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quand sort la recluse

16 june 2024

Quand sort la recluse – "When the recluse emerges," though the English translation was called This Poison Will Remain – is Fred Vargas' tenth Adamsberg novel. I didn't like the first (L'homme aux cercles bleus), but I liked several that followed; or perhaps I got used to Vargas' elaborate, personality-driven detective novels.

But Quand sort la recluse is not my favorite among them. It is very long (471 pages), and its narrative energy comes and goes, mostly ebbing around a few intriguing passages. Meanwhile, the impossible workplace soap-opera of Adamsberg's Brigade expands to take up much of the story. Adamsberg finds himself in a test for dominance with his old sidekick Danglard, who has finally had too much of Adamsberg's dreamy but undeniably effective methods.

In Quand sort la recluse, Adamsberg presses Danglard too far by undertaking an investigation far from Paris, and one that he cannot even make public to his superiors. Old men have been dying of spider bites. Even one such death would be unusual in France, but several in a row become very suspicious – especially when the old men were all childhood friends, and in fact a kind of childhood gang that abused their schoolmates, their preferred torture being subjecting their victims to spider bites.

With the help of an amateur enthusiast named Irène – a Miss-Marplish old dear who is fascinated by spiders and the Internet – Adamsberg mobilizes the Brigade in a sub rosa investigation that has the potential to get his superiors asking for his badge and his gun, or whatever they ask for in France. It all gets very long-winded, despite some moments of charm. Early on, Adamsberg solves a couple of quick mini-mysteries that are in effect stand-alone short stories. A volume of such stories might be more welcome than this protracted spider epic.

Vargas, Fred. Quand sort la recluse. 2017. Paris: Flammarion, 2018.