Vargas, Fred - 'The Chalk Circle Man' (translated by Sian Reynolds)
THE CHALK CIRCLE MAN is actually the first book in the series featuring the French detective Adamsberg, although other books featuring this detective have already been published in English (and are well worth reading). In this book, he has only just arrived in Paris, although he already has a reputation as an excellent detective. While everyone in Paris, including the police, appear to be amused by the appearance of chalk circles on the pavement, with random objects in their centres, Adamsberg is extremely worried and predicts that a serious crime is about to take place. Unfortunately, he turns out to be correct, when the body of a woman is discovered in one of the circles, with her throat savagely cut, and Adamsberg has to solve the crime. Is the chalk circle man the murderer, or is the murderer just making use of the chalk circle man for his own ends?
Adamsberg, 45, and single, is an unusual detective in that he mostly solves crimes by thinking, but only when he's not conscious that he is thinking about the crimes he wants to solve. He intimidates his suspects with his calm soothing voice, and is able to spot cruelty in a person, helping him to identify who might be the likely perpetrators behind a crime. He has an intriguing relationship with his inspector, Danglard, who is very good at collecting information, but likes to have a drink or two in the afternoon (and also happens to be a single parent of five children).
This book also involves Mathilde, a deep sea oceanographer, who takes in lodgers she feels sorry for, such as a blind man (Charles Reyer) and an old jilted woman who is forever searching lonely hearts advertisements (Clemence). In fact, Adamsberg first meets Mathilde when she asks him to help her find the blind man. Mathilde has some strange rules about what she can expect to happen on different days of the week, and she likes to follow and study people. One of the people she has followed is apparently the chalk circle man. When Adamsberg discovers this, he asks for her help in finding him.
This is an absolutely fascinating and charming book. The story is well told, and the characters are an intriguing eccentric bunch. Each of their peculiar attributes eventually help Adamsberg to solve the mystery and discover the identity of the murderer. His particular style and approach to solving crimes is unique and yet entirely plausible, even though it often drives the more conventional Danglard crazy. The best crime novel I've read so far this year.
Read another review of THE CHALK CIRCLE MAN.
Michelle Peckham, England