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The Chalk Circle Man: The First Adamsberg Novel    by Fred Vargas order for
Chalk Circle Man
by Fred Vargas
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2009 (2009)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

What a treat for Adamsberg fans - The Chalk Circle Man (translated from French by Sian Reynolds), is the very first book in Fred Vargas's quirky mystery series set in France and featuring highly intuitive Paris Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his delightfully odd associates.

Adamsberg has recently been promoted to the Paris job and his new - and rather eccentric - colleagues are slowly making the adjustment to their equally eccentric, but charming boss. It's particularly difficult for Inspector Danglard (a single parent of two sets of twins who's regularly drunk by about four in the afternoon) with his logical analysis of crime to come to terms with Adamsberg's approach. Adrien Danglard finds his new boss's way of jumping to conclusions maddening - even more so because Adamsberg is always right. And then there's Adamsberg's habit of doodling and of going walkabout in the city - he thinks best in motion.

And it's not just the detectives who are strange - Fred Vargas specializes in unusual characters. There's Mathilde Forestier, a famous oceanographer, who picks Parisians to follow and observe in her hobby of exploring human nature. She owns three apartments in the same house and already rents one to an elderly lady, Clémence, who reads lonely-hearts ads, searching for the 'love of her life.' Now Mathilde meets blind (and very bitter) Charles Reyer in a café. As he's looking for a room, she adds this new stray to her household. And Mathilde turns out to be connected to Adamsberg's lost love, his petite chérie Camille.

When blue chalk circles start appearing overnight on the pavements of Paris - credited by the papers to a 'harmless maniac', Adamsberg's antennae quiver - he knows that the thing in the middle of the circle will get bigger, and sends his reluctant officers to photograph each scene. He learns that Mathilde has observed the chalk circle man, and consults her about the case. Then something happens that Adamsberg expected all along - corpses begin to appear within the circles. What connects these seemingly harmless individuals to turn them into victims?

Of course, Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg makes sense of it all in his own inimitable fashion - and it's a big surprise for all concerned, and for the reader. If you enjoy unusual police procedurals with very colorful characters - including a lead with an almost mystical problem solving ability - then read the Adamsberg series, starting at the beginning with The Chalk Circle Man.

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