Wash the Blood Clean from My Hand, by Fred Vargas

A small newspaper article puts Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg back on the trail of a serial killer he's been tracking for thirty years. The killer's M.O. is unmistakeable: a knock on the head and three puncture wounds in a row, equally spaced and equally deep. No one by Adamsberg even accepts that the murders are related since the killer always provides a fall guy: someone too drunk to remember his actions and conveniently holding the ostensible murder weapon. One of those fall guys was Adamsberg's brother, so the commissaire has a personal stake in identifying the real killer. He even knows who it is: the draconian judge who terrorized their childhood. Given the judge's power and reputation, no one took Adamsberg's accusations seriously. And now the judge has been dead for sixteen years.

Set in Paris and Quebec, where Adamsberg and several of his colleagues are sent to learn DNA profiling from the RCMP, this book is an engaging mix of complex storylines and eccentric characters. Plus, did I mention Paris and Quebec? The pacing suits me perfectly, as well: not a roller coaster ride, but action interspersed with some time for reflection. Add in some bits of esoteric knowledge and the remnants of a love affair gone wrong, and you have the perfect read for these autumn nights when the dark closes in early.

One thing that I look for in police procedurals, especially because it is so lacking in literary fiction, is a sense of office politics. I find work relationships quite fascinating, the permutations of power, the shifting alliances. Vargas delivers in spades. The relationship between the commissaire—the equivalent of a British Chief Superintendent, as the end note explains—and his co-workers contains the kind of nuances recognisable to the office-workers among us.

Brezillon, his superior, is deftly identified by a particular mannerism as someone who has risen from lower-class roots and is not ashamed of them, even as he enjoys the perks of wealth and position. Adamsberg's deputy, Danglard, also presents a challenge. Adamsberg does not know how far to trust him. The man seems loyal, but also does not bother to hide his disapproval of the commissaire. Adamsberg cannot be certain of either man's response when he himself is accused of murder.

This is the fifth book in Vargas's series. You can bet I will be looking for the others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>