Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Chalk Circle Man: Review

The Chalk Circle Man (1996) by Fred Vargas introduces readers to a new character, the quirky and thoroughly unorthodox Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg who has just recently been appointed to his post in Paris. Adamsberg doesn't do so well with the routine of policework so he lets his associate, Adrien Danglard, take care of that. The Commissaire prefers to ask (what seems to Danglard) off-the-wall questions and take long walks. Not to think things over, because he doesn't really call what he does "thinking things over"--every time he tries do that, nothing happens. But somehow taking a walk helps everything to sort itself out and the picture of the crime with fall into place. Every time.

One of his first cases in Paris starts as a mere odd bit of sensational graffiti. Someone that the newspapers dub "The Chalk Circle Man" begins drawing large chalk circles surrounding a variety of objects--everything from empty beer cans to four trombones to a pigeon's foot to a doll's head. Appearing around the outside of the circles is the phrase "Victor, woe's in store, what are you out here for?" When a dead cat appears in the latest circle, Adamsberg, who has already sensed a cruel streak underlying the senseless oddities, predicts that the worst is yet to come. And he's right. The next circle contains the body of a murdered woman. That's just the beginning. But there are indications that the puzzle may be more complicated than it first appears. Is the Chalk Circle Man a serial killer? Or is someone else using his harmless mania to disguise their crimes?

I normally don't like mysteries where the detective just "knows" whodunnit and why, but Vargas paints such a vivid picture that she makes you believe in the way Adamsberg operates. It's perfectly natural for this Commissaire to work the way he does and have the successful endings to his investigations. The characters she introduces are memorable as well--from Adamsberg to an odd marine biologist to the blind man she befriends and brings to live in the flats she rents out to the Chalk Man himself. You leave this world feeling as though you have really met and followed these folks around for the duration of the case. Oh...and Vargas manages to plant plenty of clues so armchair detectives who don't just "know" the solution can work it out--if they're clever enough. I almost got there....but missed the final curveball. By the time I connected, Vargas was already showing me the solution through Adamsberg. ★★★★ for a terrific beginning to an acclaimed series.

This counts for "white" (as in "chalk white") for the Color-Coded Challenge. And Fred Vargas is a woman, so this counts for the Women Challenge as well.

All Challenges Fulfilled:  100 Plus Challenge, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge, Around the World, Color Coded Challenge, European Reading Challenge, Mad Reviewer, Mount TBR Challenge, My Kind of Mystery, Outdo Yourself, Women Challenge, Spring Into Horror,52 in 52


J F Norris said...

I LOVED THIS BOOK!!! (Hmm, can you tell how I feel about this one?) This was the second Vargas book I read and it completely turned me onto to her. I've read them all and am eager for the English language release of her latest in July this year. They only get stranger and weirder as the series progresses. The one which opens with all the shoes lined up in front of Highgate Cemetery is a special favorite. She has this extraordinary talent to write webwork novels. She and Christopher Fowler are carrying on the old tradition of wacky Harry Stephen Keeler in writing books that take seemingly random incidents and tying them into one preposterous and thoroughly entertaining mystery story. Out of all her books THE CHALK CIRCLE MAN is very much like Keeler with its outrageous finale. Right up there in the gasp inducing quotient endings like the one in SUCH FRIENDS ARE DANGEROUS.

Bev Hankins said...

John, so far I've loved what I've read of Vargas. Admittedly, very little--since this is only the second book so far. But she really does quirky people well.

fredamans said...

Sounds like it was still pretty intense for not having a guessing game going on. I might really like this one!