Friday, April 20, 2012

Crime is Afoot

An Uncertain Place: A Commissaire Adamsberg Mystery by Fred Vargas

In London, seventeen shoes are found just outside of Highgate Cemetery. Normally this wouldn't be a reason for Commissaire Adamsberg, in town as the Parisian representative to a police conference, to take notice. These shoes, however, have feet inside them. Still, the feet are in London and there are more pressing matters across the Channel. In Paris someone has completely dismembered the body of a wealthy recluse. Not even the toes are found next to each other in this gruesome display. With these two scenes, author Fred Vargas sets off on a twisting traipse through logic, folklore, history, and murder.

Commissaire Adamsberg is an odd creation, seemingly neither altogether grounded in reality nor focused on the case. His inner world is described near the end of the book: "At every step, his thoughts rose and fell in chaos, as they usually did with him, like fish swimming up to the surface then diving back down." The novel takes its cues from Adamsberg, with conversations drifting from the important to the inane with regularity, and even the direst communication often ending with a joke. As chief of Paris' seventh arrondissement, he leads a team of inspectors who have worked together long enough to understand each others' strengths and weaknesses. They bandy ideas around and watch each others' backs, coming across as more than just characters on a page. Add to that the mystery itself, which, while crossing tides of history and myth, is still a traditional puzzler that can be solved with evidence given within the story.

The focus on the lives and interactions of the investigators working the case is similar to the work of mystery novelist P.D. James and her detective Adam Dalgliesh.

If you like literary mysteries, check out both of these authors.

Review by Danny Hanbery

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