Seeking Whom He May Devour

Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas. Although I love the Chief Inspector Adamsberg series, this is the least appealing of the four titles so far, primarily because its principal character is virtually missing in the first half of the book. Adamsberg is in self-imposed hiding from a deranged woman seeking revenge upon him, so the focus shifts to Camille, a former lover who has retreated from Paris to a remote village in the Alps where she can write musical scores for soap operas while her new companion films a documentary on European wolves who’ve crossed the mountains from Italy into France. One of Camille’s friends is the irascible Suzanne, a sheep farmer living with a grown foster son named Soliman and an elderly shepherd named Watchee. When Suzanne is found dead, the two men disagree with the official conclusion that she was the victim of a brutal wolf attack. They suspect an evil human element to the killing and convince Camille to join them on their quest for the murderer. The trail leads them north, but when it appears that they will never catch up with their prey, Camille is convinced to bring Adamsberg into the case.

But any book that includes the Commissaire, even if only for half the story, is better than most. He has been compared to Inspector Morse and I liken him to television’s Columbo as his “easygoing nature kept him at a steady rhythm, which was always slow, almost detached. . . . His imperturbable low key had an almost magical calming effect on other people, and brought about genuine miracles in the interrogation of suspects. But it could also seem irritating, unfair, even offensive.”

Vargas’ story-telling skills and her ability to develop characters like the dictionary-quoting Soliman and the white-wine connoisseur Watchee keep the book afloat until the entrance of Adamsberg gives it energy and pace that culminates in a surprising conclusion. By setting the story away from the Paris Special Crimes Unit however, we see very little of Adamsberg’s second-in-command Danglard and nothing of any of the other members of the unit. Secondary though they may be, they complement Adamsberg quite well and are sorely missed here.

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