I’ve had this Fred Vargas crime novel sitting around for a while, which is unusual for me. I find it difficult to leave her books lying around unread. I even re-read them occasionally, which says a lot for them as, once one knows who did it, who wants to re-read a whodunnit?
This story is set in Paris. However Vargas’ detective, Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, has moved on, to be replaced by an idiot. The pursuit of the killer is left to Kehlweiler, an investigator of sorts, who now operates on his own having been sacked from a government ministry. Imagine the sort of Holmes-like character Samuel Beckett might have created and you’re half way there. Kehlweiler assigns numbers to the benches and trees of Paris so as to effectively co-ordinate the activity of his irregular force of human cctv cameras. Sitting on Bench 102 one day, something odd on the pavement attracts his attention. It turns out, as he suspected, to be a fragment of human bone that arrived on the pavement via dog faeces.
The new commissaire is less than enthusiastic about the find. Kehlweiler goes it alone and enlists the help of two of the “three evangelists” (heroes of another Vargas novel) to help him track down the dog, the corpse and, ultimately, the killer. On the way he encounters a pinball machine and a work of public art reminiscent of the Swiss sculptor and painter, Jean Tinguely. The human relationship with machines is an important thread running through the book.
It’s hard to say more without the risk of letting slip a spoiler – except that Vargas’ novels are, in my opinion, the best thing since pain en tranche. They’ve been made into TV dramas in France, some of which can be seen, in French, on the internet. It would be good to see some well-subtitled versions finding their way onto British TV.