Monday, February 15, 2010

The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas

Title: The Chalk Circle Man
Author: Fred Vargas
Translated from the French by: Sian Reynolds
ISBN: 9780143115953, Penguin, 2009
Genre: Police Procedural, #1 Commissaire Adamsberg mystery
Rating: A+

First Line: Mathilde took out her diary and wrote: 'The man sitting next to me has got one hell of a nerve.'

Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg grew up in the foothills of the Pyrenees, became a policeman at the age of twenty-five, and after a series of promotions and the passage of twenty years, he finds himself as Commissaire in Paris. Back home Adamsberg was something of a legend:

"You sit around daydreaming, staring at the wall, or doodling on a bit of paper as if you had all the time and knowledge in the world, and then one day you swan in, cool as a cucumber, and say 'Arrest the priest. He strangled the child to stop him talking.'"

Great things are expected of him in Paris, but when he focuses on a case that makes everyone else laugh, some begin to wonder if Adamsberg's reputation is all hype.

Almost everyone in Paris is laughing over The Chalk Circle Man, and they scan the newspapers each day to see what bizarre object has been enclosed in a blue chalk circle. Will it be another beer can? Or how about another trombone? Only Adamsberg doesn't think it's funny, and when the next blue chalk circle is around the body of a woman whose throat has been slashed, people begin to realize that the quirky policeman may not be a hayseed after all.

I loved this book. The translation by Sian Reynolds was excellent, and I felt as though I were walking the streets of Paris with Adamsberg. The plot had enough twists and turns in it that, although I'd deduced some things as I read, I was still surprised at the end and laughed with pleasure.

Excellent translation, strong sense of place, nice twisty plot... all those things are important, but it's the characters who stick with me the most. Adamsberg who lets no one keep him from conducting investigations his way. Mathilde, a woman who follows random people through the streets of Paris, observes them, and often takes them under her wing. And Clémence, a septuagenarian who hasn't given up on love and is an avid follower of the "lonely hearts" ads in the newspapers. These characters are what make The Chalk Circle Man sparkle, and they are what make this book memorable.

Comin' through, folks! Comin' through! I've got to get my hands on the second book in this series!

[Source: Christmas gift from my husband.]


  1. Oh my, this sounds like a winner. When oh when will I catch up with my reading.

  2. An A+ rating?! That, the fact that it takes place in France and is a character rich book is enough to convince me that this is a must read.

  3. A mystery set in Paris sounds wonderful. I love the premise with the chalk circles too. This is going on my wish list!

  4. Fred Vargas is a great writer, so I'm glad that you enjoyed this one as much as you did!

  5. Beth-- If you're anything like me... never! LOL Didn't you know that one doesn't die if one still has a TBR stash??

    Molly-- I thought I would enjoy this book, but I was very pleasantly surprised by just how much I liked it.

    Kathy-- Wonderful! I hope you get a copy and enjoy it as much as I did.

    Margot K-- I'd heard nothing but good about her writing, so I'm glad I did, too! :)

  6. I've been wanting to read more mysteries by non American authors and this one sounds like something right up my alley. Thanks for the review.

  7. Lately, I've been reading mysteries set in different countries, so this one must go on the list. Fantastic review of what sounds like it will be a winner for me.

  8. Cathy, this is the second review of this book I have read recently. I've put it on my wish list, but I think I may have to hunt it up sooner. Maybe my library has it. Thanks for your thoughts.

  9. Fred Vargas has been on my list for a long time, and I have her debut, Have Mercy on Us All, on my TBR so I will begin there, and I suspect I´ll have to chew my way through them all :D

  10. I think that The Chalk Circle Man, the debut of Adamsberg, is not as good as those books that followed such as This Night's Foul Work and Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, so you have a treat in store.

  11. Oh no, I read this one a couple of weeks ago and I didn't enjoy it much. I was really looking forward to it and I just couldn't warm up to Commissaire Adamsberg. I'm glad you really enjoyed it and will look forward to your review of the second one. Maybe I need to give him another chance! :)

  12. Ryan-- You're welcome. From all reports, later books in the series are even better.

    Tina-- I hope you enjoy!

    Kay-- You're welcome!

    Dorte-- I'll be chewing with you. ;)

    Uriah-- That's wonderful to hear!

    Iliana-- I had the same thing happen to me with Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series. I didn't care for the first at all, but for some reason I reached for the second, and that was it. I was hooked.

  13. I'm still on a search for a great mystery/thriller type book. I've added this one to the list!

  14. Molly-- I hope it works for you!


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