My Friday Post: The Accordionist by Fred Vargas

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

The book I’m featuring this week is The Accordionist by Fred Vargas, a book I reserved at the library and collected yesterday. It’s the third book in her Three Evangelists series.

The Accordionist (Three Evangelists)

It begins:

Paris, July, 1997

‘PARIS KILLER STRIKES AGAIN! SEE PAGE 6.’

Louis Kehlweiler threw the newspaper down on the table. He’d seen enough and felt no urge to turn to page 6. Later maybe, when the whole business had calmed down, he’d cut out the article and file it.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

‘I want to know what the cops think about these two murders, what lines they’re following, and how far they’ve got.’

Description (Amazon)

When two Parisian women are murdered in their homes, the police suspect young accordionist Clément Vauquer. As he was seen outside both of the apartments in question, it seems like an open-and-shut case.

Desperate for a chance to prove his innocence, Clément disappears. He seeks refuge with old Marthe, the only mother figure he has ever known, who calls in ex-special investigator Louis Kehlweiler.

Louis is soon faced with his most complex case yet and he calls on some unconventional friends to help him. He must show that Clément is not responsible and solve a fiendish riddle to find the killer…

~~~

I’ve been looking forward to reading The Accordionist since I finished Dog Will Have His Day, the second book in Fred Vargas’ Three Evangelists series. I love her books. She writes such quirky crime fiction, with eccentric characters and intricate plots that I love and find so difficult to solve.

What about you? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading? 

 

Dog Will Have His Day by Fred Vargas

Dog Will Have His Day (The Three Evangelists, #2)

I enjoyed the first book in Fred Vargas’ Three Evangelists series so much – see my review – that I decided to read the next one Dog Will Have His Day  and I’ve reserved the third book, The Accordionist at the library. I love Fred Vargas’s books. She writes such quirky crime fiction, with eccentric characters and intricate plots that I love and find so difficult to solve.

The three ‘Evangelists’ are thirty-something historians, Mathias, Marc and Lucien, all specialists in three different periods of history, who live in a rambling house in Paris. Actually there are only two of the three Evangelists in Dog Will Have His Day – Marc and Mathias – who help ex-special investigator Louis Kehlweiler, to uncover the mystery surrounding a tiny fragment of human bone Louis had found.

Louis is another one of Vargas’ eccentric characters, known variously as Ludwig/Louis, the son of a French woman and a German soldier, he carries Bufo, a toad, around in his pocket and even talks to it. Even though he is retired he still keeps newspaper cuttings and files on any criminal activity of any kind, which is where Marc helps him. And he also still keeps watch on all his observation posts, numbering the public benches and even trees in the Paris parks.  Sitting on bench 102 one evening he had seen a pile of dog excrement on a grid around a tree. This annoyed him – he didn’t like his lookout posts to be fouled – but the next morning the rain had washed the grid clean and all that remained from the dog poo was the tiny bone. The bone, which turned out to be the top joint of a big toe, probably that of an elderly woman, convinces Louis that a murder has taken place. And, of course, he has to find out who it had belonged to and what had happened.

His search takes him and Marc to a small fishing village in Finistére in Brittany, where they are later joined by Mathias, in the hope of identifying the victim and the murderer. There Louis not only comes across an ex-girlfriend, discovers the answer to a mystery in his own family history, but he also discovers that an old woman, Marie had been found dead on the beach. It had been recorded as an accidental death but Louis is convinced she was murdered – but who killed her and why?

This really is a strange murder mystery, full of bizarre events and characters – plus an extraordinary machine that prints out vague answers to questions. I found it compelling reading. I see from the synopsis of The Accordionist that Louis is also in the third book in the series with the three ‘Evangelists’ – I’m hoping my reserved copy will be available from the library soon.

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (9 April 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099589885
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099589884
  • Source: Library book
  • My rating 4.5*

The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas

The Three Evangelists (Three Evangelists, #1)

I love Fred Vargas’s books. She writes such quirky crime fiction, with eccentric characters and intricate plots that I find so difficult to solve.

The Three Evangelists, set mainly in Paris, is an excellent example and the three title characters are thirty-something historians, Mathias, Marc and Lucien, all specialists in three different periods of history and all down on their luck. Together with Marc’s uncle and godfather, Armand Vandoosler, an ex-policeman,  they have just moved into a ‘tumbledown disgrace’ of a house next door to retired opera singer Sophia Siméonidis and her husband Pierre. When a tree unexpectedly appears in Sophia’s garden she asks for their help in digging around the tree to see if something has been buried there. They find nothing but soil.

Then Sophia disappears and her body is found burned to ashes in a car. The evangelists and Armand use their expertise to find out what happened. Did her husband kill her, or her best friend; had she run off with an ex-lover and how does her niece figure in the mystery?

Sophia’s past life comes under scrutiny by the three historians, helped by Vandoosler and his friend, a current policeman. The trail leads back into Sophia’s past as an opera singer, a past full of intrigue, jealousy and desire. I loved all the characters in particular the three historians, each one unique, entertaining and completely eccentric. The clever plot had me completely bamboozled and the ending was so unexpected as the twists and turns had led me up the wrong garden path, so to speak.

Now, I’m keen to read the other two books in the series – Dog Will Have His Day and The Accordionist.

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (4 Jan. 2007) (First published in 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099469553
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099469551
  • Source: Library book
  • My rating 4.5*

 

 

 

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

This week I’m featuring The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas, one of my favourite authors. I’ve read some of her Commissaire Adamsberg books and loved them. This one is the first in the Three Evangelists series.

The Three Evangelists (Three Evangelists, #1)

It begins:

‘Pierre, something’s wrong with the garden,’ said Sophia.

She opened the window and examined the patch of ground. She knew it by heart, every blade of grass. What she saw sent a shiver down her spine.

Blurb from the back cover:

The opera singer Sophia Siméonidis wakes up one morning to discover that a tree has appeared overnight in the garden of her Paris house. Intrigued and unnerved, she turns to her neighbours: Vandoosler, an ex-cop, and three impecunious historians, Mathias, Marc and Lucien – the three evangelists. They agree to dig around the tree and see if something has been buried there. They find nothing but soil.

A few weeks later, Sophia disappears and her body is found burned to ashes in a car. Who killed the opera singer? Her husband, her ex-lover, her best friend, her niece? They all seem to have a motive.

Vandoosler and the three evangelists set out to find the truth.

∼ ∼ 

This looks so different from her Adamsberg books – and yet at the same time so similar – quirky, with eccentric characters and with a mystery to solve.

What do you think – would you read on?

A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas

A Climate of Fear (Commissaire Adamsberg #10)

A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas (see below*), translated from the French by Siân Reynolds, is her 9th Commissaire Adamsberg book.

I had high expectations for this book and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s as quirky and original as the other Commissaire Adamsberg books I’ve read (I’ve read five of them, including this one). I like Adamsberg; he’s original, a thinker, who doesn’t like to express his feelings, but mulls things over. He’s an expert at untangling mysteries, an invaluable skill in this, one of the most complicated and intricate mysteries I’ve read. He’d compared the investigation right from the start to a huge tangled knot of seaweed, and summed it up at the end:

… you can’t just plunge into a thing like that. We were pulling out tiny little broken fragments, and getting drawn into other traps. We had elements, clues, but they were floating, dozens of them, just under the surface without any apparent connection between them, in a sort of fog. The whole thing had been drowned in confusion by this twisted and determined killer. (pages 393-394)

The ‘tangled knot‘ is most confusing to begin with, made up of a woman found bleeding to death in her bath, having apparently committed suicide, a strange symbol that appears at subsequent death scenes, a secretive society studying and re-enacting scenes from the French Revolution, and two deaths ten years earlier on an isolated island off the coast of Iceland, where the afturganga, the demon who owns the island summons people to their death.

As in earlier books, Fred Vargas brings in elements of the supernatural, of folk tales, myths and legends, all of which is fascinating and intricately woven into the murder mystery. I loved all of it, especially the tense and fraught relationship that developed between Adamsberg and his team as they became increasingly unable to follow Adamsberg’s line of thought. I also enjoyed reading the details about Robespierre and the part he played in the French Revolution during the Reign of Terror, plus the little quirky details such as those about the cat who sleeps on the photocopier and the tame wild boar that guards one of the characters.

All in all, a brilliant book.

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker (14 July 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1910701386
  • ISBN-13: 978-1910701386
  • Source: I borrowed it from my local library
  • My Rating: 5*

These are the other books I’ve read by Fred Vargas:

* Fred Vargas is the pseudonym of the French historian, archaeologist and writer Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau.

My Week in Books: 13 September 2017

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

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A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: I’m currently reading The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse.

The Taxidermist's Daughter

 

Blurb:

The clock strikes twelve. Beneath the wind and the remorseless tolling of the bell, no one can hear the scream . . .

1912. A Sussex churchyard. Villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will not survive the coming year are thought to walk. And in the shadows, a woman lies dead.

As the flood waters rise, Connie Gifford is marooned in a decaying house with her increasingly tormented father. He drinks to escape the past, but an accident has robbed her of her most significant childhood memories. Until the disturbance at the church awakens fragments of those vanished years . . .

Then: I’ve just finished reading A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas which I really enjoyed. My review will follow soon.

A Climate of Fear (Commissaire Adamsberg #10)

 

Blurb:

A woman is found dead in her bath. The murder has been disguised as a suicide and a strange symbol is discovered at the scene.

Then the symbol is observed near a second victim, who ten years earlier had also taken part in a doomed expedition to Iceland.

How are these deaths, and rumours of an Icelandic demon, linked to a secretive local society? And what does the mysterious sign mean? Commissaire Adamsberg is about to find out.

Next: For once I know exactly what I’ll be reading next, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. This is a re-read of a book I first read and loved years ago:

The Poisonwood Bible

Blurb:

Told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian congo in 1959, The Poisonwood Bible is the story of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

How about you? Have you read any of these books?  If so, what did you think of them? And what have you been reading this week?

An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas

An Uncertain Place (Commissaire Adamsberg, #8)

I loved An Uncertain Place, a clever and also a confusing book. It’s the sixth in Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg series in which he investigates a macabre murder. I say confusing because I got a bit lost in the middle of the book, and looking back I think it’s because Adamsberg is not your normal detective – he works by intuition and I simply hadn’t followed his train of thought. With a bit of concentration I was back on track and caught up with him.

I say clever because it is such a convoluted plot, with what I thought could be red herrings, but which turned out to be vital clues. I think the blurb on the back cover summarises the story better than I could:

Commissaire Adamsberg leaves Paris for a three-day conference in London. With him are Estalère, a young sergeant, and Commandant Danglard, who is terrified at the idea of travelling beneath the Channel. It is a welcome change of scenery, until a macabre and brutal case comes to the attention of their colleague Radstock from New Scotland Yard.

Just outside the gates of the baroque Highgate cemetery a pile of shoes is found. Not so strange in itself, but the shoes contain severed feet. As Scotland Yard’s investigation begins, Adamsberg and his colleagues return home and are confronted with a massacre in a suburban home. Adamsberg and Danglard are drawn in to a trail of vampires and vampire-hunters that leads them all the way to Serbia, a place where the old certainties no longer apply.

My thoughts:

This is one of those books that once I begin reading I don’t want to put down. I had to, of course, and it’s not a book to dash through to the end or you’ll miss so much. Adamsberg is a very likeable detective, although he must be a nightmare to work with, as his colleagues find his methods of working just as bewildering and confusing as I do. But they are used to him and trust his leaps of intuition.

The mystery of who left the shoes outside the gates of Highgate Cemetery is a theme throughout the book:

The smell was ghastly, the scene appalling, and even Adamsberg stiffened, standing back a little behind his English colleague. From the ancient shoes, with their cracked leather and trailing laces, projected decomposed ankles, showing dark flesh and white shinbones which had been cleanly chopped off. The only thing that didn’t match Clyde-Fox’s account was that the feet were not trying to get into the cemetery. They were just there, on the pavement, terrible and provocative, sitting inside their shoes at the historic gateway to Highgate Cemetery. They formed a carefully arranged and unspeakable pile. (page 23)

 The scene that confronts Adamsberg on his return to Paris is even more gruesome. Pierre Vaudel, a former journalist who specialised in legal affairs, had been murdered, or rather it looked as though his body had exploded and had been strewn around the room. The only way to identify the body was by DNA. Suspicion falls on the gardener, who reported the death and who inherited all of Vaudel’s property and also on Vaudel’s son.

After a similar murder occurs in Austria, Adamsberg is eventually led to a village on the Serbian/Romanian border, finding himself immersed in the weird world of vampires. Books featuring vampires (with the exception of Dracula) are not part of my preferred reading, but I found this aspect of the book fascinating. Adamsberg, himself, is sceptical and ignores warnings not to start meddling or even visit the tomb of Petar Blagojevic who had died in 1725. Blagojevic/Plogojowitz was said to be a ‘vampyr‘, and the clearing in the wood, where he was buried is known by the locals as ‘the place of uncertainty.’ Adamsberg’s disregard for his own safety puts him in danger of losing his own life.

This book is full of wonderful and unique characters, the plot, as I said, is clever and completely bamboozled me, the settings are easily imagined from Vargas’ descriptions, and the suspense is maintained throughout. It’s a complicated book – one of the most intriguing aspects is the sudden appearance of a man claiming to be Adamsberg’s son. Maybe this is not a book everyone will enjoy, but I think it’s a most satisfying and surreal mystery, and one that I enjoyed immensely.

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (5 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009955223X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099552239
  • Source: I bought my copy
  • My Rating: 4.5*

Reading challenges: Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017