France

Fred Vargas: The Commissaire Adamsberg Series

Overview

The Commissaire Adamsberg Series is one of the most unique of the genre I have read thus far. While Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg himself, the protagonist of the series, more or less plays into the genre’s most beloved trope: that of the isolated, love-bewildered single male detective, he departs from others in his class by way of his methodology. While others of his ilk rely on logic, Jean-Baptiste “shovels clouds,” stares at rivers and lapses into reflective moods more comatose than constructive in order to lure forth the flashes of inspired insight necessary to solve his mind-boggling cases.

The series rests on a strange mythic reality, one imbued with historical innuendos and primordial archetypes: almost magical realism, but not quite, at times bordering on carnivalesque. Vargas, herself trained as a archeologist and historian, weaves her intricate plots around lusciously historical, frequently morbid, detail. For example, in Have Mercy on Us All, perhaps my favorite of the series (although I do adore each book in the series), the plot is centered around one eccentric criminal’s psychopathic attempt to reintroduce the bubonic plague to Europe by delivering packets of infected fleas to his victims’ homes.

From the various arrondisements of Paris to the Pyrenees mountains to the lesser known French “back woods,” Vargas’s treatment of her native country is deeply yet unobtrusively apparent within her intricate plots. Furthermore, she peoples her stories with a whimsical cast of characters whose eccentricities border on the absurd. Among them, Adamsberg’s anxious but impeccably dressed right hand man, the office narcoleptic, and the Amazonian female member of the team who “thinks therefore she is” in the most literal of ways. (You must read to find out what I mean!)

For those who love a departure from the “police procedural,” Vargas’s work is fresh and original. Her work will be loved by all those who love quirky, whimsical people. I imagine if you love the movie Amelie, as I do, then you will love Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his motley crew.

For originality: 5 out of 5 / For personality: 5 out of 5 / For place: 5 out of 5

Final score: 5 out of 5. I highly recommend this series!

From the Back of the Book

The Chalk Circle Man

Fred Vargas ‘s Commissaire Adamsberg mysteries are a sensation in France, consistently praised for their intelligence, wit, and macabre imagination. This first novel in the series introduces the unorthodox detective Commissaire Adamsberg-one of the most engaging characters in contemporary crime fiction. When blue chalk circles begin to appear on the pavement in neighborhoods around Paris, Adamsberg is alone in thinking that they are far from amusing. As he studies each new circle and the increasingly bizarre objects they contain-empty beer cans, four trombones, a pigeon’s foot, a doll’s head-he senses the cruelty that lies within whoever is responsible. And when a circle is discovered with decidedly less banal contents-a woman with her throat slashed-Adamsberg knows that this is just the beginning.

Seeking Whom He May Devour

A small mountain community in the French Alps is roused to terror when they awaken each morning to find yet another of their sheep with its throat torn out. One of the villagers thinks it might be a werewolf, and when she’s found killed in the same manner, people begin to wonder if she might have been right. Suspicion falls on Massart, a loner living on the edge of town. The murdered woman’s adopted son, one of her shepherds, and her new friend Camille decide to pursue Massart, who has conveniently disappeared. Their ineptness for the task soon becomes painfully obvious, and they summon Commissaire Adamsberg from the city to bring his exceptional powers of intuition to bear on layer upon layer of buried hatred and secrets. France’s queen of crime writing pits the maverick genius of Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg against ancient, primal fears in a novel that “establishes Vargas as one of the most unusual voices in European crime fiction” (The Sunday Times [London]).

Have Mercy on Us All

In a small Parisian square, the ancient tradition of the town crier continues into modern times. The self-appointed crier, Joss Le Guern, reads out the daily news, snippets of gossip, and lately, ominous messages — placed in his handmade wooden message box by an anonymous source — that warn of an imminent onset of the bubonic plague. Concerned, Le Guern brings the puzzling notes to the bumbling but brilliant Chief Inspector Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his straight-edged, right-hand man, Adrien Danglard. When strange signs that were historically believed to ward off the black death start to appear on the doors of several buildings, Adamsberg takes notice and suspects a connection with Le Guern’s warnings. After a flea-bitten corpse with plague-like symptoms is found in one of the marked buildings, Fred Vargas’s inimitable genius chief inspector is under pressure to solve the mystery and restore calm to a panicked Paris. But is it a real case of the bubonic scourge, or just a sinister trick designed to frighten as the body count grows and the culprit continues to elude the police? Peopled with charming and eccentric Gallic characters, and packed with gripping historical detail, Have Mercy on Us All is a complex, surprising, and stylish tale from France’s finest mystery writer.

Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand

A #1 bestselling author in France, Fred Vargas repeatedly captivates her many admirers across the globe with suspenseful mysteries featuring Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, ?a Gallic cousin to Ruth Rendell?s Chief Inspector Wexford? (The Washington Post). In the same way that Donna Leon?s Commissario Brunetti and Andrea Camilleri?s Inspector Montalbano have won countless fans on this side of the Atlantic due to Penguin’s robust commitment to the best international mystery writing, Vargas’s Commissaire Adamsberg is poised to conquer America in a series of novels that are “truly original . . . like nothing else in contemporary fiction” (The Sunday Times, London), beginning with Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand.

This Night’s Foul Work

Twice awarded the International Dagger by the Crime Writers? Association, Fred Vargas has earned a reputation in Europe as a mystery author of the first order. In This Night?s Foul Work, the intuitive Commissaire Adamsberg teams up with Dr. Ariane, a pathologist with whom he crossed paths twenty years ago, to unravel a beguiling mystery that begins with the discovery of two bodies in Paris’s Porte de la Chapelle. Adamsberg believes it may be the work of a killer with split personalities, who is choosing his or her victims very carefully. As other murders begin to surface, Adamsberg must move quickly in order to stop the “Angel of Death” from killing again. Intricately plotted and featuring Vargas’s wry humor, This Night?s Foul Work will keep readers guessing up to the final page.

An Uncertain Place

When Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, the chief of police in Paris’s seventh arrondissement, is called to the scene of a ghastly and highly unusual murder, he thinks it can’t have anything to do with the nine pairs of shoes and severed feet discovered outside of London’s Highgate Cemetery just a few days earlier. With the help of the murdered man’s gifted physician, Adamsberg delves into the victim’s disturbed psyche and unexpectedly finds himself on a path that takes him deep into the haunted past of Eastern Europe, where a centuries-old horror has come to life and is claiming victims far and wide.

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec

More than ten million copies of Fred Vargas’s Commissaire Adamsberg mysteries have been sold worldwide. Now, American readers are getting hooked on the internationally bestselling author’s unsettling blend of crime and the supernatural. As the chief of police in Paris’s seventh arrondissement, Commissaire Adamsberg has no jurisdiction in Ordebec. Yet, he cannot ignore a widow’s plea. Her daughter Lina has seen a vision of the Ghost Riders with four nefarious men. According to the thousand-year-old legend, the vision means that the men will soon die a grisly death. When one of them disappears, Adamsberg races to Ordebec, where he becomes entranced by the gorgeous Lina—and embroiled in the small Normandy town’s ancient feud.

A Climate of Fear

A woman is found murdered in her bathtub, and the murder made to look like a suicide. But a strange symbol found at the crime scene leads the local police to call Commissaire Adamsberg and his team.When the symbol is found near the body of a second disguised suicide, a pattern begins to emerge: both victims were part of a disastrous expedition to Iceland over 10 years ago. A group of tourists found themselves trapped on a deserted island for two weeks, surrounded by a thick, impenetrable fog rumoured to be summoned by an ancient local demon, and two of them didn’t make it back alive. But how are the deaths linked to the secretive Association for the Study of the Writings of Maximilien Robespierre? And what does the mysterious symbol signify?

Will not be released until July 2016.

 

 

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