Vargas, Fred - 'Seeking Whom He May Devour' (translated by David Bellos)
SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR is the second book in the Commissaire Adamsberg to be translated into English but actually predates the first book to be translated, HAVE MERCY ON US ALL. However as Adamsberg only plays a minor role until the last third of the book I can perhaps see why the decision was made to translate them out of sequence.
Adamsberg lives in Paris, currently avoiding a hooker who wants to kill him, after he very accidentally killed her pimp, he is following the news on the tv about a wolf terrorising sheep in the Alpes-Maritimes region. The news programme shows the town square of one of the nearby villages and Adamsberg thinks he recognises an old girlfriend, Camille, who he occasionally tries to track down but can never find.
Camille is living in Saint Victor, near the Mercantor National Park, with a Canadian who is observing and photographing the wolves which have crossed over from Italy to live in the park. It seems that there is a very large wolf savaging the sheep and the locals have been trying to hunt it down to no avail. Then the wolf attacks and kills one of the villagers, a local farmer called Suzanne. Johnstone, the Canadian, confesses to Camille that prior to her death, Suzanne had told him that the wolf was no ordinary wolf but a werewolf and that the werewolf was the outcast abattoir worker Massart. Massart has no body hair and nor do werewolves according to legend as all their hair is on the inside, and Massart has disappeared. The only clue is a map left in his house of the route he plans to take across France to reach England.
Suzanne's loyal friends: her adopted son Soliman and her shepherd Watchee want to track down Massart. They have the map and a vehicle, a cattle truck but they need a driver and as Camille was also Suzanne's friend she agrees to join them on their 'road trip'.
As they are always one step behind Massart, eventually they decide to call the police but they need someone sympathetic. The local police were not interested in their 'werewolf' theory and so Camille contacts Adamsberg and he joins the three of them. Finally it is Adamsberg who discovers the real reason for the attacks and identifies the 'werewolf'.
SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR is quite an unusual crime novel, having a rural crime and the main characters travelling and living in a truck smelling of sheep and lanolin. But what characters they are; Camille a composer and plumber whose comfort read is 'The A to Z of Tools for Trade and Craft'; Soliman a young black man who was adopted by Suzanne as a baby, full of dictionary definitions and apt to invent his own tales and myths and Watchee, the shepherd who 'likes to understand'. The banter between them can be odd as well as amusing. It'd be nice to see them in future novels but I imagine only Camille may reappear. I found Adamsberg less easy to get a grip on but I'll be reading HAVE MERCY ON US ALL to discover more about him and his intuition.
A great sense of place, a puzzling story line and characters you can warm to make this an excellent introduction to Fred Vargas if not to the Adamsberg series.
Translated into British English by David Bellos, occasionally the language would jar a bit and seem dated, such as a peer of Adamsberg calling him 'old chap'.
Read another review of SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR.
Karen Meek, England