The Chalk Circle Man: A mystery by Fred Vargas
That's because Vargas' near-constant emphasis on her characters' quirks communicates that old French message that everyone has his reasons. Here, Vargas rather skillfully manipulates the reader (OK, she manipulated me) into believing at various times that any of four characters could be the killer, for the simple reason that each of the four has a reason or character trait or behavioral quirk that makes him or her a plausible suspect.
As in Vargas' Have Mercy on Us All, a series of odd messages triggers the mystery. There the messages were odd notes slipped into a modern-day town crier's news bulletins. Here they are visual: a series of mysterious chalk circles that appear in several Paris neighborhoods, each circle enclosing some odd object. Then, one night, a dead body, throat slashed, is found in one of the circles.
The very oddity of the circles lets the intuitive commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and the analytical lieutenant Adrien Danglard consider any number of possible theories. I'll let you read the book to find out what Vargas makes of theories.
For The Chalk Circle Man, Vargas' English-language publishers went back to the first Adamsberg mystery after earlier having issued books two, four, six and seven (the eight books include six novels, one graphic novel and a collection of novellas.) The reader of the books translated earlier will here learn the secret of Danglard's fifth child (I don't remember the story being told in the later books), and there are some delightful scenes of the single father Danglard and the children he loves. If I recall correctly, The Chalk Circle Man also offers more, and maybe even slightly different, physical description of Adamsberg.
For the most part, though, readers of Vargas in English may be reassured to know that Adamsberg has been Adamsberg from the start: intuitive, occasionally abstracted, infuriatingly prone to appear relaxed when Danglard is anything but, and entranced, upset and always worried by the mesmerizing Camille.
© Peter Rozovsky 2009