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Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand    by Fred Vargas order for
Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand
by Fred Vargas
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand, Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his Parisian associates fly to Quebec, Canada on a training mission. But before they head out, the highly intuitive Adamsberg is plagued by strong flashes, almost premonitions, triggered by small perceptions in his environment. He finds himself quick to anger and feels a strong link to a case he had followed for many years, that of the highly respected Judge Fulgence.

Adamsberg has long obsessed over what be believes to have been serial killings that took place between 1943 and 2003. Nine people were stabbed to death with what Adamsberg is sure - based on linear and linear wounds - was a trident. But no-one believes him as, in all cases, suspects (amnesiacs because of drinking binges or head blows) were arrested and charged with the crimes. The Commissaire's objectivity is also in question because the first suspect was his own brother (who was never convicted but whose life was blighted). Adamsberg is sure he knows who the guilty party is - his childhood nemesis, Judge Fulgence. The only problem is that the Judge has been dead and buried for sixteen years.

Other aspects of the Commissaire's life worry him too. He fled from the woman, Camille, who is the love of his life, and his doing so has created an estrangement from his long-suffering friend and subordinate, the ever logical Inspector Danglard. The latter finds his boss's way of jumping to conclusions maddening - especially since Adamsberg is usually right. When everything becomes too much for the Commissaire, he takes refuge with his wise old friend Clémentine, who trusts his instincts and encourages him to use his thinking cap (Clémentine's frail elderly friend Josette's computer hacking skills also come in very handy for key research.)

French police team members head to Quebec and meet their Mountie colleagues in daily sessions. After work, Adamsberg regularly walks on a forest trail, where he meets - and has a brief fling with - a needy young Frenchwoman. When she's brutally murdered, and the Commissaire has no memory of these hours in his life, after too much drinking and a bang on the head, he becomes the chief suspect and even doubts himself - just as his brother did so many years before. But his friends are there for him, including the very competent and massive Lieutenant Retancourt, who's never really liked her boss but believes in him - and her methods are quite unique.

I really enjoyed Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand - both reader and protagonist himself doubt the Commissaire's credibility through most of the book. After all, how could a ghost continue a trail of serial killings? But Fred Vargas makes her plot work, tossing in a bunch of delightfully eccentric characters to lighten up a fairly dark tale that leads to redemption for several and a very big surprise for Adamsberg. I look forward to reading more of this most unusual detective.

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