I have three rules for reading Vargas. 1) Ignore my antipathy to her detective Adamsberg. 2) Suspend my disbelief . 3) Enjoy the ride.
Let me deal with Adamsberg. I do not like his cavalier attitude to life and relationships – after all these years, he’s still playing the carefree, cool, detached bachelor. He’s insufferable and it’s time he grew up. Neither am I fond of his modus operandi. While others do the legwork, he busies himself with instinct and intuition – even though he’s not the sharpest tool in the box. I have a similar antipathy to Sherlock Holmes and have given up on his stories. Yet Vargas brings me back to Adamsberg time after time …..
due to the inventiveness of her mysteries. Who else would start a mystery with the macabre discovery of 19 shoes, with sawn-off feet inside, before the gates of Highgate cemetery in London, then establish a connection to the most brutal murder in Adamsberg’s career. The victim has not only been killed but his body dissected, smashed and pulverised almost to nothingness. Who and what, Adamsberg wants to know is capable of generating such rage? Know the man and thou wilt find your killer.
It becomes apparent that this man has killed before and is being protected from someone on high who has no scruples with regard to Adamsberg’s career. To buy time Adamsberg flees to the Balkans where he soon finds himself steeped in eighteenth-century vampiric superstition and a near death experience. Intuiton and instinct are not working for him in this case.
Thank goodness for the deus ex machina, then! Admittedly Vargas ties up the ends to explain this effect but really it is a bit too neat. I shall overlook it because this strange, gothic mystery is designed to challenge Adamsberg’s self-satisfied preconceptions and there are hints at the end of the novel that he may be about to join the human race at last! Having studiously avoided all fang-ridden vampiric phenomena of recent times, I now know more about vampiric lore than I ever wanted to know. But I shall pass over that as well because this juxtaposition of ancient folklore and modern rationality is key to the intoxication of a Vargas novel.
Just one small insinuation that I’m not going to swallow. Elizabeth Siddal, pre-raphaelite supermodel and my literary muse, a vampire? Fred, je crois que non!