The Commissaire Adamsberg series is almost the very definition of quirky. It’s the very highest quality Eurocrime, in which moral philosophy, human frailty and personal observation are interwoven with a genuinely perplexing mystery. Adamsberg heads a bureau of criminal investigators in Paris who have an apparently inexhaustible remit to resolve situations which fall outside the normal scope of police work.
The Commissaire himself is among the most unusual policemen you’ll ever meet; whimsical and easily distracted, a brilliant mind with all the focus of a babbling brook. His peculiar talent for pulling on loose threads to fuse improbable connections is Adamsberg’s strength; his many weaknesses are offset by his equally odd team members who each contribute something unique to the team. As ever, second-in-command Danglard provides intellectual rigour; Rentancourt delivers both moral fibre and brute force. Other officers cover research, surveillance, culinary requirements, narcolepsy and cat feeding. It is perhaps the strangest team in crime fiction, and perhaps the most beguiling.
As a result, there is no ‘right place’ to start this series. It does have a beginning, but Vargas adroitly supplies all the necessary information in A Climate Of Fear to introduce new readers to her obscure and idiosyncratic cast of characters. So you may as well start here – if you like the idea of a series of murders which may (or may not) be connected to an historical society that recreates the high and low moments of the French revolution… or which may (or may not) be linked to unexplained deaths on an isolated Icelandic island many years ago.
If you’re already familiar with Adamsberg then you only need to know that this book is every bit as good as its predecessors: a splendid juxtaposition of whimsy and tragedy, a delicate revelation of interpersonal insight in every conversation. You also get a whistle-stop historical tour of The Terror, the guillotine and Robespierre… a tumultuous period which obviously still influences French politics and society today. Not exactly my specialist subject before I began, and definitely at a tangent to most crime fiction. Which is, come to think of it, why I enjoy this series so much.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas is available in multiple formats
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