Reviews by L. J. Roberts

FRED VARGAS – Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand. Knopf-Canada, hardcover, 2007. Penguin, US, trade paperback, 2007. First published as Sous les vents de Neptune, Paris : Viviane Hamy, 2004; translated by Sian Reynolds.

Genre:   Police procedural. Leading character: Commisioner Adamsberg; 5th in series (4th translated into English). Setting:   Canada.


First Sentence:   Leaning his shoulder against the dark basement wall, Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg stood contemplating the enormous central heating boiler which had suddenly stopped working, two days before.

   Comm. Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and seven of his officers are getting ready for forensics training in Quebec, Canada. A few days before they are to leave, Adamsberg sees a news story about a murder where the victim received three stab wounds to the stomach and the accused has no memory of committing the crime.

   A number of similar crimes, including one where Adamberg’s brother was accused, occurred 16 years ago. Adamsberg is certain the true killer is back, except that he attended the man’s funeral. Now in Canada, another murder occurs, but this time it appears Adamsberg is the killer.

   The most important elements of a book, for me, are the characters. Vargas creates wonderful characters, although she does not provide as much background with each book as a reader coming into the middle of the series should have.

   However, once you do start to know the players, they become real and characters about whom you want to know more. What is appealing about Adamsberg is that is he a very unconventional policeman, yet he gets results and has the loyalty of his colleagues and friends.

   Vargas’s voice is wonderfully effective. Originally written in French, I appreciate that the translation still has a Gallic undertone to the text. Her descriptions are vivid and her phrasing lush. She has an excellent ear for dialogue, and a delightful sense of humor.

   The plot of Wash This Blood is so well done. Yes, there are coincidences — it is rare to find a book without them — but it is also very clever with excellent twists and a soupçon of poignancy that adds dimension to Adamsberg’s character.

   It is also the first time I recall that we see Adamsberg really lose his temper, which humanizes him even more. I’ve one criticism in that it feels as though there is a book missing from the series. Knowing how Have Mercy ended, this did cause a bit of confusion in terms of series plot continuity.

   This was an excellent read. I highly recommend both it and the series which must be read in order — frustrating as the English versions have not been published in series order.

Rating:   Excellent.

       The Chief Inspector Adamsberg series —

1.   The Chalk Circle Man (2009). First published in France as L’Homme aux cercles bleus (1991).


2.   Seeking Whom He May Devour (2004). First published in France as L’Homme à l’envers (1999).

[*]   The Four Rivers. Date? [Graphic novel]. Published in France as Les quatre fleuves (2000).

3.   Have Mercy on Us All (2003). First published in France as Pars vite et reviens tard (2001).


[*]   Coule la Seine (2002). [Collection of graphic stories.] Not yet published in English.

4. Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand (2007). First published in France as Sous les vents de Neptune (2004).

5.   This Night’s Foul Work (2008). First published in France as Dans les bois éternels (2006).

6.  An Uncertain Place (2011). First published in France as Un lieu incertain (2008).

Editorial Comment:   Please consider this bibliography a work in progress. Dates for the French editions are based on information obtained from Wikipedia-France. Dates for the English editions are (I think) a mixture of US and Canadian first printings.

   In any case, L.J. is correct in suggesting that readers of the series in the US have been treated badly by Ms. Vargas’s publishers. One can assume, however, that perhaps they started with what they believed to be a stronger title in the series, uncertain of the reception her books might receive.

   Whether one must read the graphic novel or collection listed above (without number) in order not to miss any of the overall series continuity is at present unknown, but it would explain L.J.’s comment regarding “a book [she felt was] missing from the series.”