsberg an obsession with a series of similar murders.

"Eight murders, eight people stabbed with three wounds in a row..........All eight murders solved, eight culprits easily caught, virtually weapon in hand. Seven poor sods in jail, as well as my brother, gone to perdition. Fulgence always escapes. The devil always escapes."

If Adamsberg had not intervened 30 years ago his brother would have been convicted of one of these murders. He is certain that the Strasbourg murder, and all the others going back over 50 years are the work of the terrifying and powerful Judge Fulgence. There is just one snag, Fulgence has been dead for 16 years.

While the squad are in Canada a savage murder occurs, and Adamsberg has to go on the run in a desperate race to prove his innocence, and to find Judge Fulgence.
What do I want in a crime novel? Well it has firstly to include a crime, then a sense of location, interesting characters, a good plot, and hopefully a solution.

This book certainly fits the bill, especially with its fascinating convoluted plot, and some characters who are that little bit eccentric, including an octogenarian computer hacker, and of course the menacing Judge Fulgence.
Little bit eccentric is probably an understatement, but Vargas has the charm and style to make them all seem believable.
The translation has worked excellently because the book is an easy read, it flows, and the contrast between the French and Quebecois characters is handled well.

Adamsberg is an intuitive Paris flic, who inspires loyalty in his subordinates, despite his many flaws. He makes mistakes, some very big mistakes, and this makes him seem very real, and very human. Fred Vargas has created a character with real depth in Adamsberg.

He has an assistant Capitaine Danglard, a quietly intelligent man, with a drink problem and five children. Another member of the squad is Violette Retancourt a fat, plain, large policewoman, who watches over Adamsberg and everything around her with a very shrewd eye.
Without their help, and his surprising "miracle women" the insecure detective would be lost.

The entire book is like a jigsaw that fits elegantly together, and I found myself both rushing through the pages to see what happened, while at the same time wanting the book to go on and on because of my immersion in, and enjoyment of the story.

I am definitely looking forward to reading her earlier books.

"The Quebecois," interrupted Danglard, in his gentle voice," consider France as their mother country, but they don't much like the French, or trust them. "



3 Comments:

Anonymous Maxine said...

Sounds great, thanks for the review and all the background info.

I recall from the Eurocrime site that the Fred Vargas books are translated out of reading order. Do you know the reading order, and where this one falls in it?

I haven't started my copy yet, because I am struggling through the Sara Paretsky (Fire Sale) -- which started well but quickly plummeted in quality. And boy is it long. I am tempted to give up on it, something I almost never do unless a book is truly bad.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Maxine, from information on wikpedia you are right; The Three Evangelists apparently was published in 1995 in France, and won an award in 1996.

Seeking and Have Mercy seem to have also been published in the wrong order.
But Wash this blood is the latest on both sides of the channel.

I have put the French publication dates below.


2001 Have Mercy on Us All (Pars vite et reviens tard), The Harvill Press, 2003, ISBN 0-7432-8401-1


1999 Seeking Whom He May Devour
(L’Homme à l’envers), The Harvill Press, 2004, ISBN 1-84343-090-8

1995 The Three Evangelists (Debout les morts), Harvill Secker, 2006 ISBN 1-84343-090-8.

2004 Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand (Sous les vents de Neptune), Harvill Secker, 2007, ISBN 1-84343-273-0

I assume the date 2004 and the information that it was published earlier this year in France [from an article in the Guardian] refer to hardback and paperback editions?

I am not surprised this happens as once an author has a success they drag back through their output to publish anything they have written, even with those who write in English.

I am sorry you are stuck on Firesale. I used to enjoy Paretsky and had not read her for some time until she won a dagger with Blacklist. I struggled to finish it as it was far too long, and just so predictable, with stereotyped characters.

I don't mind predictable but it lacked any finesse. I don't mind politics in crime stories, you can't avoid it in Italian crime novels, but she
overcooked the message in Blacklist.

3:01 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

I'll be especially interested to read that book because I was born and raised in Montreal. I'm Anglophone, though, which means I am not pure laine Quebecois by the standards of those who keep Quebec's ethnic flame.

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