Vargas, Fred - 'The Three Evangelists' (translated by Sian Reynolds)
THE THREE EVANGELISTS is the latest of French historian Vargas's work to be published in English. Not a Superintendent Adamsberg mystery this time but the middle entry in a trilogy featuring three historians.
Living in a genteel suburb of Paris, Sophia Simeonidis retired opera singer, is disturbed to find one morning that someone has planted a tree in her garden under cover of darkness. The tree rattles her and getting no comfort from her husband she turns to her new neighbours who have bought the ramshackle property known as the 'disgrace'.
Her neighbours are three historians in their middle thirties, all strapped for cash: Mathias (Prehistoric man), Marc (Mediaeval) and Lucien (The Great War) and they are joined by Marcís godfather/uncle/disgraced policeman Vandoosler. The accommodation is arranged by historical period with Mathias on the first floor and Vandoosler, representing the current era, on the fourth. Vandoosler soon nicknames his housemates, St Matthew, St Mark and St Luke.
Sophia asks the three evangelists if they will dig up her new tree and see if there's anything beneath it and as she offers a substantial payment the trio agree. However, the tree is not hiding anything and though mysterious, Sophia seems to accept it. The residents of the 'disgrace' settle into the neighbourhood and become friends with Sophia and her close friend Juliette who runs a restaurant nearby. Several weeks elapse then Sophia disappears. Initially it seems that Sophia has been summoned to Lyon by an ex lover of whom she is terrified, but then Sophia's niece Alexandra and her child arrive for a visit that has been planned for ages. Alexandra can't believe her aunt would have left voluntarily.
When Sophia's badly burnt body is found, the three evangelists and Vandoosler set about discovering who murdered her and they have several suspects including the police's main target, Alexandra.
THE THREE EVANGELISTS is a complete delight, even better than SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR. Vargas has a unique and wonderful style. The three historians are loveable quirky characters and the book is infused with humour from their discussions and their belief that their own field of study is the most important.
Marc discovers the house by kicking and manipulating a stone along the street and though willing to share a house with Mathias a hunter-gatherer, he almost draws the line at asking a trenches expert. However they all fall in with Lucien's way of referring to the Simeonidis's house as 'The Western Front'.
The mystery of what happened to Sophia and the provenance of the tree is finally resolved after many twists and turns and is not a solution easily guessed at. The worst thing about this book is that it isn't very long and consequently the wait for the next Vargas is made a little longer.
Sian Reynolds makes an excellent job of the translation into British English though I was surprised at the spelling of all right as 'alright' and the use of 'gasoline' for petrol.
Read another review of THE THREE EVANGELISTS.
Karen Meek, England