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Fred Vargas

A pleasant return to Fred Vargas

It has been a while since I read a Fred Vargus and I’d forgotten how good they are. A colleague gave me a copy of the latest and I was delighted to find that Vargus has not lost her touch with her latest—This Poison will Remain. I had forgotten how much I loved Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsburg, head of the Paris Serious Crimes Squad. Another of my favourite fictional policemen, who love their food and wine, and rely on instinct and feelings to solve crime. Much against his will Adamsburg is called back to Paris’ 13th arrondissement from a holiday in Iceland to clear up the attempted murder of a woman by her husband—a liar and a cheat, and altogether highly disgusting person he takes great delight in charging. On returning to the squad room, he finds a really obnoxious smell belonging to a large moray eel, that one of his idiosyncratic colleagues Voisenet has tucked under his desk. Adamsburg, who rarely misses anything, notices that Voisenet is cagey about what’s on his computer, and he asks resident computer whiz, Froissy, to investigate—quietly. What she finds is the story of three elderly people dying from a spider bite—the recluse, Loxosceles Reclusa, a shy, timid brown spider, that rarely bites humans. When more people die from the spider’s bite, Adamsburg joins Voisenet in thinking something odd is afoot. What follows is a weird and wonderful journey into the world of spiders, the medieval female ‘recluse’, rape, murder, terrible crimes against women and historic child abuse. This incredible journey leads the squad up many a false inlet, like Magellan trying to find his way through to the Pacific Ocean. Magellan never stopped trying, so Adamsburg tells his officers that they must not stop either. This reference to Magellan is charmingly explained in the story. False trails abound, and Adamsberg is hampered by an unexpected betrayal coming from his second-in-command, Danglard’s, and to his great shame, is duped by the one person he never suspected. This is a great read, full of great characters, including Mathias, an archeologist from a previous series called The Three Evangelists, which I also highly recommend.

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is the story of Kya Clark, known locally as the Marsh Girl—because she lives in the marsh area of Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. When we first meet her Kya is living with her family, in a shack, sheltered by oak forests, that also shelter the closest lagoon. One morning Kya sees her mother walking down the road, wearing her best shoes and carrying a blue case. One by one everyone leaves until Kya is left with her father, a drunk and gambler, who disappears for days on end, and eventually doesn’t returrn. At the tender age of 7 she has to learn to fend for herself. She is made to attend the local school by the truant officer, where she is teased and tormented by the other children, and so escapes back to the marsh. At 15 she is befriended by local boy Tate—her first real contact with the world beyond the marsh, apart from her visits to the store, and she tentatively opens up. However, when a popular local man, Chase Andrews, is found dead, the ‘Marsh Girl’ is immediately a suspect and Kya is charged with murder. The future looks bleak, but things have a way of changing and when all looks dark, sometimes the light shines again.

Recently I recommended a book called The Day of the Accident by Nuala Ellwood—a thriller about a woman who wakes from a coma to find her world completely unrecognisable. I really enjoyed this book, and chose the book I’m currently reading because it looked to be exploring similar themes. And so far I looked Away by Jane Corry is paying off. Young grandmother, Ellie looks after her grandson Josh every Monday. She knows that her husband, Roger, has been unfaithful—but he assures her that his indiscretion is over. One Monday Ellie is with Josh and Roger when hubbie gets a call from his supposed ex. A betrayed Ellie looks away for a moment, and her world changes forever. The book is not just about Josh’s disappearance—Ellie also has secrets, which she is desperate to keep close. This, like Day of the Accident is a small (B format) paperback. It surprises me that Penguin didn’t publish them in the large format edition, as in my opinion they are as good as, if not better, than some of the more well-known authors released in ‘Trade’ format. A good read, although I’m not sure about the title.