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Book 61: An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas

Book 61: An Uncertain Place (Commissaire Adamsberg 06) .
Author: Fred Vargas, 2008. Translated from the French by Sian Reynolds, 2011.
Genre: Crime Fiction. Gothic. Folklore.
Other Details: Trade Paperback. 408 pages

Commissaire Adamsberg and two of his men are attending a three-day conference in London. After hours they accompany Chief Inspector Radstock, their New Scotland Yard colleague, on a tour of the unseen side of London. They encounter an eccentric aristocrat, well known to Radstock, who directs them to Highgate Cometary saying there is something there they need to see "if they have the stomach for it". There just outside the entrance a pile of shoes is found. Perhaps not so strange in itself, but these shoes contain severed feet.

As Scotland Yard's investigation begins, Adamsberg and his colleagues return home and are confronted with a brutal massacre in a suburban home. Soon Adamsberg is drawn in to a trail of vampires and vampire-hunters that leads him all the way to Serbia, a place where the old certainties no longer apply.

What can I say vampires - they get everywhere these days! Still one of Vargas' earlier titles centred around attacks from a suspected werewolf and she did such an effective job there that I was confident that any vampires were going to be a long way from the beings found in paranormal romance titles and much more akin to Old World vampiri.

Having now read all the Adamsberg books that have been translated to English, I am such a firm fan of Vargas' style and just love her characterisations and the way she handles her plot. I also felt that I was able to understand the working practices of Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his unit at the Paris Serious Crime Squad much better after watching the French TV series 'Spiral' on BBC3. I know many of these books have been made into TV films in France, so do hope with the popularity of Euro Crime in the UK that they might be acquired.

As always Vargas, who is an archaeologist and historian, does an excellent job in capturing a sense of place whether it is Paris, London's baroque Highgate Cemetery or a remote village in Serbia. She has a wonderful sense of detail that brings her settings alive. I will warn that there are a few scenes here that are not for the squeamish and this novel possibly contains one of the most graphic and disturbing crime scenes that I've ever encountered in any context.

Quirky and unpredictable; it is easy to see why Vargas has been the recipient of so many awards for her crime fiction and I am rooting for 'An Uncertain Place' to win the CWA International Dagger in 2011.
Tags: crime fiction, european, gothic novels, translation, vampires
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