I haven’t read a Fred Vargas novel for quite some time, but was fortunate to see this at our local station’s free community bookshelf, and grabbed it. Vargas is an excellent writer of quirky, original and often slightly mystical French crime thrillers – featuring the wonderful Commissaire Adamsberg and his two deputies, Danglard and Veyrenc. Adamsberg is a great creation, by turns flighty, frustrating and fanciful – but with in inner gut instinct and intuition for the truth and for right and wrong. He is unorthodox and rises above the standard clichés of detective with alcohol problems, broken-down marriage, and love of rock music. That makes the stories more interesting and intriguing than much of what passes for crime fiction at the moment.
In this book, a set of murders are being blamed on the ‘Ghost Riders’ who have been returning to kill evil people since the Middle Ages; and alongside this story, Adamsberg and his team are also trying to solve a suspicious arson-murder. The two plots interweave and play off each other nicely, and there are some moments of genuine tension and thrill amongst the interplay of dialogue and turns of phrase.
I can imagine this might not be everyone’s cup of tea – and that Adamsberg could be as infuriating to a reader as entertaining – but I’m a big fan: the plots, the historical detail, the character depiction and the conjuring of atmosphere all place Vargas’ work above her peers. This isn’t even her best, but it’s a cut above much of the police novels I’ve been ploughing through of late. There are 9 Adamsberg books (I think I’ve read 6 or 7) so plenty to get your teeth into if you fancy a sojourn into different parts of France with a ghostly murder or two – the Chalk Circle Man (the first) is particularly good, and I also liked her (non-Adamsberg) book The Three Evangelists.