An Uncertain Place Paperback – May 7 2012
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"One of today's few truly original writers of crime fiction: disturbing, unruly, droll and poetic."
—Marcel Berlins, The Times
"An Uncertain Place is full of wit and invention, with a plot that satisfies both intellect and emotion."
—Annabella Bankhouse, Times Literary Supplement
"As ever, Vargas's characters inhabit a world where reason and myth collide, and the result is a thrilling read."
—Joan Smith, Sunday Times
About the Author
FRED VARGAS was born in Paris in 1957. As well as being a best-selling author in France, she is an historian and archaeologist.
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The investigation takes Adamsberg on a trip to Serbia to try to find the origin of what appears to be a centuries-old family curse involved in the murder of his Paris victim. His sleuthing leads to a connection between his Paris murder, the bizarre Highgate scene and corruption in high levels of French government. Not only that; he discovers that Blagojevic is a despised name in certain circles in Serbia, not just Illinois!
Along the way, Adamsberg delivers kittens, receives several chiropractic adjustments, is put in life-threatening danger twice, receives shocking news about his past, eats a lot of delicious-sounding Serbian food and gets quite an education in the lore of vampires. In other words, not your everyday mystery book.
The Adamsberg series is filled with indelible characters, from the shy, introspective, often-unfathomable but lady-killing Adamsberg, to his team of quirky investigators, to the always vividly-drawn characters who are unique to each title in the series. Where many detectives are cynical, hard-drinking tough guys, Adamsberg is wide open to life, with all its full spectrum of wonders. After viewing the unimaginably gruesome Paris crime scene, he observes to one of his detectives:
"'[W]hen you've seen something like that,' said Adamsberg softly, 'a bit of it sticks and stays inside you.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Inspector Adamsberg is chief of the Serious Crimes Squad in Paris. He gets results, but no one can fathom how. His thoughts are as aqueous as mist or sea spray. He's more interested in the odd, irrelevant detail than in hard evidence, which he distrusts. His interrogations sometimes put suspects to sleep.
He drifts into bed with women rather too easily.
His staff - despite idiosyncrasies that include narcolepsy, Anglophilia, eating disorders and compulsive drinking - are amazingly effective under his direction.
Adamsberg encounters two bizarre crimes in this book. While at a conference in London, he and his associates happen upon a collection of 17 shoes holding dead feet, abandoned in front of historic Highgate Cemetery. Back in Paris, Adamsberg gets caught up in a grisly murder. The victim, a wealthy misanthrope, has been minutely dismembered and pulverized.
These two seemingly disparate crimes will lead Adamsberg into terrible confusion and mortal danger. He'll be confronted with vampire legends on the one hand, and dark political doings on the other - and some ghosts from his own past. I'm being deliberately vague about the plot (beyond what the publisher reveals) so as not to deprive readers of any of the shocks ahead.
Vargas is a brilliant writer, especially good at creating absurd characters that we can't help but like and outrageous situations that become totally involving. "An uncertain place" is a real location in this book, but perhaps it's also our fear of, and attraction to, the unknown.
This novel can be read as a stand-alone, but for a full appreciation of Adamsberg and his wacky world, I'd suggest reading the whole series: The Chalk Circle Man; Have Mercy on Us All; Seeking Whom He May Devour; Wash This Blood Clean from My Hands; This Night's Foul Work; and An Uncertain Place.
I would try another Fred Vargas book (she has several published in this series), but I wouldn't strongly recommend this one. Certainly not as an intro to her work.
There are plot twists that in the hands of a lesser writer would come across as absurd. It's a testament to the quality of "Un Lieu Incertain" that one revels in suspending disbelief as the occasional extremely improbable coincidence takes place.
There's great humor in this novel, as when the main protagonist, Adamsberg, speaks on the phone with an Austrian colleague in the latter's fractured French. Vargas likes to play with language (you'll see how she gives the word "abstract" an entirely new meaning) and she comes up with another word, "Plog," which in her deft care is about as malleable as "appropriate" but, unlike that dismal adjective, delightful for the reader to toy with.
Vargas displays considerable humanity too, as shown by the characters' care for a struggling cat and newborn kitten. Highly recommended. (I read the novel in French and cannot vouch for the translation.)
Innocent bystanders and visitants from Adamsberg's past are also acutely peculiar.
Even the crimes in this novel are bizarre. In London seventeen shoes holding dead feet are found in front of historic Highgate Cemetery. In Paris an intensely gruesome crime further rattles the reader - and bemuses Adamsberg. Could they be connected?
Despite the presence in the story of a great variety of people behaving oddly, unaccountably, and (in some cases) fiendishly, I had no trouble going along with the plot. That's how brilliantly Fred Vargas weaves her fictional web. There's always a kind of reality at the bottom of the greatest absurdities. And the writing is invariably exquisite.
"An Uncertain Place" is a perfect title for this weirdly witty book. You'll see why if you read it.
I bought the British paperback, since it came out first. Now I'm re-reviewing the American edition from a different angle, just to reiterate how much I loved it.
I think you could read this latest Adamsberg as a stand-alone, if you're open to a wildly imaginative plot. But for a full appreciation of the inspector, I'd suggest reading the whole series: The Chalk Circle Man; Have Mercy on Us All; Seeking Whom He May Devour; Wash This Blood Clean from My Hands; This Night's Foul Work; and An Uncertain Place.
Adamsberg begins in London, attending a police conference with Sgt. Estalere and Comm. Danglard when they are directed to the gates of Highgate Cemetery. There, in front of the gate, are 17 shoes; 8 pairs and one single, removed from corpses, still containing their feet. It is a case Adamsberg is glad not to be theirs. Back in Paris, a horrific and unusual murder occurs in a suburban home. The case leads Adamsburg to Serbia, vampire legends and the possibility of losing his life.
An author whose writing makes you savor particular passages, as though it was that first bit of a magnificent meal or sip of a fine wine, is a special gift. Vargas is one such author. One finds oneself reading passages aloud to others, whether they care or not, as you want to share them. Vargas is such a writer.
From the opening page, Vargas' evocative descriptions immediately place you into the scene..."Since the room had windows on three sides, he spent this time moving his seat around the circular table, following the light, like a lizard on a rock." and introducing your to new concepts..."Going to London was fine by him: he would find out whether the Thames smelt of damp washing the way the Seine did, and what kind of sound the seagulls made. Perhaps they had a different call in English."
Even in translation--and kudos to Siân Reynolds--Ms. Vargas voice is unique and strong. "Any experience that's too beautiful or too horrific always leaves some fragment of itself in the eyes of the people who have witnessed it." Her description of Lt. Retancourt, a large, powerful woman, is one to be envied..." "Did she know that to him she represented his tree of salvation, a tree with tough and miraculous fruit, the kind of tree you put your arms around without being able to encircle it, the kind of tree you climb up into when the mouth of hell opens?" Ms. Vargas images stay with us for a very long time after the story is done. The use of language is a pleasure to read, even to inventing one word and re-inventing another. Her droll humor brings light to the dark and her dialogue is a pleasure to our internal ear.
Vargas' characters are just as unique and, you sense, beloved by the author. They are wonderful, varied, and slightly eccentric. But it's also nice to have a police procedural where much of the investigation is done by a squad working together. You don't know whether some of the characters are extremely observant and astute, or blessed with extraordinary abilities, or both. Either way, the come to life and you want to know them. Even the victim is dimensional with his back story provided and relationship with his son explained. None of the characters are simply there to fill the space. Even the dog is anthropomorphized by Amamsberg.
In some ways, this book was more strictly a police procedural than others, perhaps as there was no romantic overtone to it. All the crimes are singular in their execution. The plot is smart and clever without ever being contrived. Taking Adamsberg from London to Paris to Serbia not only accentuates the mystery and the building of suspense--and she does suspense well--but adds a richness to the story. Vargas takes you down unexpected paths and includes a twist you never saw coming. She takes us on a journey; not only of locations, but of legends and superstitions, yet provides logical explanations in the end.
"An Uncertain Place" was published in France in 2008. Ms. Vargas is an author you want to have write more, publish more frequently and be translated more quickly. Her books are gifts to readers and, although it sounds greedy, with each one, you want more.
AN UNCERTAIN PLACE (Pol. Proc-Comm. Adamsberg-England/France/Serbia-Cont) - Ex
Vargas, Fred (trans. by Siân Reynolds) - 7th in series (book 4 has not been translated)
Harvill Secker, 2011, UK Trade Paperback - ISBN: 9781846554452