Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Climate Of Fear - Fred Vargas

A Climate of Fear
A Commissaire Adamsberg Mystery
Fred Vargas
Translated from the French by Sian Reynolds
Penguin Books


The story begins with an infirm woman desperately counting the distance to the nearest post box.  For the first time in ages, Alice is out alone, without her nurse.  She must post this letter.  Sadly, she collapses mere meters from the box.  Fortunately for her, a Good Samaritan finds the letter and posts it for her.  Or perhaps it wasn’t so fortunate, since days later, Alice is found, dead, an apparent suicide.  The police who investigate aren’t quite sure about the cause of death, though.  And there’s the matter of a strange symbol drawn near the body.

After tracing the letter to its recipient – which is a tale, in itself – the police, led by Commissaire Adamsberg, travel to the countryside to speak with the man.  They arrive at his horse farm to discover that this man also committed suicide.  This can’t be a coincidence.  Nor can it be chance that the same strange symbol is found near the site of the death.  The immediate question is how these two people are connected, and why they both are dead.  The answer involves a trip to an island off of Iceland and a terrible incident that left two people dead there.  Eventually, the investigation widens (or contracts?) to include a Parisian group dedicated to the writings of Robespierre.

To say that all these disparate events comprise a single case may strain credulity.  But I can attest that it all works out, and makes a certain strange sense in the end.  This is the latest installment in a long-running series.  It’s very clear that the group of detectives and gendarmes have been established for some time.  Even the neighbors and families of various characters feel like real people.   Far from being frustrating, that very comraderie, that familiarity with their eccentricities, makes even a new reader, like me, feel comfortable with them.  As a side note, it might be helpful to have a very basic familiarity with Robespierre and the French Revolution, but it’s not strictly necessary.  The author manages to convey the essentials without a break in the story. 

Even the strangest theories of the case are carefully considered by this group, because getting to the truth is paramount.  No matter how odd or uncomfortable that truth might be.  It’s easy to see why the author has won four international awards for mystery fiction.  This is a mystery unlike any other I have ever read.  It was completely fascinating, from beginning to end.  The settings, the characters, every detail is expertly drawn.  I highly recommend this author, and will be searching out previous novels in this series.

Rating: 9
March 2017

ISBN# 978-0-143-10945-7 (trade paperback)


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