by Fred Vargas
Vintage Books (25 mars 2014)
448 pages - 16.99 $
I discovered Fred Vargas - a French author known around the world who has received the International Prize Dagger Award in 2013 for this novel - after reading several books by Patricia Cornwell... Vargas, you like it or not (I rarely heard mixed reviews about her!) And personally the Adamsberg's wacky and offbeat style, after the scientific rigor of Scarpetta, was sheer bliss! I also appreciate that her stories are often related to fears or old stories (fear of the wolf in Seeking Whom He May Devour, of the plague in Have Mercy on Us All). This time, it's about a legend about the ghost riders...
France's bestselling crime writer, and three-time winner of the CWA International Dagger, sends the unorthodox Commissaire Adamsberg far outside his jurisdication in a chilling tale of evil-doers who disappear after visitations from a band of ghostly horsemen.
'People will die,' says the panic-stricken woman outside police headquarters. She has been standing in blazing sunshine for more than an hour, and refuses to speak to anyone besides Commissaire Adamsberg. Her daughter has seen a vision: ghostly horsemen who target the most nefarious characters in Normandy. Since the middle ages there have been stories of murderers, rapists, those with serious crimes on their conscience, meeting a grizzly end following a visitation by the riders.
Soon after the young woman's vision a notoriously cruel man disappears, and the local police dismiss the matter as superstition. Although the case is far outside his jurisdiction, Adamsberg agrees to investigate the strange happenings in a village terrorised by wild rumours and ancient feuds.
What I think of it
We meet back in this novel with the brigade lead (or not too lead actually) by Adamsberg. Vargas knows how to create very credible characters despite their caricatural flaws. There's the Commandant himself, a kind of evanescent UFO in the police world but also the nerd Danglard, Veyrenc who speaks in alexandrine, Retancourt a nonstandard cop including in size or The Ball - the cat that spends his time sleeping and that is carried to his food - and all the others. Their flaws make them endearing and humans, They're not super cops, they're not cops who drag their past like some cannonballs. We can feel that Vargas likes all her characters, so that in spite of their flaws or perhaps because of their flaws, we appreciate them.
The story is also well done. Adamsberg is conducting three parallel investigations, one who drags him in Normandy in the footsteps of the Lord of Hellequin and his deadly riders that designate who will die next. The designated fall one after the other and Adamsberg finds the culprit thanks to a detail he banged into without understanding. I confess that until the end, I didn't know who was the killer, because Vargas, nonchalantly, leads us by the nose, throwing in front of us the most likely suspects and leaving in shadow the identity of the murderer until the denouement.
What I also like about this book is the atmosphere and the off-the-wall dialogues - often due to Adamsberg who speaks as he thinks... and thinks differently, leaving his colleagues - and us - in the fog but who thinks in a very personal and effective logic in the end. An extract in which Adamsberg mixes the suspect Christian Clermont in Paris and the dead guy in Normandy Mortembot :
- Blue striped costume for Christian. You see? Not brown.
- So why did I thought that Mortembot's jacket was blue?
- By mistake.
- Because he changed Danglard. Can you see the link now?
- Frankly, no.
- Because I knew, deep down, that Christian had changed. As well as Mortembot.
- And why Mortembot has changed?
- But we don't care about Mortembot! Yelled Adamsberg. One would think that you deliberately don't understand.
- Do not forget that I almost died under a train.
- It's true, briefly acknowledged Adamsberg.
In a nutshell
A fast reading, not complicated but much less simple than it seems. We let ourselves be carried away by the crazy atmosphere of the book and we end up being had by the conclusion! I give it 4/5.
My thoughts on closing the book : He's a really great guy that Adamsberg!