When I started reading The Chalk Circle Man, by Fred Vargas, I expected something good–the reviewers can’t ALL be wrong–but I also expected something very French and perhaps a bit existential.
About ten pages into the book, I had a sudden thought: this is what Agatha Christie would be writing if she was alive today.
But that’s ridiculous. Agatha Christie is the quintessential British writer and, what’s more, she was also a very feminine writer. Fred Vargas is French and…
And Fred Vargas is also a woman. Something I didn’t know when I first picked up the book. That, at least, explains the sense of femininty.
But the other part, the English part? Well, maybe that isn’t there, but there’s definitely a sense of affection for the small town life of France which isn’t that dissimilar from Christie’s familiar milieu. But, most of all, I realized that Vargas’ main character reminded me enormously of Poirot.
While specifically insisting that, far from being a genius, he is a man of less-than-normal intellect, Adamsberg, Vargas’ Chief Inspector, still gives off that same vibe of knowing what is happening long before anyone else does, and then being proved correct. And that sense makes you think you’re in a Christie novel.
Morality in 21st century France is very different from that of mid-century England, of course, but the naturality with which sex and unfaithfulness are dealt with is similar to Christie’s deft handling of the same material.
I’m aware that Vargas probably doesn’t want to be compared with the Queen of Crime (and also that many critics would be aghast that I took their avant-garde darling and tried to pigeonhole her this way) but I mean it as the highest praise when I state that this is almost exactly what I’d expect from the Grand Dame if she was alive today. Recommended, and a quick, engaging read.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose thriller Timeless deals with his passion for books and the publishing industry, as well as his fascination for crime syndicates and the deadly game of international smuggling. You can check it out here.