Archive for April 1, 2013

51yeLmS3pVL._SL500_AA300_It seems a long wait between any new additions to the Commissaire Adamsberg series, but when they do arrive they are always a treat and give the Vargas, Fredreader a slightly offbeat approach to the crime fiction novel. In the seventh book in the series, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec [L’armee furieuse in the original French edition] Adamsberg and his quirky crew face two cases. 
A rich Parisian industrialist has been torched in his car and a convenient suspect, serial arsonist Momo, is available, but the intuitive Adamsberg believes he is innocent and goes to great lengths to prove it.
Meanwhile a little old lady has come to the capital from a village in Normandy to tell Adamsberg that her daughter Lina Vendermot has had a vision of a ghostly army of riders lead by Lord Hellequin carrying along three terrified victims that she can identify, and one she can’t.
When the intrigued Adamsberg learns more about the legend of the Furious Army  which is said to have roamed the countryside  chasing the damned souls of evil people to Hell, he travels to Ordebec discovering that the first of those evil victims has been murdered.
“He was at the service of cupidity and deception rather than of justice.” And that is why Landri, Vicomte d’Ordebec, was seized by the Furious Army. To be a corrupt magistrate in those days was a serious as to commit bloodshed . Whereas nowadays, nobody cares. 
Adamsberg’s investigative team has always been a sandwich short of a picnic, but in this story, the walking encyclopaedia Danglard,  the narcoleptic Mercadet, the Alexandrine quoting poet Veyrenc and the statuesque goddess Retancourt seem almost normal alongside the crazy Vendermot family of Ordebec. But in Ordebec almost everyone has a personal story to tell some of which contain clues and some merely red herrings. 
With Zerk, Adamsberg’s newly discovered son, and Momo looking after Hebbeaud, a tortured pigeon, while on the run from the authorities [Momo not the pigeon]; six fingered hands, crossbows, men made of clay, sugar lumps and the distracting beauty of Lina, this is one of Adamsberg’s most complex, but engaging adventures.
‘So what do you make of that, commandant?’ asked Adamsberg as they walked slowly back up the track to Leo’s house.
‘Could be a whole family of killers,’ said Danglard cooly, ‘self-contained, sheltered from the outside world. All of them with a screw loose, they’ve been badly abused, they’re wild, incredibly talented and very engaging.’ 
The Ghost Riders of Ordebec is original, full of Gallic charm, eccentric, slightly confusing in a nice way, and one of those books that you don’t want to finish because it should be enjoyed slowly like a fine wine. In a genre where sometimes one feels that there is nothing new to interest the reader Fred Vargas always manages to provide intelligent entertainment while dealing with varied human emotions.
Fred Vargas is the pen name of Frederique Audoin-Rouzeau, a medieval historian and archaeologist, who has along with translator Sian Reynolds won the CWA International Dagger three times.
The Ghost Riders of Ordebec would in my opinion be a very worthy winner of a fourth award, but this year Fred Vargas, and her French eccentricity, may face strong challenges from Scandinavia and further afield.
“No, not really. My guess is the boy who likes torturing pigeons, and the Ordebec  murderer, and whoever burnt Clermont-Brasseur, all of them are going round in his head, without him really seeing much difference between them.
The rest of the Commissaire Adamsberg series with my reviews. [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]
2008 An Uncertain Place [2011]