Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, by Fred Vargas


Vintage, 2008
Originally published as Sous les vents de Neptune, 2004
translated by Sian Reynolds
388 pp

In 2007, Fred Vargas walked away with the CWA International Dagger Award for this book, which is the fourth outing for Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg in this rather quirky crime fiction series.  This time Adamsberg goes international, as he and a few of his colleagues are scheduled to go to Quebec to study the newest techniques in DNA science from the RCMP.  He has a lot on his plate: the heat is broken at headquarters, Danglard is petrified of flying, certain that a flock of starlings will fly into the wing and bring the plane crashing down, and a young women has been savagely murdered in a way that Adamsberg knows well.  It seems that as a teenager, his brother Raphael had fallen under suspicion for the murder of his girlfriend, but the brother had no recollection of anything that happened.  The girl was killed with something like a trident that left three holes in the girl's abdomen.  Helping his brother out, he arranged for him to disappear before any arrest could be made.  Adamsberg knows who really killed Raphael's girlfriend: it was Judge Fulgence, whose long arms reached out wide and far throughout the country in a network of legal contacts and some who were downright shady, offering him protection and leaving someone else to be framed for the crime.  Since that time, Jean-Baptiste has been following the judge's murder trail all over France, but is always one step behind.  This latest murder has the judge's name all over it -- but there's only one problem: the judge has been dead for the last 15 years, and Adamsberg had even attended his funeral.  Trying to convince the gendarmarie and even people who know Adamsberg that the man under suspicion for the crime is innocent and that the judge was responsible ends up making him look ridiculous and in some quarters, leaves him without much credibility.
But his work is interrupted by the Canada trip, where after hours Adamsberg finds solace in his long walks along the portage trail of a nearby river.  It is there he meets the oddball Noella, a jilted woman who manages to get Jean-Baptiste in the sack after a visit to Montreal that leaves Adamsberg in a very jealous frame of mind.  But soon enough, he returns to France, but it isn't long until he is asked by the RCMP to return to Canada -- and once he arrives he realizes that he's become the number one suspect in a murder, which once again bears all the hallmarks of having been perpetrated by Judge Fulgence.
There are some cleverly funny moments in this story, and another quirky character is added to the cast of regulars -- an elderly ex-society matron named Josette who wears tennis shoes with elegant clothes and whose hobby is hacking her way through the internet steals the last part of this story. And I have to admit that for a while Vargas had me going, trying to figure out who was doing all of these murders.  But as the story went on, it moved into the realm of the predictable, and came to depend on a series of highly unlikely coincidences that had me raising an eyebrow  every so often.  The trick with this book, as with most of the Adamsberg series,  is to just give in, suspend your belief and let the plot go until its inevitable conclusion.  It's really the characters that keep will keep you reading, although I do have to say that I was a bit disappointed with Adamsberg's behavior in this installment.

All in all ... Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand is a good way to spend a few hours with some old friends, although it's definitely not the most credible of plots I've ever read. Definitely recommended if you're reading the series. 

crime fiction from France


  1. I liked this book, but it wasn't my favorite among Fred Vargas' Commissionaire Adamsberg works.

    However, I loved a certain scene in a Canadian bathroom, which involved hilarious deception to hide our rumpled inspector. I laughed for a week about this. And enjoyed the heck out of Retancourt.

  2. There's really a great deal of humor in this book, but considering how compassionate Adamsberg usually is, I was a bit put off by his character at times here. Not my favorite, either.


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