Posted: August 27, 2012 in Book Awards, France, review

Commissaire Adamsberg, the creation of French historian and archaeologist Fred Vargas is one of my favourite detectives, but I had not read the first book that won Vargas and translator Sian Reynolds the International Dagger back in 2006. Perhaps it not being part of the Adamsberg series had put me off, but after reading Disgrace it was one of those strange coincidences that I should pick up a book about people living in a house called “The Disgrace”. 

I love the Adamsberg books for their quirkiness and sheer eccentricity so was a little surprised at the formal structure of The Three Evangelists. The novel began with a longish set up introducing the characters, followed by the crime and an investigation. The last few chapters involve various false trails and incorrect solutions, then finally the unmasking of the perpetrator. It is almost like a Golden Age Detective story given the special Vargas treatment.

Greek opera singer Sophia Simeonidas is astonished one morning to see a tree has appeared in her garden. Her husband Pierre knows nothing about it and she asks her new neighbours Marc, Mathias and Lucien, and Marc’s godfather/uncle disgraced former cop Armand Vandoosler for assistance. The neighbours dig under the tree, find nothing and replace the earth. Then a few weeks later Sophia goes missing, and a body is found burned beyond recognition in a car. The body is identified from an artefact Sophia always carries with her, and there are multiple suspects. Her husband Pierre, her newly arrived niece the beautiful Alexandra, her ex-lover, her best friend? All have a motive and the evangelists and Vandoosler begin their own private investigation.

For me the best part of the book is the introductory set up as Marc, a medievalist, who down on his luck can’t afford the rent,and persuades other historians, Mathias whose subject is pre-history, and Lucien who studies the Great War to share the house, with his godfather Armand Vandoosler. The elder Vandoosler takes to calling the younger men St Mark, St Luke and St Matthew and so they become the Three Evangelists. It is the complex burgeoning relationships between these characters, with Sophia’s best friend Juliette, who runs a local restaurant, and Sophia’s niece Alexandra that makes the novel so interesting. 

‘Do you have a car?’

‘We don’t have a car, because of our little problem with money.’

The Three Evangelists was originally published as Debout les morts in 1995, and won the 2006 International Dagger ahead of Andrea Camilleri’s Excursion to Tindari and Hakn Nesser’s Borkmann’s Point. It is certainly an easy read with a lot of clever Gallic charm packed into a mere 292 pages and well worth reading. 

The  Commissaire Adamsberg series [English publication date in brackets]:
1996 The Chalk Circle Man*** and here [2009]
1999 Seeking Whom He May Devour [2004]
2001 Have Mercy on Us All [2003]
  1. Sarah says:

    I love Fred Vargas and I’m glad to find another fan too as I know she splits opinion. She has a new book out next year I believe which I can’t wait to read.

  2. Norman Price says:

    Thanks Sarah. The Ghost Riders of Ordebec is due out in March 2013, and I am counting the weeks.

  3. Jose Ignacio says:

    I have only read some of Adamsberg’s book series,, Norman. Now I’m also very much tempted to read this one as well. Thanks for an excellent review, as always.

  4. Maxine says:

    Yes, a lovely review. I enjoyed this book more than some by Vargas, though it does veer off a bit into implausibilities….I liked the three academics and all the little in-jokes about academia (not that I got them all!).

  5. Norman Price says:

    Thanks Maxine and Jose Ignacio.

  6. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – This is a terrific review for which thanks. I like the Adamsberg series very much so I was glad to see you took a closer look at this one. The only thing about this novel is… I think Vargas must somehow follow us academics around; she’s got the type very, very well-pegged 😉

  7. Norman Price says:

    Margot, it seems both you and Maxine are not convinced that three academics could live in amicably in the same house. 🙂

  8. kathy d. says:

    The Three Evangelists was the first book by Fred Vargas, which I read. i loved it and then moved on to the Inspector Adamsberg series, which I have enjoyed immensely. I will also go wherever Vargas’ creative, quirky mind will go. No writer has ever taken me on the kind of journeys that she does, even dredging up the medieval bubonic plague as a possible murder weapon or a wolf obsession, a hilarious scene with one detective hiding the other in the most creative way, a lieutenant who speaks in 12-syllable Alexandrine verse, a Serbian vampire vendetta and so much more.
    Reading life is never boring or formulaic with Adamsberg and his team.

  9. kathy d. says:

    P.S. I’ve been anticipating The Ghost Riders of Ordebec and will keep checking Book Depository. The minute they have it, I’ll buy it. Can’t wait for the library.

  10. Norman Price says:

    Kathy, thanks for that superb summary of the Adamsberg series. I must catch up on the two books that I have not read; Have Mercy on Us All and Seeking Whom He May Devour.

  11. kathy d. says:

    You have some fun reading in store when you pick up those two books by Fred Vargas. The human psyche and medieval fun facts on the plague await you, among other things.

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