” The smell was ghastly, the scene was appalling, and even Adamsberg stiffened, standing back a little behind his English colleague.  From the ancient shoes, with their crackled leather and trailing laces, projected decomposed ankles, showing dark flesh and white shinbones, which had been cleanly chopped off…. They were just there on the pavement, terrible and provocative, sitting inside their shoes at the historic gateway to Highgate Cemetery.  They formed a carefully arranged and unspeakable pile.”  Fred Vargas writes police procedurals that are always a bit off center.

In AN UNCERTAIN PLACE, Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is in London attending an international police conference.  Adamsberg has refused to learn English so he depends on Danglard to translate .  But the language barrier has made him hopelessly bored until their British liaison, DCI Radstock is called to the scene and brings his French charges along for the trip.  Through Danglard, Adamsberg assures his host that strange things happen in  France, too.

“Seven thirty next morning.  the Commissaire, thunderstruck, was sitting, and gazing at the crime scene, under the anxious eyes of his colleagues – so abnormal was it for Adamsberg to be thunderstruck, or indeed to be sitting in a chair.  But he remained where he was, his face expressionless, and his eyes darting around, as if he had no wish to see, and was projecting is gaze far away so that nothing should lodge in his memory.  He was forcing himself to think back…when he had not yet seen this room drenched in blood.”

The crimes are so bizarre that Adamsberg wonders if they might have been committed by the same person.  Events ultimately bring Adamsberg to Serbia where he finds himself examining the possibility that vampires are involved.

Introducing the notion of vampires might suggest that Vargas has written a comic novel.  She hasn’t.  She leads Adamsberg to an understanding of legends and superstitions and the impact they have on true believers.

It isn’t possible to summarize the book in any meaningful way.  Fred Vargas writes books that have to be read to be appreciated. There are layers, curves, and twists in each book that move the story to a reasonable and satisfying conclusion but not without seemingly going off the rails a couple of times.

The Adamsberg books should be read in order because the author makes reference to things in previous books in the series.  If you have not yet found a wonderful site, http://www.stopyou’, please take a look.  Books in a series are listed in order.

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10 Responses to AN UNCERTAIN PLACE – Fred Vargas

  1. kathy d. says:

    I find that no matter how quirky or seemingly off-base Vargas’ plots are, or how far they go off the charts, that it is always Inspector Adamsberg’s experience, logic and deductive reasoning that solve the crimes. In this book, going into Serbian vampire dimensions, the commissioner still interviews witnesses and looks at evidence, thinking everything through to the tiniest detail, in order to figure out the murderer. Vargas doesn’t leave anything up to supernatural possibilities. She is a scientist who uses her skills and shows them to the reader. A very fun book to read. I admire Vargas’ brilliance and creativity.

  2. Sarah says:

    I absolutely love Fred Vargas. As you say her books are multi layered and slightly strange.

  3. Kay says:

    I’ve not read any of Vargas’ books, but I can see that I must try them. I’ve recently discovered your blog and will definitely be checking in often.

    • Beth says:

      Kay – I am delighted that you have found the blog. There is generally something different everyday.

      When you start Vargas’ series, it really is important to start from the beginning. It alleviates much of the confusion.

  4. Maxine says:

    The Euro Crime website/database is also great for UK/European authors, eg Vargas is here:
    books listed in order with links to the EC reviews.

    I read this book but Vargas is one of those authors you love or hate and I find it quite hard to like this series, with its odd mix of quirkiness and ruthlessness, as well as incredible things as in this one where the suspect runs past 3 policeman without explanation. I preferred The Three Evangelists, I liked the academic satire aspects of that.

    • Beth says:

      Thank you for the link, Maxine. I have enjoyed going through it today. There are never enough ways to find books.

      Vargas is worth trying. There have been a few times when I thought about giving up on one of the books and then I remember that she always makes it worthwhile.

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