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neopolitan novels



....“I think art emerged as a sort of medicine to deal with the fact that we are afraid in a dangerous world. So we invent a second reality into which we escape to confront these perils.” Printed in The Guardian in 2008, it’s a view fitting our current challenging circumstances. But if you have had your fill of a second reality of bleakly filtered, über violent Scandi/Icelandic/Danish/even French noir detective series, then Fred Vargas, French crime writer and author of the quote above, offers a quirky alternative where good exposes evil in curious ways.

That’s not surprising from a Fred who is really a female Frédérique, took her nom-de-plume of Vargas from the 1954 film “The Barefoot Contessa”, and was brought up in a parental combination of a surrealist follower of André Breton father and a scientific mother chemist. Her fictional partner in crime is Commissaire Adamsberg, a man from the rural Pyrenees, not quite fitting into (a discomfort borne by all detectives who live out their lives Chapter by Chapter) the Parisian police department. At turns infuriating and inspirational in valuing intuition as much as logic, he is likely to arrest the most overtly innocent. He can also snipe at his creator: bringing in an archaeologist to an investigation, he comments, “An archaeologist, or shit-stirrer, if you prefer.” knowing full well that Fred Vargas is an archaeologist by profession.

If you prefer the amateur sleuth à la Marples-Poiret, Fred Vargas has a twist for you in her Three Evangelists books. Three impecunious historians: Mathias (prehistoric man), Marc (medieval) and Lucien (First World War) share a house with Marc’s uncle, disgraced policeman Vandoosler, where the accommodation is by historical period with Mathias on the ground floor and Vandoosler, representing modern day, at the top. Their crime-solving (sometimes with ex-special investigator Louis Kehlweiler who keeps a pet toad, Bufo, in his pocket and prompts one investigation after noting a toe-bone in dog poo one early Parisian morning*) is spiked with droll rivalry where each believes their realm of expertise outweighs the others.

*Dog Will Have His Day