home     authors     titles     dates     links     about

sous les vents de neptune

22 march 2020

There comes a time in many a police-procedural series where the old gumshoe routine, even if applied to the most outlandish of crimes or criminals, can't sustain the reader's – or perhaps more to the point, the writer's – interest any more. The author sends the hero into exile. He has to surrender his badge and gun. He goes on the lam, suspected of murder; the hunter becomes the hunted. He finds out who his friends really are. He wonders if, in some amnesiac moment, he might have really committed the crime that everybody else seems to think he did.

And so, in the fourth of Fred Vargas' Paris crime novels, Sous les vents de Neptune, commissaire Adamsberg is suspected of stabbing a young woman to death. In the woods. In Canada. With a trident.

Ouch! Why would the commissaire have done such a thing? Well, he's in Canada for one thing, taking a kind of CSI-Quebec course in DNA analysis that manages to be both stressful and boring at the same time. He is upset because his longtime crush Camille, whom he's recently dumped for the Nth time, appears to have gotten herself pregnant by a new boyfriend on the immediate rebound. He's drunk as a skunk. And he's obsessed with a shadowy, superhuman murderer from his past, the éminence grise Fulgence.

Fulgence kills people with a trident. Lots of them. Over decades. Long after he himself is dead and buried. He's a comic-book villain, but Adamsberg has to face him armed with only the powers of a depressed, exasperated fictional detective inspector. And somehow (it stands to crazy reason), Fulgence has framed Adamsberg for a trident murder in the forest primeval of North America.

Off the grid and on the run, Adamsberg has to rely on an unlikely improvised team of helpers: Clementine, the eldritch old lady who shelters him; her tenant Josette, a senior-citizen with the kind of "hacker" talents that appear only in thrillers; the blockish but "invisible" policewoman Retancourt; his longsuffering aide Danglard (who may be playing a dangerous double game); the phlegmatic Quebecois inspector Sanscartier, and other ad hoc allies. The resulting plot is complicated, contrived, but entertaining.

Vargas, Fred. Sous les vents de Neptune. 2004. Paris: J'ai Lu, 2018.