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 EstalÃ¨re, 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.
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