I have been enjoying crime fiction in translation a great deal over the past few years. Not only do the stories open up a new window on the world, but they often are very literary in style with a strong sense of character appeal. In Fred Vargas’s quirky Commissaire Adamsberg series, translated from the French, the focus is definitely on the characters.
Primarily set in Paris, with occasional jaunts to the countryside, and in one book to Canada, the stories feature the Paris murder squad headed by the slow-moving, slow-talking Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg. Readers looking for a lot of action will find Adamsberg’s more meditative approach to detecting somewhat infuriating, as do Adamsberg’s superiors, and occasionally his officers. These are stories about the psychology of crime and criminals as much as about the plot. That is not to say that Vargas is at all weak on plotting; in fact, one of the appeals of the stories is the unique, not to say outlandish, plots, that often center around old French customs and traditions.
The interplay between Adamsberg and his officers is also another appealing feature of the series. Adamsberg truly cares for his squad, despite their unquestionable oddness, and the reader comes to care about them as well. As in real policing, there is a lot of thinking and talking that goes on, punctuated by occasional bursts of violence.
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