Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fred Vargas - Mystery writer extraordinaire

The Guardian has a terrific interview in their weekend review with bestselling French crime writer Fred Vargas. Among the topics covered are her very strange childhood with a father who wrote books about surrealists and limited his children's reading to mythology, folktales and 17-century baroque poetry. I think Vargas's books are simply terrific and urge you to give her a try if you are on the prowl for a new mystery voice. P.D. James, Ruth Rendall and in particular Reginald Hill fans will love Vargas, due to the complexities of her plots, the fascinating background stories of her characters and her engaging and grumpy protoganist Commissaire Adamsberg who, unlike other detectives burdened with the odd sidekick or two, seems to have an entire department of eccentric co-workers. A great place to start is Wash This Blood Clean From My Hands, which partly takes place in Ottawa and Hull. The real treat in this novel is riding along with Adamsberg who, suspected of a crime he did not commit, has to elude the Quebec police and the RCMP and get on a plane back to Paris to clear his name. Wonderfully ingenious plotting and great fun. Her latest book is This Night's Foul Work which starts with two dead drug dealers but ends up delving into psychological doubles, childhood memories gone wrong, and a ghoulish search for the elixer of everlasting youth. I'm also fond of The Three Evangelists about an opera singer who wakes up one morning to unexpectedly find a tree planted in her backyard. She calls on her neighbours - the three evangelists of the title - to dig it up to see if anything has been buried under it. They find nothing but then the singer goes missing. What is so wonderful about this novel is that the three reluctant sleuths are unemployed historians sharing a house to save on rent, and each is obsessed with his own particular era of study - prehistoric, medieval and WW1. The witty banter and bickering between them, peppered with historical allusions and jokes is a complete treat.

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