I have been re-reading the Fred Vargas crime novels set in France. They are very odd, quite surreal, disquieting but also compelling and captivating, and very curious (in the Alice In Wonderland sense).
The oddest, most fascinating thing about them is the head of the murder squad, Commissaire Adamsberg, born in the mountains of the Pyrenees. He is almost entirely passive, while being as slippery as an eel, completely indifferent and totally focussed. In the third novel, Vargas describes his questioning technique, as being like a river; the person being questioned doesn’t notice the little ripples that slowly tug him away from the safe shore to the deep waters that will overwhelm him. The plots are clever and interesting, are firmly set in the French landscape and cultural imagination and usually I can’t figure out who did what. Adamsberg’s squad is unusual too, a home for those who don’t really fit into the other squads, and his interactions with them and theirs with each other add a twist of appealing wit. Fred Vargas is the pseudonym of the French historian, archaeologist and writer Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau.
Her latest book is The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, which starts with a panic-stricken woman outside police headquarters in Paris. She has been standing in blazing sunshine for more than an hour, and refuses to speak to anyone besides Commissaire Adamsberg. Her daughter has seen a vision: ghostly horsemen who target the most nefarious characters in Normandy. Since the middle ages there have been stories of murderers, rapists, those with serious crimes on their conscience, meeting a grizzly end following a visitation by the riders. Soon after the young woman’s vision a notoriously cruel man disappears, and the local police dismiss the matter as superstition. Although the case is far outside his jurisdiction, Adamsberg agrees to investigate the strange happenings in a village terrorised by wild rumours and ancient feuds.
If you like unusual crime and intriguing characters, you should really give these a try…