Monday, 5 May 2014

The Chalk Circle Man (L'homme aux cercles bleus) by Fred Vargas

This is a review for 2014 Monthly Motif Challenge, Book beginnings on Friday, as well as a read for my book club.

I heard a lot about Fred Vargas from Renate in our book club. This is one of her favourite crime fiction writers and I think I can agree with her after having read this first book about commissaire Adamsberg. It is a refreshing chief inspector, quite different from others that tend to appear in books like this. I am so tired of these middle aged chief inspectors who are divorced, overweight and depressed and spend all time trying to solve the crime. This chief inspector too does, of course, trying to solve the crime, but it is written in a totally different way. You could read it like a fiction novel, it just happens to have a murder or two in it.

Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg has just been appointed chief inspector in the 5th arrondissement in Paris.  He originates from a small town in the Pyrenees and knows very well how nature works. He has made a rather fast career and has a reputation of solving the crimes that ends up on this desk. None of his colleagues understand him and the way he is working, but they do respect him. His colleague Danglard is a middle-aged divorced man whose wife left him with two set of twins and a son by her lover (well, we are in France after all!). He drinks too much, but is a sharp detective and knows the routines. The first case that they solve together, Adamsberg manages to take care of rather quickly. His intuitions are normally correct we are told.

At this time the papers are writing about a man who appears during the night and draw blue chalk circles on the streets of Paris. Within each circle is some kind of waste. Nobody knows how this should be interpreted. Is it someone who reacts to litter in the street? Somebody who has something else to say. Adamsberg senses that something might develop from this and keeps himself updated. True enough, one night a dead woman ends up inside the circle and so they start working. Not to spoil the story and the excitement I will stop here with the story.

Parallel to the crime investigation there is another story and this is how the book begins:

Mathilde took out her diary and wrote: 'The man sitting next to me has got one hell of a nerve.'
She sipped her beer and glanced once more at the neighbour on her left, a strikingly tall man who had been drumming his fingers on the café table for the past ten minutes.

Mathilde is a lady that goes around the streets of Paris and notes down what she sees and people she meets. This will be very important also in the search for the chalk circle man. Chapter V starts:

Mathilde had presented herself at the Hotel des Grands Hommes, to look for the beautiful blind man - a very small hotel for such a grand name, she thought. Or perhaps it meant that one didn't need many rooms to accommodate all the great men in the world.

You have passages like this all over the book. It is a pleasure to read and the style is almost poetic. The action is rather slow and maybe one can compare Adamsberg with Poirot. He is definitely using his little grey cells. The story and the characters are well developed and all a little bit peculiar, and although I tried to guess who the murder was, the story developed further and further and it was only in the very end that I realised who the murderer was.

Highly recommended!

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