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An Uncertain Place
A Commissaire Adamsberg Mystery, No 7
Fred Vargas
(trans. by Si n Reynolds)

Harvill Secker
2011 / ISBN 978184655452
Police Procedural / /England/France/Serbia / Contemporary

Reviewed by
L J Roberts

First Sentence: Commissaire Adamsberg knew how to iron shirts.

Adamsberg begins in London, attending a police conference with Sgt. Estalere and Comm. Danglard when they are directed to the gates of Highgate Cemetery. There, in front of the gate, are 17 shoes; 8 pairs and one single, removed from corpses, still containing their feet. It is a case Adamsberg is glad not to be theirs. Back in Paris, a horrific and unusual murder occurs in a suburban home. The case leads Adamsburg to Serbia, vampire legends and the possibility of losing his life.

An author whose writing makes you savor particular passages, as though it was that first bit of a magnificent meal or sip of a fine wine, is a special gift. Vargas is one such author. One finds oneself reading passages aloud to others, whether they care or not, as you want to share them. Vargas is such a writer.

From the opening page, Vargas evocative descriptions immediately place you into the scene. Since the room had windows on three sides, he spent this time moving his seat around the circular table, following the light, like a lizard on a rock. and introducing your to new concepts Going to London was fine by him: he would find out whether the Thames smelt of damp washing the way the Seine did, and what kind of sound the seagulls made. Perhaps they had a different call in English.

Even in translation and kudos to Si n Reynolds Ms. Vargas voice is unique and strong. Any experience that s too beautiful or too horrific always leaves some fragment of itself in the eyes of the people who have witnessed it. Her description of Lt. Retancourt, a large, powerful woman, is one to be envied..." "Did she know that to him she represented his tree of salvation, a tree with tough and miraculous fruit, the kind of tree you put your arms around without being able to encircle it, the kind of tree you climb up into when the mouth of hell opens?" Ms. Vargas images stay with us for a very long time after the story is done.

The use of language is a pleasure to read, even to inventing one word and re-inventing another. Her droll humor brings light to the dark and her dialogue is a pleasure to our internal ear.

Vargas characters are just as unique and, you sense, beloved by the author. They are wonderful, varied, and slightly eccentric. But it s also nice to have a police procedural where much of the investigation is done by a squad working together. You don t know whether some of the characters are extremely observant and astute, or blessed with extraordinary abilities, or both. Either way, the come to life and you want to know them. Even the victim is dimensional with his back story provided and relationship with his son explained. None of the characters are simply there to fill the space. Even the dog is anthropomorphized by Amamsberg.

In some ways, this book was more strictly a police procedural than others, perhaps as there was no romantic overtone to it. All the crimes are singular in their execution. The plot is smart and clever without ever being contrived. Taking Adamsberg from London to Paris to Serbia not only accentuates the mystery and the building of suspense and she does suspense well but adds a richness to the story. Vargas takes you down unexpected paths and includes a twist you never saw coming. She takes us on a journey; not only of locations, but of legends and superstitions, yet provides logical explanations in the end.

An Uncertain Place was published in France in 2008. Ms. Vargas is an author you want to have write more, publish more frequently and be translated more quickly. Her books are gifts to readers and, although it sounds greedy, with each one, you want more.

Reviews of other titles in this series

Seeking Who He May Devour #3
An Uncertain Place

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec

Reviewer's Note: (Book 4 has not been translated)
Reviewed 2011