23 March 2008


A young woman, a black boy-child, and an old man travelling through the southern French Alps in pursuit of a lycanthrope, a werewolf - almost the makings of a medieval tale, if it were not set so firmly in modern times by technology like the mobile phone. As just as they are about to give up, the puzzle solver, in the person of Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, comes to their rescue.

The annual migration of wolves from the Italian into the French Alpine wildlife reserve is on, but something is amiss. Pockets of sheep outside the reserve are being killed, seemingly by a rogue wolf, but then the rumour starts that the culprit is not a wolf at all, but a man called Massart. Massart, a butcher by trade, has gone missing, and the locals who have always mistrusted him, are more than willing to believe a suggestion that he has become a werewolf. It is Suzanne Rosselin who comes up with this theory, because Massart is smooth skinned, but then she too is found dead, killed in the same way as the sheep. And that's how the pursuit starts.

Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg in Paris, himself the object of pursuit by a crazed young woman whose lover he shot, makes only cameo appearances in the first half of this novel. But he is aware of the wolf problem, and he recognises a face from his past in some of the television news footage.

In an earlier post I pointed out the wonderful descriptions of Adamsberg's method of thinking, and indeed the book itself uses a similar methodology. The reader is presented with an array of material from which to select bits to remember, that may or may not be relevant.

The translation of SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR appears to be beautifully done. The main characters are fascinating: apart from Adamsberg himself there is the old shepherd Watchee who rings a friend everyday so that he can talk to the lead ewe in his flock, George Gershwin; there's Soliman constantly spouting word definitions, and telling African folk tales that he is making up as he goes; and Camille, the truck-driver, carrying around with her an A-Z catalogue of tools to dip into for comfort reading.

SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR is the second in Fred Vargas' Chief Inspector Adamsberg series. It was originally published in French in 1999, translated into English in 2004. The book was a finalist for a Dagger Award in 2005. Vargas went on to win the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger twice with THE THREE EVANGELISTS (2006) and WASH THIS BLOOD CLEAN FROM MY HAND (2007).

Make time to find this book. You won't regret it.
My rating: 4.9

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