Fred Vargas, “L’homme aux cercles bleus”/”The Chalk Circle Man”

It’s always interesting to read a series out of order. I’ve been struck by how much Fred Vargas packs into her mysteries about Paris police commissioner Jean-Pierre Adamsberg. As you must if you’re writing series fiction, she develops her lead character and a recurring cast of sidekicks — think “Cheers” only in a Parisian police station. But Vargas is also an historian and archaeologist so her interests are somewhat unusual. And now that I’ve read L’homme aux cercles bleus, the initial book in the Adamsberg series, I am more convinced than ever that Vargas is actually writing about — big breath here — epistemology.

Yes, the study of how we know things. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Both for a moonlighting academic, and as the subtext of a murder mystery. Vargas has made a nice theme out of the partnership between Adamsberg, whose working method is almost entirely intuitive, and his colleague Adrien Danglard who is more conventionally intelligent and formidably well-informed. (In later books, we see them collaborate, as Adamsberg comes to rely on Danglard’s fund of information and gift at analysis.)Vargas also begins this novel with a character named Mathilde, an oceanographer who make a hobby of observing strangers in Paris, like someone “creating a cabinet of curiosities,” explains a psychologist about her. “…she is an indefatigable researcher.” Why do I think Vargas might have been writing about herself?  She may also be showing her hand when Adamsberg writes in his little notebook, “Yesterday … I asked myself why I was a cop. Maybe because in this job you have things to look for [research: same word in French] with the chance that you’ll find them.” As opposed to academic research, perhaps, when you often have no chance of finding things?

Jean-Hugues Anglade: the perfect Adamsberg.

And then again maybe I’m reading too much into a simple murder mystery. Except it isn’t very simple. Someone in Paris is drawing big blue chalk circles on the sidewalk. At the center of each is an abandoned object: a hair curler, a battery, tangled audio tape. Adamsberg finds these circles ominous, exuding evil. Danglard, committed to a more concrete world view, is skeptical until one of the circles contains a body. I have no idea whether the procedure portion of the book is plausible, having thankfully had no experience with the Parisian police. Honestly, Vargas‘ version seems way too interesting but that’s all to the good in a novel.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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6 Responses to Fred Vargas, “L’homme aux cercles bleus”/”The Chalk Circle Man”

  1. Pingback: Under the Tree « Book Group of One

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  3. Minnie says:

    Intriguing argument – of course, to an extent, all detective fiction is about how we go about finding things out/realise what we know or don’t know. Still, it’s a fascinating POV.

    But Jean-Hugues Anglade HAS played Commissaire Adamsberg (and just as brilliantly as might have been expected, too)! National television chain, France2, has been running adaptations of the series for a while. J-H A as J-P A; Jacques Spiesser (wrong shape + age; but casting somehow works – not least because he’s a wonderful actor), & Corinne Masiero as the doughty support copper. First one had Charlotte Rampling as the enigmatic oceanographer. Can’t remember exactly, but believe they are directed by Josée Dayan, who has a superb track record. Excellent stuff!

    • carolwallace says:

      Minnie, you have Totally Made My Day. Charlotte R as La Reine Mathilde (I think that’s the right name?) in addition to J-H A? Be still, my heart. Plus I love your blog. Now if I find I can get these emissions-as-it-were in the US, I will never complain again about American TV.

  4. Pingback: Fred Vargas, “Debout les morts”/”The Three Evangelists” « Book Group of One

  5. Pingback: Elly Griffths, “The Crossing Places” « Book Group of One

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