I love the Commissaire Adamsberg books by Fred Vargas: they are amongst the most engaging, intriguing, bizarre and unusual crime series out there, and this is another great addition (number 8) to the collection. This one manages to combine a mystery involving a historical association (linked to the French Revolution) with another mystery which occurred in Iceland some years before.
Three things enable the reader to overcome the preposterousness of the plot(s). The first are the characters; where once Adamsberg was the curious centrepiece, and subsequently the beautifully drawn Danglard was added, now there is a whole police room of engaging, interesting characters, each prepared to step forward into a leading role at any moment. Whether it’s the cat by the photocopier, Estalere making coffee, the neighbour Lucio, or the strong and stable Retancourt, they are far more than bit parts or plot devices.
The second is the humour and wit; Vargas has a great way with a one-liner, and with touches of the surreal. I particularly enjoyed the domesticated wild boar, and the Icelandic group who welcome, support and look after Adamsberg and crew on their trip. And Adamsberg and Danglard have a nice line in passive-aggressive cutting remarks going, shot through with respect and kindness.
The third is that Vargas is simply a great writer: she knows when to take you on a historical flight of fancy, when to undercut some high-brow pontification, when to ratchet up the drama, and when to create genuine pathos and empathy for those involved. It’s a skill that has been honed over the Adamsberg books, and I think she gets better and better – to the point that she’s in the top echelon of current police procedural writers today.
BUY IT NOW: A Climate of Fear (Commissaire Adamsberg Book 8)