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Seeking Whom He May Devour - Fred Vargas

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Author: Fred Vargas / Genre: Fiction

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      10.07.2006 16:46
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      Crime fiction with a twist

      Introduction
      In my quest to read more literature by international authors, I came across this book in the crime section of my local library. I was intrigued by the subject matter – the violent killing of sheep and people apparently wolves – more original than your usual work of crime fiction! I was suitably impressed once I’d started reading.

      The plot
      A small village in the French Alps is horrified to wake up morning after morning to find their ewes brutally murdered. But even worse is to come; one of the villagers, the kind-hearted Suzanne is found dead, apparently by the same jaws that had killed all the sheep. The news spreads across the country, even as far as Paris, where Commissaire Adamsberg watches with interest, particularly because he recognises one of the villagers, Camille.

      Suspicion falls on a local man called Massart, who appears to have no body hair, a characteristic of werewolves and who has conveniently gone missing. Convinced that he is to blame, Camille, Suzanne’s adopted son, Soliman and the local shepherd, Watchee decide to pursue him. Despite their best efforts, they seem doomed to failure. Camille, swallowing her pride, calls in Commissaire Adamsberg, her former lover, who conveniently needs to leave Paris to escape someone. With his help, can they find out the truth?

      The characters
      The three main characters, Soliman, Camille and Watchee, are an odd bunch. Soliman, the only black man in the vicinity, was abandoned in the church porch by his mother. Adopted by Suzanne, the only villager who could bear to pick him up, he grew up with French ways, yet was encouraged by Suzanne to find out as much as he could about his African heritage. This would have been a difficult character to portray if the author wasn’t so talented. Instead, he comes across as being a very vibrant character.

      Camille has escaped to the village from Paris with her Canadian boyfriend. She writes music for a career, but is a plumber as a sideline. She is a gentle, kindly girl, whose character is well developed through the book. It is clear that she has some issues in her past, which somehow involves Commissaire Adamsberg. This information is drip-fed to us as the story progresses and weaves in nicely with the build up of suspense about the murders.

      Watchee is a shepherd who spends little time with people and much prefers sheep, to the extent that he calls the head sheep in his flock on a daily basis. His reasons for wanting to catch up with Massart become obvious as the story progresses. Writing this makes me realise just how bizarre this must sound; strangely though, Vargas’ skill at writing makes this all seem completely acceptable.

      Commissaire Adamsberg is probably the most sensible character in the book. This is clearly part of a series in which Adamsberg features, although he is almost an afterthought in this book. His character doesn’t really develop all that much and we find out very little about him, apart from his past relationship with Camille. To be honest, he didn’t bowl me over as a character and I don’t think I will go out of my way to read any more in the series. This book stood out because of the other characters, not Commissaire Adamsberg.

      The author
      Fred Vargas, a woman not a man, was born in Paris. She was initially a historian and archaeologist by career, but has since become a best-selling novelist.

      Conclusion
      I really enjoyed this book. The plot was really intriguing and the ending comes as quite a surprise. The suspense is well kept up throughout the book; I didn’t once become bored. I also thought the book was very well-written and translated. There were a few places when the translation felt a little wooden, almost as if somebody else had taken over the translation for a while, but on the whole, there wasn’t much wrong with it.

      There were places when the story was almost too clever to be true – the ending did involve an awful lot of coincidences and Adamsberg’s ability to work out what happened with very few clues was quite amazing. Vargas did manage to pull it off though by some extremely clever writing. I fell for it anyway.

      I’ve dropped a star for the coincidences, although cleverly covered up, and the few odd bits of a translation, but on the whole, I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys crime fiction with a twist.

      The book is available from Amazon for £5.59. Published by Vintage, it has 272 pages. ISBN: 0099461560

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    • Product Details

      Each day, inhabitants of a small community in the French Alps find another of their ewes with its throat cut. When one of the villagers too is killed people begin to wonder: could it be the work of a werewolf? Soon suspicion falls on Massart, one of the villagers, because of his beardlessness (according to popular legend, werewolves have no hair on their bodies because they are inside the body). Soliman, the victim's adopted son; Le Veilleur, a lonely sheperd and Camille, a lovely girl from the city, decide to pursue Massart and their hunt leads them into the Alps, but their incompetence is undisguisable and they decide to summon Commissaire Adamsberg — well known for his peculiar investigation methods — to help. Thanks to his extraordinary intuition, Adamsberg unearths an astonishing truth, one that the villagers are going to find hard to believe.