A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas covers 'France' in my European Reading challenge which is being hosted by Rose City Reader.
Alice Gauthier has a letter to post. She knows something about a group trip to Iceland when twelve people were stranded on an island for weeks, in dense fog. Two people died but the truth about their deaths has never been told. A few days later Alice is found dead in her bath, on first inspection, suicide, but it's not. Another apparent suicide takes Commissaire Adamsberg to the recipient of Alice's letter, Henri Masfauré, and his counrty estate. This suicide victim was also in Iceland. And what's the mystery about the parentage of the surviving son? Why can't he remember the first five years of his life?
Adamsberg is contacted by one, Francois Chateau, and the mystery deepens. Chateau runs a sort of secret debating society where people reinact scenes from The Terror... part of events that took place during The French Revolution. The society is deeply secretive, divisive, and rather dangerous in Adamsberg's opinion. The members seem to take performances rather too seriously. Chateau tells Adamsberg that he recognises the two suicide victims and thinks there's another possible victim.
The investigating team now have two mysteries to investigate and no idea which is relevant or where to turn. Local Iceladic villagers think the two deaths on the island were caused by a demon known as the afturganga. Are events in Iceland the key to this mystery or the French Revolution secret society? Or is there no connection whatsoever?
Why have I waited so long to read another Commissaire Adamsberg novel? I read the first book in the series, The Chalk Circle Man, in Feb. 2010! I enjoyed it a lot and made plans to read more but never did. It was Margaret at Booksplease mentioning the series to me a couple of times, who nudged me into grabbing one from the library. Typically it wasn't book two in the series I found but book ten, no matter, I read it anyway. And it was fine. I remembered him and his team, no problem.
This was a book with quite a complicated plot... two threads to keep an eye on and quite a long list of characters. Adamsberg and his team are quite a colourful bunch, he's a bit wierd, vague, disconnected at times, his deputy's the font of all knowledge and drinks too much, and another member of the team has narcolepsy. One of the women puts me in mind of the actress who plays Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones - Gwendoline Christie. Every other character, concerned with the murders, is well drawn and very individual too... I found Francois Chateau particularly chilling.
The Icelandic section was superb... made me go off and reserve a crime thriller set there in fact. The supernatural connotations worked for me, they might not for those not interested in such things. I found it all very atmospheric and creepy. Having recently seen a documentary on Iceland it seemed to me Fred Vargas had got its people spot-on too.
The book dishes up a huge dose of the history of The French Revolution, especially as it concerned Robespierre - the kind of person he was, his speeches, how he mesmerised everyone. Fascinating and made me want to read more about it though I would have no clue where to start. Huge subject.
I did think that I would only read non-fiction for the European Reading challenge but A Climate of Fear is so very 'French' and I learnt so much that I think I must use it for 'France' for the challenge.