I just spent an inordinate amount of time on Amazon trying to order more Fred Vargas books, but it isn’t easy. For one thing, there are apparently two series: the Chief Inspector Adamsberg series (which I’ve embarked on) and the “Three Evangelist” series which seems to precede Adamsberg. Then there’s the question of language, because though I enjoyed Seeking Whom He May Devour it probably would have been more enchanting as L’Homme à l’envers. I mean — “The Inside-Out Man?” Who wouldn’t want to read that?
We’re dealing with werewolves here, children. And apparently in some areas of the French Alps the legend goes that you can tell a werewolf by the fact that he’s hairless. All of his hair…. pause for shivers…. is under his skin! So when you finally catch him, you have to slit him from his throat to his crotch and you will find the fur! On the inside!
Basically what’s happening here is a string of horrible deaths, first of female sheep, then of humans. Though a knife is occasionally used, all of the victims bear the bite marks of a truly massive wolf. As it happens, wolves have just begun to settle in this remote part of France, and the sheep-herding population has mixed feelings about this development, so death by wolf-bite is doubly menacing. Somehow — too complicated to explain — the Parisian police Commissaire Adamsberg is sent to the Alps to deal with the werewolf murders.
On the whole, there are two ways to structure a murder mystery. One is to leave the murderer’s identity a mystery, while the other is to peg the crimes on a character and then set off on a chase. Seeking Whom He May Devour takes the latter tack, putting an old shepherd (crook and all), a young African man, and Camille Forestier in a livestock truck together, having a road trip. References to “road movies” point us in the right direction. Camille is the link to Adamsberg, having been his love interest in Pars vite et reviens tard.
One of the unusual and attractive features of this detective is his imperturbability and his unconventional problem-solving. It’s as if Vargas were striking a blow for the right-brain thinker. Adamsberg, we read, spends hours daydreaming in an Irish pub in Paris precisely because he speaks no English. The crowds make him feel comfortable but he is not distracted as he “spent many an hour dreaming away, peacefully waiting for ideas to rise to the surface of his mind… For that is how Adamsberg found his ideas — simply by waiting for them to turn up.” Vargas makes it clear that her detective often follows his intuition with no clear idea why he should. A lesson for us all.