An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas

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An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Two bizarre crimes combine bizarrely in the bizarre world of Commissaire Adamsberg. You get the picture.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: April 2012
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780099552239

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Only Adamsberg could be involved in these crimes. While innocently on a stroll through London he and his colleagues, there for a conference, get told of nearly two dozen disembodied feet, and their shoes, left outside Highgate Cemetery. Some of them are decades old. Much fresher are the ridiculously demolished remains of a legal journalist, in his rural French home. Only Adamsberg can approach either, and do it partly through the urban myth of a bear hunter, a wardrobe-eater and more, and only in his world could they ever be linked. It's a good job too, that Adamsberg is the one to solve them, for they have a much greater bearing on him, his colleagues and his life than he would ever expect.

There will be people who find these books a little too odd. Vargas, showing a little odd in her name by being a female Fred, has a brilliant creation in Commissaire Adamsberg, however, and if one sticks with it you get a very intriguing, dark mystery. He's a man of few utterances, and seems to prove himself great at his job by being intrigued by all the off-kilter sides to the world - hence people eating wardrobes. He goes through everything by learning from all the minutiae of life, even when his routine is interrupted by his neighbour demanding he nurture a cat in giving birth.

He is quite a catchy character, and once into the swing of his way of solving crimes one can settle back with Vargas and enjoy the ride. There is a noticeable drop-off, however, in how obscurantist his mental exercises are, as what he focuses on becomes something a bit more ordinary - the inside conspiracy. Vargas certainly seems to flood the beginnings with the unusual - only to be expected perhaps when we see where the plot takes us, and what it covers, come the end.

Without giving anything away, there is a little of the gruesome, a little of the macabre, and a lot of the unexpected here. There is also, at one juncture, a surprise intervention by a returning character, which makes this perhaps not as self-contained as the others I have read, such as This Night's Foul Work. So if this volume appeals more to the returning readers, then it's a good thing Vargas has built up so many of them with her previous half-dozen titles. She packs her world with a well-rounded spread of unusual characters - here there is almost comic fun to be had with the naive assistant, and the food-stasher and heavy drinker among Adamsberg's crew return. Her style is always definitely her own, and if she seems to be breaking genre rules and stretching things a little too far with this volume, then all well and good.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The first in this series chronologically is The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas. If you prefer your crimes more northerly, but appear to have 'done' all the Scandinavian ones, we recommend Nights of Awe (Ariel Kafka Mystery) by Harri Nykanen and Kristian London (translator).

Fred Vargas' Commissaire Adamsberg series in Chronological Order

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Buy An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas at


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