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18 May 2014

Fred Vargas: Dog has its Day

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Wacky and strange thriller
If you can take wacky ("funny or amusing in a slightly odd or peculiar way") characters and strange plots, and want a change from your normal NYPD style crime thriller this one may be for you. If not please be entertained by a quick look at this synopsis of French prize winning novelist Fred (Frédérique) Vargas's second book in her "The Three Evangelists" series published in 1996 but only recently translated from the French.

Louis Kehlweiler (or Ludwig because he has a German father) has been a powerful investigator with the Ministry of the Interior. Since he was sacked by newcomers who didn't respect his powers he has still kept up his investigations with the help of his old cronies, with Marthe, an elderly prostitute, leader of the band. He still uses the park benches of Paris as his lookout posts which he has numbered for convenience up to 137.

One problem is that Marthe is getting old and confuses 102 for 107. Louis is also showing the strain and now that his latest girlfriend has left, the "love of his life" is Bufo, a toad that he carries with him almost everywhere except cafè's where Bufo gets a bit panicky and would do the same to the patrons.

Sounds a bit whacky? Sure but it gets even whackier when late one evening Louis spots some dog faeces on a grating close to bench 107 which has been cleaned off by next morning by a violent overnight storm leaving a little white thing - a gnawed human toe bone. With the help of the first "Evangelist" Marc Vandalooser, a 30 something unemployed student of medieval life, they track down most of the regular dog walkers in the park and eventually work out that the dog concerned travels to Paris each week with his owner from a small town in Brittany.

Louis, and then Marc, travel to Brittany to find the dog and the body. They stir up a small hornet's nest in the small town finding the body and trying to track down the murderer.

The other "Evangelists" are an obsessed pre-historian studying human evolution from hunter-gatherers, and a student of the Great War. This time only the first two are used leaving the third in reserve for the next book.

This is a very different wacky thriller that kept the pages turning as strange things kept happening. At times it was brilliant and at others pretty silly. I gave it 3.5 stars for originality.

Small spoiler - you may be interested to know that Bufo the toad survives to the end but has to be watered down because he dried out on long train rides. Vargas left us with a seed for her next book "Sans feu ni lieu" (Without Hearth or Home) published in France in 1997 in which we will probably see more of the third Evangelist when it is translated.

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