Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas

It took me some time to ‘get into’ Seeking Whom He May Devour, mainly because of the somewhat stilted style, which may be a result of the translation from French, but as this is the first book by Fred Vargas I’ve nothing to compare it with. Looking at the reviews on Amazon, it seems as though it is the translation. Anyway, it’s a rather quirky crime fiction novel with touches of humour that appealed to me.

On the back cover it describes the book as ‘frightening and surprising’, but I didn’t find it at all frightening – surprising, yes, particularly the ending which I hadn’t expected at all. It’s set in the French mountains. Johnstone, a Canadian is living there whilst he films a documentary about wolves. The problems start when more and more sheep are found with their throats torn out. The vet says it is the work of a very large wolf and after Suzanne Rosselin told Johnstone she believed it was a werewolf, the hunt is on, despite Johnstone’s wish to leave the wolves in peace. Then Suzanne is also found dead, killed in the same way, When Massart, who worked at the slaughterhouse and lived on his own high up on Mont Vence, disappears suspicion falls on him as the werewolf.

Soliman, Suzanne’s adopted son and Watchee her shepherd persuade Camille,  a plumber/musician, who is Johnstone’s girlfriend to go with them as they try to track down Massart. They are an odd combination of characters – Soliman, a young black man who loves telling African folk stories and giving definitions of words he ‘s learnt from a dictionary, Watchee, an old man more comfortable with his sheep than people and Camille, who is writing a music soap opera and reads the A to Z of Tools for Trade and Craft for relaxation.

Soliman and Watchee enlist Camille’s help in tracking down Massart, because she can drive and they can’t. Johnstone, a man who’s not good with words, doesn’t like the idea and every now and then pops up as they travel through the French countryside on narrow hairpin tracks in a smelly old sheep wagon. I felt this section of the book was over-long but I did like their philosophising and story-telling. I also liked the little touches of humour, such as the episode where Watchee phones a friend who puts his mobile in Watchee’s leading ewe’s ear so he can talk to her, to keep her spirits up whilst he is away.

With the help of Commissaire Jean- Baptiste Adamsberg the killer is finally tracked down. Adamsberg is another eccentric character, a policeman who is being stalked by a girl who is obsessed with the idea of killing him. He has his own way of working things out:

Adamsberg put one thing in another, or turned them upside down, or scattered what had been brought together and threw it up in the air to see where it would fall. And despite his amazingly slow pace, he would in the end, extract truth from that chaos. (page 109)

By the end of this book I was really enjoying it. It isn’t a scary book, but neither is it a ‘cozy’ mystery. It’s different from any other crime fiction that I’ve read and I want to read more by Fred Vargas. This is the second in her Chief Inspector Adamsberg series but it reads fine as a stand-alone book.