Jack's Picks

Tuesday May 07 2013
by Whodunit

One of the best kept secrets in modern crime fiction are the books of the French writer Fred Vargas.  Trained at the Sorbonne as an archaeologist, her doctoral thesis was on the Black Death.  Since then, she has written eight crime novels, most of them featuring the Paris policeman Commissaire Adamsberg of the Serious Crime Squad, whose major gift is his unconventionality and a willingness to suspend belief.  In this latest installment of Adamsberg novels, THE GHOST RIDERS OF ORDEBEC, he leaves Paris for rural Normandy, where a woman has seen a vision of ghostly horsemen, which since the Middle Ages have been associated with violent crimes in the community.  Adamsberg is prepared to take the paranormal seriously, although as it turns out the violence has a quite human face.  Like all Vargas novels, this one is rich in French atmosphere and a foreboding sense of the irrational.

One of Jack’s favourite Italian detectives of the 1990s was Commissario Trotti of Florence, in a series written by the Englishman Timothy Williams. Trotti disappeared from the scene after the fifth in the series, entitled BIG ITALY, published in 1996. A couple of years ago, Whodunit? received a letter from Williams explaining that his crime fiction career  had ceased when his publisher had stopped publishing, but promising a new series soon.  ANOTHER SUN fulfills that promise.  It is set on the French Island of Guadeloupe, where Williams has lived since 1980, and features a female judge named Anne Marie Laveaud, who is an Algerian married to a local. In the French legal system, judges are responsible for much of the detecting, especially outside the urban areas.   If you have ever wanted to learn more about the island of Guadeloupe, which was the sugar island many advocated should be retained by Britain instead of Canada at the peace treaty of 1763, here is your chance.  Indeed, the book suffers to some extent from a superabundance of descriptive material about the setting, which is fascinating but sometimes gets in the way of the plot.  Nevertheless, this is a worthy entrant in the international sweepstakes of crime fiction.

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