Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Three Evangelists: Review

One morning Sophia Simeonidis, a Greek opera singer living in Paris, is startled to find a tree planted in her garden that wasn't there the night before. She has no idea where it came from or why....and it frightens her.  Her husband isn't particularly interested and he certainly isn't afraid.  She decides to approach her new neighbors and ask them to investigate for her.  Her neighbors are three historians: Mathias, Marc, and Lucien--or the three evangelists as they are referred to by Armand Vandoosler (Marc's godfather & uncle).  Vandoosler is an ex-cop and believes the three young men should help her out.  The men dig up the tree to see if anything is buried there, but find nothing.

Not too long after Sophia disappears and her husband is once again unconcerned.  He says that Sophia has often gone off alone and has no doubt that she'll soon be home.  But time passes and Sophia's niece Alexandra arrives for a visit--insisting that it was planned and that there's no way her aunt would have taken a trip when Alexandra was expected.  The three evangelists renew their investigations with the help of the godfather and his friend, a current policeman.  The trail leads to a body in a burned-out car--a body beyond being identified, but a black stone--basalt--is found beside the body.  A stone that served as a talisman for the missing singer and it looks like the trail has come to an end.  Now all they have to do is figure out who murdered Sophia and why.  Or is that really all?
The best part of The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas for me has nothing to do with the mystery.  Oh, that's good.  It's well-plotted and allowed me to figure it out just before the denouement (which is the way I like it).  But...the best part is the interaction of the three evangelists.  I've given quite a few quotes below--but if I were to quote the sections I like with the three historians, I would be quoting huge chunks of the book.  I love the mix of a pre-historian, a medievalist, and a World War I enthusiast.  It's perfect.  And I thoroughly enjoyed how the qualities of the historical scholars were put to use and managed to come to the correct solution.

The second best thing is the lyrical language of the translation from the French. Sian Reynold provides an English translation that keeps the flavor of the French language while making the story entirely accessible for English speakers.  There are a couple of passages that somehow manage to come across as very British--but overall, a brilliant translation that is quite readable and enjoyable.

This is my first Fred Vargas Book.  But it certainly won't be my last.  Four stars.


AV: Well, I see that everybody here goes prying into everyone else's affairs.
LD: You aren't a proper historian if you don't pry into people's affairs.
[Armand Vandoosler, Lucien Devernois; p. 38]

MV: ...those liberties may or may not come back to haunt him.
AV: As a rule they do.
[Marc Vandoosler, Armand Vandoosler; p. 39]

You see, Mathias, even if it might be more practical to have Lucien on the first floor, we can't mess about with chronology and disturb the layers set out by the staircase. The ladder of time is all we have left. [p. 59]

Frankly the idea of someone wanting revenge 20 years on seems pretty far-fetched to me. Life's too short, to nurse a grudge so long, you know what I mean? If everyone who'd ever been jilted plotted their revenge for years, we'd all be at each others' throats, wouldn't we? [Juliette, p. 65]

Meet my nephew, "St. Mark." The least little thing and he'll rewrite the gospel for you. [Armand Vandoosler; p. 115]

[Marc's] thoughts were in a whirl, clashing or diverging. Like the plates that move along on top of the hot heaving magma underneath the molten mantle of the earth. It's a scary thought, those plates sliding in all directions over the earth, unable to stay put. Tectonic plates they're called. Well, he was having tectonic thoughts. The thoughts were sliding about inside his head and sometimes, inevitably, clashed. With the usual sodding consequences. [p. 116]

Sophia was sorry she had missed the boat with reading. I told her that sometimes you read because you've missed some other boat. [Juliette; p. 127]

A policeman's strength lies either in a long monologue that crushes the opposition, or in a rapid response that kills it dead. You should never deprive a policeman of these well-rehearsed pleasures. Or he might turn nasty. [Armand Vandoosler; p. 133]

Once Mathias had gone, everyone fell silent. It was often like that living with Mathias, Marc reflected. When he was there, he hardly said anything and nobody took any notice of him. But when he left, it was as if the stone bridge they had all been standing on had suddenly disappeared and they had to find their balance again. [p. 142]

A; What do you expect from more time?
AV: Reactions. After a murder, nothing stands still. I'm waiting for reactions, even little ones. They will happen. One just has to be on the lookout for them.
[Alexandra, Armand Vandoolser; p. 143]

Being interrogated by detectives does not improve one's temper. [p. 152]

Alexandra was doing nothing. Well, nothing useful or profitable. She was sitting at a table,her head in her hands. She was thinking about tears, the tears that nobody sees, that nobody knows about, the tears shed in vain and unheeded. But which flow just the same. [p. 172]


d said...

I have heard of Vargas' Commissaire Adamsberg series, but was not aware that she had written a stand-alone. This seems to be the only one - a great addition to my wish list!

Yvette said...

This sounds like something I'd like, Bev. I've heard of Vargas and had tried reading one of her series books earlier this year, but gave up on it.

THE THREE EVANGELISTS sounds like more my thing. I will definitely add it to my TBR list for the new year.

Wonderful review.