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by Fred Vargas and Siān Reynolds, trans.
Harvill Secker, September 2019
415 pages
$35.00 CAD
ISBN: 1787300501

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The events in this ninth in the Commissaire Adamsberg series take place on the heels of his return from Iceland in A CLIMATE OF FEAR, but in real time, that was three years ago and readers' memories might want a little jogging. In the previous entry, a fissure was developing between Adamsberg and his second-in-command, Danglard. It is a philosophical or perhaps even political difference, but it threatened the cohesion of Adamsberg's troop of eccentric but effective detectives. Now the cleft between the two has grown wider and Danglard is busily undermining the Commissaire's authority. It appears that coup is in the making.

It is a development that worries Adamsberg perhaps even more than the series of murders he has uncovered. The victims appear to have fallen to an unusual murder weapon - the venom of recluse spiders - a species that is (at least in France) notoriously non-aggressive and not especially poisonous except in rare instances. So unlikely is it that a string of elderly men could have been deliberately poisoned by someone employing these spiders that the deaths have been ticked off as unfortunate accidents. But Adamsberg, who has an acute sense of smell, is suspicious that something more is afoot.

Danglard, however, sees Adamsberg's decision to pursue his murder-by-spider theory as an opportunity to sow dissension in the ranks of the serious crimes team. And a peculiar lot that team is, too. Among others, we have Violette Retancourt, six feet tall and 110 kilos of solid muscle, who left a bit of her heart in Iceland with a one-legged fisherman; Voisenet, good cop but thwarted ichthyologist who has a bad habit of leaving gently rotting specimen sea creatures in his desk; Mercadet, whose regular bouts of narcolepsy must be accommodated, and Estalčre, a dyslexic who aspires to read every book mentioned by the Commissaire, whom he adores. They are not a group that could readily be accommodated elsewhere in the police service, yet individually they do have concerns about their equally eccentric chief.

No responsible reviewer would recommend THIS POISON WILL REMAIN to any reader unfamiliar with the series. Even Vargas seems a bit worried about the impression her protagonist may be making on the unwary. As the book opens, Adamsberg has been recalled from Iceland to deal with the case of a woman run down in the street by her husband's SUV. But who was driving when the event occurred? It takes Adamsberg hardly any time to find the answer and he does it in classic Holmesian fashion. It is as though Vargas wishes to reassure her readers that Adamsberg is not quite as non-rational as he may appear and as Danglard believes.

But for readers who have some familiarity with the series, this ninth volume will be an absolute joy. Yes, Adamsberg's grasp of natural history seems a bit shaky at times, and certainly his intuitions are often based more on will than solid evidence. But the book is a delight all the same. And, as usual, Siān Reynolds' translation is supple and inventive. My own recommendation is that if you have not read Vargas till now, go to a couple of the earlier ones for starters. Then you'll be ready for THIS POISON. If, on the other hand, you've already fallen for the Gallic strangeness of the Adamsberg series, you will not want to hesitate to get hold of this installment.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, October 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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