An Uncertain Place is published today.
An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas, tr Sian Reynolds (March 2011, Harvill Secker, ISBN: 1846554452)
AN UNCERTAIN PLACE was published in French in 2008 and is the seventh in the Commissaire Adamsberg series. English readers almost have a full set of the previous entries with only the fourth instalment yet to be translated. The non-linear translation order has made Adamsberg's romantic-life and his relationship with Camille, who flits in and out of the stories, a little confusing to follow however the later books which are all set close together in time have come out more or less one after the other.
The book opens in London, where Adamsberg and two of his colleagues including the human encyclopedia Danglard, are attending a conference. After-hours, one of the English policemen, Radstock, takes his French guests around the neighbourhood which includes Highgate Cemetery. Radstock is horrified to discover a vast number of shoes (with the feet still inside) outside the cemetery. The French delegation return home to Paris shortly after and on the journey Danglard regales his colleagues with tales of the cemetery and its master vampire.
Soon though Adamsberg has a new murder case of his own. A semi-retired legal-journalist has been found obliterated in his apartment. The victim was not well liked even by his son and has left most of his fortune to the gardener who is soon suspected, however Adamsberg doesn't think he did it. This investigation begins to go off the rails and as in WASH THIS BLOOD CLEAN FROM MY HAND Adamsberg has to go off the grid and solve the case by himself.
The journey takes him to a small village in Serbia, where an old colleague turns up, and also back several centuries to find the seed of the present murderous activity.
Vargas has previously covered ghosts, werewolves and plagues so the subject matter of vampires isn't a stretch and though the story is fantastical it has its own well-plotted logic and the most incidental of happenings often proves significant as the story progresses. I have never warmed to the lead character Adamsberg, as I find him a cold creature, but he is surrounded by a cast of unusual and more likeable colleagues such as the aforementioned Danglard, a single parent with a penchant for wine and the redoubtable Retancourt, a goddess in Adamberg's mind.
Though over 400 pages long, AN UNCERTAIN PLACE didn't feel quite as meaty or as intricate as some of Vargas's earlier books, but it was still a great pleasure to read, with its excellent translation by Sian Reynolds.
The Vargas-Reynolds pairing has already won the CWA International Dagger three times, will 2011 see a fourth? Time will tell.
You can read multiple reviews of Vargas's earlier books and get the series's correct order on the Euro Crime website.