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It's been a long while since France had a police procedural author who belonged in the top ranks of the genre, but Fred Vargas and her Inspector Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg are first rate. While Adamsberg joins the action rather late in this early effort, his maddeningly intuitive manner of detection blends seamlessly into the story that has come before, a fairly comic quest for a werewolf that is terrorizing the sheep farms and villagers of the French Alps.

When a mannish woman farmer, Suzanne Rosselin, is killed by what seems to have been a large wolf, her adopted African son, the aged shepherd who secretly loved her, and a female plumber/composer set off in search of the slaughterhouse employee they suspect of being a werewolf. The African, Soliman, has a penchant for reciting entire dictionary entries when a word seems apt to the situation. The shepherd, Watchee, calls back to the farm to speak to the lead sheep nightly. And, Camille, who they brought along to drive the truck they travel in, likes to read "The A to Z of Tools for Trade and Craft" for pleasure. As the wolf or wolves or werewolf claims more victims, both sheep and human, the trio realize they're in over their heads and call Paris for help from Adamsberg, who was once Camille's lover.

If it sounds like a lost Simenon, called Maigret and Abbott and Costello vs the Wolfman, that's not far wrong. Vargas, who is an archaeologist in real life, makes effective use of the fairy tale angle and of provincial superstitions to give the mystery a unique flavor. I'm hooked. I'll be reading the whole series.


Grade: (A)


Fred Vargas Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Fred Vargas
    -AUTHOR PAGE: Fred Vargas (Amazon)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Collection Fred Vargas (IMDB)
-INTERVIEW: Grave concerns: Crime writer Fred Vargas - also a renowned archaeologist and vociferous political campaigner - is not only a bestseller in her native France, but a hit across the English-speaking world (Nicholas Wroe, 2/15/08, The Guardian)
    -PROFILE: True crime: Fred Vargas is a highly successful French crime writer, but since she declared her support for an Italian author faced with extradition, her calls are monitored and she is followed by the intelligence services. She tells Jon Henley how life came to imitate art (Jon Henley, 17 November 2004, The Guardian)
    -PROFILE: Fred Vargas: French crime writing at its best: The bestselling French crime writer Fred Vargas tells Christian House why she believes her phone's being tapped - and what she's doing to help combat avian flu (Christian House, 04 FEBRUARY 2007, Independent)
    -PROFILE: Fred Vargas deserves all her prizes: There's a good reason she keeps winning the CWA's International Dagger award: she's a genius (Stuart Evers, 7/17/09, Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW: An interview with Fred Vargas' translator – Sian Reynolds, Part I (Detectives beyond Borders, 1/30/2008)
    -ESSAY: Fred Vargas: History Behind Paris’s Curious Thrills? (PEGGY EHRHART, Criminal Element)
    -ARCHIVES: Fred Vargas (New York Times Book Review)
    -ARCHIVES: Fred Vargas (Independent)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Fred Vargas (Euro Crime)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: On the Trail of the Alleged Werewolf (Lorna Scott Fox, 4/09/09, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas (Kirkus Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Seeking Whom He May Devour (Karen Meek, Euro Crime)
    -REVIEW: of Seeking Whom He May Devour (Kerrie, Mysteries in Paradise)
    -REVIEW: of Seeking Whom (The Crime Segments)
    -REVIEW: of Seeking Whom (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Have Mercy on Us All ( FASEB Journal. 2006;20:1587-1588.)
    -REVIEW: of This Night's Foul Work by Fred Vargas (AustCrimeFiction)
    -REVIEW: of An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas (Christian House, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of An Uncertain Place (Jane Jakeman, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of An Uncertain Place (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Wash This Blood Clean From My Hands by Fred Vargas (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas (Boyd Tonkin, Independent)

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