Guest Post – Sarah Hilary: Serial Heroes
It is Thursday 28th July 2016 and Sarah Hilary’s third Marnie Rome novel, Tastes Like Fear is released in paperback today. It seems like the perfect day to share Sarah’s contribution to my Serial Heroes feature.
I will be honest and confess that Fred Vargas was a name I had not heard before. By the time I had read through Sarah’s email I was clicking through to the Kindle store and I have two new books for my holiday.
Here is why:
I have in my hands the brand-new Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg book by French art historian turned crime writer, Fred Vargas. And I couldn’t be happier. It’s been over two years since her last Adamsberg book and so this, A Climate of Fear (her eighth in the series), is my post-edits treat to myself.
The series started with The Chalk Circle Man, which introduced us to Adamsberg, a true original, possibly the best since Sherlock Holmes. Jean-Baptiste is unlike any other fictional detective. An endearing and exasperatingly dreamy little detective from the Pyrenees who is never quite at home in Paris, where he works as a police commissionaire with a team of beguiling colleagues — you’ll fall for more than one of them — tackling crimes that touch on ancient legends, superstitions and vengeance.
Vargas (who chose her pen name from the character played by Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa) weaves history and legend into her stories. She has a genius for twisting a strand of the supernatural into her crime stories without breaking faith with the credibility of her plot. She’ll have you believing in vampires, werewolves and ghosts, before extracting a commonsensical explanation at the last moment.
Her most recently published story, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, saw a panic-stricken old woman journey to Paris to see Commissaire Adamsberg, the only policeman she trusts to help with the peculiar affliction that’s befallen her home village of Ordebec: ghostly horsemen targeting society’s rotten apples.
Adamsberg, beset by problems of his own, is glad of the excuse to escape Paris and strikes up a friendship with a village elder, Léone, who knows Ordebec’s strange cast of characters intimately. When Léone falls victim to the evil afoot, Adamsberg becomes determined to solve the case, aided and abetted by his own strange cast of helpmates — from the statuesque Retancourt and Veyrenc with his terrible rhyming couplets, to Danglard the drunken genius and Zerk, Adamsberg’s recently discovered son, whose stumbling relationship with his father is a joy to read.
In case all of this is sounding too whimsical to be a satisfying crime series, rest assured that Vargas is an expert at plotting and the twists come often and gleefully. There is always a surfeit of suspects, with dreamy and distracted Jean-Baptiste pushed to shuffle the clues from the red herrings.
Best of all, though, at least for this reader—you care deeply for Adamsberg and Danglard and their team. I don’t say you empathise with these characters; some of them are simply too strange. But Vargas isn’t interested in manipulating your emotions in any conventional sense.
She doesn’t deal in unreliable narrators or any other convention, trope or trend in crime fiction. She simply writes astoundingly differently. She dares to write this way, jumping from character to character across the page, inviting you to keep pace with her unruliness, her drollness, her poetry. This is anarchy. Joyful, disturbing anarchy. Because who else is daring to break these rules, and doing it with such panache?
Sarah Hilary has worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. Her debut novel, SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN, won the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year 2015 and was a World Book Night selection for 2016. The Observer’s Book of the Month (“superbly disturbing”) and a Richard & Judy Book Club bestseller, it has been published worldwide. NO OTHER DARKNESS, the second in the series was published in 2015. The Marnie Rome series continued in 2016 with TASTES LIKE FEAR.
Sarah is on Twitter: @Sarah_Hilary