Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Fred Vargas' ghosts

Early in The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, Fred Vargas takes her odd, intuitive protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, to Normandy, where he comes up against a police captain almost as unconventional as he is. Neither, for example, can stand being cooped up too long; both, apparently, like to chew over cases while on long walks, not a conventional police technique, at least in fiction.

The Ghosts Riders of Ordebec is Vargas' seventh Adamsberg novel, and her clever turn on small-town cop who resents his opposite number from the big city (Adamsberg is based in Paris) is one way to keep a longish series fresh. How do your favorite long-series crime writers manage that trick?
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The ghosts of the title refer the avenging marauders of a thousand-year-old Ordebec legend and, in the opening pages, Vargas integrates the weirdness seamlessly into the story. I'm no reader of fantasy, but Vargas' world is one that very closely resembles our own, except that beliefs, tales, even professions, from the Middle Ages fit in perfectly. (No accident there; Vargas is a historian and archaeologist specializing in the Middle Ages when she's not writing crime novels.)
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(Read the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Fred Vargas. Read an interview from earlier in Vargas' career that offers insight into her political involvement. Read a two-part Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Vargas' versatile, award-winning translator, Sian Reynolds.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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19 Comments:

Blogger R.T. said...

In Colin Dexter's series, Morse's enigmatic loneliness combines with his cynicism to make the series sustain itself; the more one reads in the series, the more intriguing Morse becomes. Of course, this is a trick of characterization used by quite a few of the genre's authors. Care to name a few others?

May 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor, like many another fictional detective, drinks too much. In some of the middle books in the series, Bruen has Taylor torture himself by lining up drinks on a table, then not drinking them.

Peter Lovesey's Peter Diamond and Bill James' Colin Harpur lose their wives to killers. I'm not sure if this makes them any lonelier.

Hmm, not sure what other fictional detectives gets lonelier and more cynical the more their authors write. I'm sure I'll slap myself on the forehead when you tell me who you have in mind, though.

May 07, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Perhaps Arnaldur Indridason would be a place to start.I guess there might be others. I cannot remember the name of one of Robert Parker's protagonists (i.e., the washed up big city cop with a drinking problem who starts fresh in a small town). And there must be more.

May 07, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Make that last one Jesse Stone.

May 07, 2013  
Blogger Cary Watson said...

I actually can't think of many crime writers who've keep their series fresh. Ed McBain would be one, the other would be Richard Stark's Parker novels. Stark took a long break from Parker and came back stronger than ever. I read Vargas' The Three Evangelists and Have Mercy on Us All and enjoyed them a lot. The next three I read killed my interest in her: the plots became too fanciful, and in the case of Seeking Whom He May Devour there almost wasn't a plot. She also showed a tendency to go overboard on the quirky characters. I'd hazard a guess she was influenced by Pierre Magnan, a Provencal crime writer who doubles down on the quirkiness and bizarro plots. Eccentric seems to be a feature of French crime writing. Sebastian Japrisot has the strangest, most devious plots I've ever come across, but his characters are quirk-free.

May 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., no forehead slapping for me. I've read the first six of Arnaldur's Erlendur novels. Some readers thought Hypothermia plunged Erlendur to new depths of solitude. But it took a bold leap toward reconciling Erlendur and his daughter. In any case, I always thought Erlendur was pretty well adjusted for such a solitaryu character.

I parted ways with Robert B. Parker before Jesse Stone came on the scene. I lived in Boston when the first few Spenser novels started to hit. I read a few, liked them, the drifted away. I was a bit surprised how big Parker loomed when I started reading crime fiction in a big way about fifteen years later.

May 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Cary, you might want to look in on this discussion of the Parker novels that has recently been revived here at Detectives Beyond Borders. It includes some of my own weighing up the merits of the pre-hiatus Parker books vs. the ones Stark/Westlake wrote after he resumed the series.

And I wrote a few years ago, apropos of Death in the Truffle Wood, that I'd bet Fred Vargas read Magnan.

I got a kick out of the fun Vargas has in Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand aboud the Parisian officers' struggles to understand the Quebecois French they encounter in Hull/Gatineau. I think it's Danglard who offers some erudite comparisons of Quebecois and Parisian French.

May 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here’s the Vargas-Magnan discussion.

May 07, 2013  
Blogger Cary Watson said...

Thanks for the links: lots of interesting pieces!

May 08, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're welcome. The Parker website is especially interesting, I think. Those guy love their Richard Stark.

May 08, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Cary, in the interview with Fred Vargas to which I link in the body of this post, she says that for relaxation she'll read an English mystery, never an American or a French one. So who knows by what route Pierre Magnan's influence would have reached her if, indeed, it did.

May 08, 2013  
Blogger Kathy D. said...

Fred Vargas' writing divides the global crime fiction reading world -- either pro or con.

I fall into the pro as I enjoy her creativity and quirkiness, and find that no matter where the plot goes, the solutions have material, logical solutions. Folk lore and superstitions play a big part in several books but the solutions have a basis in logic.

To not read Wash this Blood Clean from my Hands is to deprive oneself of one of the most hilarious scenes ever -- of Retancourt hiding Adamsberg. No other rider would think of this.

Also, Death in the Truffle Wood was a terrific read. Wish other Magngn books were easily available.

Indridason's Hypothermia was terrific. I wish it had won the Dagger. There was so much to think about along with Erlendur.

Another series, which I find always interesting is Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti books, set in Venice. He doesn't get lonely, nor dissolute, doesn't overly imbibe, yet is more and more cynical about political life in Venice and Italy, as a whole.

It's cynicism worth reading about.

May 08, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

But, Kathy, and Peter, do you prefer Donna Leon or Andrea Camilleri for your Italian/Sicilian excursions? I have my favorite, and the newly arrived omnibus edition of the first three titles in the series lets me revisit the old policeman.

May 08, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I'm a member of the moderate pro-Vargas party. I enjoy the quirks when they have something to say about psychology or history or French social mores and geography. They usually do.

I have not read Donna Leon, but Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen is another protagonist who has few illusions about Italian society.

May 08, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I know now which of the two is your favorite. I have not read Donna Leon, but note my recommendation of Michael Dibdin. Have you read him?

May 08, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Long ago I read Ratking. I think I have missed the others. Perhaps that has been a mistake.

May 08, 2013  
Blogger Kathy D. said...

I can't say a preference really about Donna Leon or Andrea Camilleri's series. I check the library to see when the latest Brunetti book arrives and put it on hold immediately.

Regarding Montalbano's investigations, I'll buy the newest book if the library doesn't get it quickly enough.

I like both series for different reasons. If I had to choose books to go with me on a desert island, I'd bring both series, along with others, too.

May 08, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T.: Back when I started this blog, I noted that Dibdin was an exception to my tendency to prefer books set in the author's own country. I've read four of the Aurelio Zen books and one of Dibdin's standalones. You might like Cosi Fan Tutti.

May 09, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I reviewed the latest Camilleri novel, The Dance of the Seagull, in my newspaper on April 28. I put up a blog post that day that links to the review, if you want to scroll back a couple of weeks.

May 09, 2013  

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