The Three Evangelists The Chalk Circle Man

A year ago I read The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas, partly because I was intrigued by the title. I like my gothic/religious fiction and anything that sounds remotely like it always catches my attention. Also I was planning a trip to Paris and whenever I go abroad I like to read up on the country beforehand to absorb the cultural atmosphere of the place. What really drew my interest was that the three main protagonists were historians. I adore history and would read almost anything to do with history and digging up the past, especially if there was a mystery involved. So the perfect book. And it really was.

So when I heard that Vargas’ first crime novel in which Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg first appears will finally be published in English, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I like to read my series in order, you see, and somehow they published Vargas’ later novels before the first one, so I had to wait. Very strange.

The Chalk Circle Man is only a small book, about 250 pages long. It has everything I love about French fiction: interesting but opaque characters who aren’t your ordinary mtv beautiful types, philosophical musings and drinking during the day. Everyone is eccentric, ugly/beautiful and has their own sorrowful tale to tell. Although some may think her plot improbably, it is certainly different and really kept me guessing until the end. The dénouement wasn’t a thunderbolt (like my earlier experience with Agatha Christie – I’ve read too many murder mysteries and am older and more jaded now) but it was a pleasant surprise and had a clever twist. And it won the 2009 Crime Writers’ Association’s International Dagger Award.

The novel starts with Adamsberg’s promotion to head a Parisian murder squad after twenty years in the police and having picked up a reputation as ‘the wild one’ due to his unconventional, but successful, methods in solving cases. As his colleagues get acquainted with him, so do we. He is an unpretentious man, often silent, doodling in company and talks with a quiet voice. But he has an instinct for spotting cruelty that lurks beneath ordinary people’s facades. Blue chalk circles are making nightly appearances all over Paris and Adamsberg is troubled. They encircle discarded objects but soon progress to dead animals and eventually to a woman with her throat savagely cut. Adamsberg has to deal with this and a host of unruly characters who may or may not be suspects while trying to catch a killer who may kill again. He is aided by Danglard, his inspector, who is intelligent, a father to two sets of twins and is partial to a bottle of white wine after 4pm.

I enjoyed this novel immensely because of it’s setting (Paris!) and the variety of characters that appear. The plot was novel and didn’t disappoint me either. I don’t know what it’s like to read it in French (I wish I could but I doubt I would get beyond the synopsis) but the English translation was smooth and draws you in without a struggle. For my part, I can’t wait to read her other novels.