I've just finished a Fred Vargas novel - one of my favourite crime writers, along with Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers (who I haven't read for ages) and Georges Simenon. In Wash This Blood Clean From My Hands, Vargas' detective, Jean-Baptiste Adamsburg, goes in pursuit of a bizarre serial killer who murders his victims with a trident. Even more bizarre, the man thought to be "the Trident" has apparently been dead for years. To make matters worse, it's not exactly clear whether Adamsburg will catch his man or himself be caught for a murder the Canadian Mounted Police are convinced he comitted.
Pink Lake in Ottowa and Strasburg cathedral are drafted in as extras, each performing symbolic roles in the machinations of Adamsburg's mind. "Machinations" is perhaps the wrong word. Adamsburg is not known for solving crimes logically - he relies on intuition or, as somebody puts it, "shovelling clouds".
As usual, the details of the story and the personalities of the characters are almost but not quite sufficiently off-beat to suggest that the action takes place in a parallel universe. Expect the unexpected - people are revealed as having surprising interests and talents. There's a nonogenarian computer hacker in furry slippers, a policeman (Danglard) in a wooly hat from which a pom-pom is obviously missing (a detail you can spot in the video, below). Lieutenant Retancourt is a deft masseuse, who can magically massage Danglard to sleep during a long haul flight (Danglard is terrified of flying). Being overweight, Retancourt is frequently called on to sit on uncooperative suspects and even hide people under her voluminous dressing-gown.
I think I've read all of Vargas' detective stories now - all those available in English, that is. Fortunately, there's another one coming out soon. To my knowledge, sadly, no-one has seen fit to show the series of Adamsburg stories made for French TV in Britain. I couldn't find many excerpts from them on Youtube - and none with subtitles. This one seems to have been made to promote the actress who plays Retancourt and features scenes from Sous les vents de Neptune (the original title of Wash this Blood). From what I can tell, Corinne Masiero makes a great Retancourt. My schoolboy French isn't quite upto it but, if you know the book you can more or less work out which scene is which. It certainly captures the atmosphere.
SPOILER WARNING: It depends on your idea of a spoiler, but don't watch more than a minute or two and definitely don't watch the last 3 and a half minutes if you want to read the book.
It would be great if this series found its way onto British TV (why on earth hasn't it?) but you can't have everything. I mean, in 2014 the Tour de France will be passing less than 2 miles from our house - and at the weekend, when I'll be around to watch it!
11 months ago