What makes a killer kill? (Fred Vargas, "Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand")
In Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, the protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, comes to believe he may be guilty of murder. He shares his doubts with a faithful colleague who, naturally, believes in him but, unlike most faithful colleagues, gives an explanation that goes beyond mere sentimentality and blind faith.
And you haven't any doubts?" [Adamsberg] asked.Later, the colleague offers a fuller explanation to the abstracted, intuitive, brilliantly successful Adamsberg:
"Why not? You don't like me, and there's a mountain of evidence stacked up against me. But you don't think I did it?"
"No. You're not the sort of man who would kill someone."
"How do you know?"
Retancourt pursed her lips slightly, seeming to hesitate.
"Well, let's just say that it wouldn't interest you enough."
"I admired your flair of course, everyone did, but not the air of detachment it seemed to give you, the way you disregarded anything your deputies said, since you only half-listened to them anyway. I didn't like your isolation, your high-handed indifference. ... you ought to listen when I say you didn't murder anyone. To kill, you need to be emotionally involved with other people, you need to get drawn into their troubles and even be obsessed by what they represent. Killing means interfering with some kind of bond, an excessive reaction, a sort of mingling with someone else. So that the other person doesn't exist as themselves, but as something that belongs to you, that you can treat as a victim. I don't think you're remotely capable of that."
That's just one way Vargas makes Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand so fresh and such a pleasure to read. Others are a sly wit, a sympathetic and just sentimental enough view of some elderly characters, and some delightful takes on the cultural conflict between French Canadians and French when Adamsberg and his colleagues fly to Quebec for a seminar on DNA profiling. Vargas, a medieval historian and archaeologist, also manages gracefully to work those interests into the story.
There was an outcry two years ago when Britain's Crime Writers’ Association split its main CWA Gold Dagger award into two prizes, one for English-language crime fiction and one for translated crime. One happy result is that the CWA this year was able to honor two superlatively good crime novels: Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand,with the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger, and Peter Temple's The Broken Shore, with the Duncan Lawrie Dagger.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007
French crime fiction