L’homme aux cercles bleus by Fred Vargas***

16 December 2018 | ,

Reading dates: 09 November – 16 December 2018

I got onto Fred Vargas as she won this years’s Princesa de Asturias prize in Spain, which I think is the first to be given to a crime fiction writer. Since I can read French, I thought it would be a good opportunity to brush up my language skills, which I need to do from time to time, as they do become rusty quite quickly. Reading detective fiction in French is always enjoyable and the book started in a very promising way. Adamsberg is hermetic, complex, quiet, a thinking detective, Dupin-like. I adored the crazy character of Mathilde and her wonderful explanation of the arc of a week, which is well observed:

‘Well, the way I see it, Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, that’s section number one of the week. What happens in section number one is different from what happens in section number two.’
‘And that’s Thursday-Friday-Saturday?’
‘Of course. If you pay attention, you’ll see there are more serious surprises in section one as a rule note that I’m saying as a rule and more fun and distractions in section two. It’s a question of rhythm. It never switches over like the parking in the street, where you have to park one side one week and the other the next. Why do they do that, anyway? To give the street a rest? Let it lie fallow? No idea. Anyway, sections of the week don’t change. First section: you’re alert, you believe all sorts of stuff, you get things done. It’s a miracle of human activity. Second section: you don’t find anything you’re looking for, you learn nothing new, it’s pretty much a waste of time. In the second section there’s a lot of this and that, and you drink quite a bit, whereas the first section is more important, obviously. In practice, a section number two can’t go far wrong, because it doesn’t really matter, so to speak. But when a section number one goes haywire, like this week, it’s really horrible. And another thing: the special today in the cafe was beef and lentils. Beef and lentils is a dish that really depresses me to the point of despair. Right at the end of a section one. Just no luck at all, a wretched plate of lentils.’
‘What about Sundays?’
‘Oh, Sundays, that’s section three. Just that one day takes up a whole section see how important that is? And section three is the pits. If you get beef and lentils combined with a section three, you might as well go hang yourself.’

I think this quote alone deserves her the three stars. Sadly, in my view, the book peters out after this, the plot is slow, some characters, including Mathilde’s, don’t mean much — unless they return later in the series, but they did not make me want to check — and the resolution is there to form Adamsberg’s character further, rather than as an elegant resolution. I might continue with another Reacher or try a Tana French.

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