THE GHOST RIDERS OF ORDEBEC
By Fred Vargas
Crime fiction (Commissaire Adamsberg)
Commissaire Adamsberg is a delight. He is unorthodox, loyal, and the kind of copper who goes by instinct. He's not always right the first time. But oh, his journey and the reader's while he gets there is always a trip.
Adamsberg returns in Fred Vargas's The Ghost Riders of Ordebec in a story about loyalty and ties to others that crosses generations. A pigeon is found with its feet tied together by a shoelace.
Adamsberg is visited by a little bird-like woman from the countryside who is worried about her eccentric brood. One of them claims to have seen the ghostly riders whose presence has foretold the death of local ne-er-do-wells for generations. And one of those named has died -- a cruel hunter whose death appears to have been a cowardly suicide in order to avoide the ghost riders.
Meanwhile, in Paris, car arsonist and anti-capitalist Momo is arrested after another Mercedes is torched. This time, there is an old man inside, a captain of industry whose two sons are neither one capable of taking over alone. The old man was ready to marry his housekeeper, who he had been sleeping with for 10 years, and who is the mother of his two younger children. Adamsberg doesn't think Momo killed the industralist any more than he thinks the cruel hunter killed himself. But proving himself right is going to be tricky at best, and may be impossible.
In the country, there is the bird-lady's family, who insist they are nice people. They are protected by the local comte, who is connected to a strong old woman, Leone. She is the one who found the hunter's body and who puts Adamsberg up for the night. The local cop, Emeri, is descended from one of Napoleon's marshalls and sets a table in homage to that era.
Adamsberg's squad resembles both a family that should be dysfunctional, but which works, and the unnruly, unmannerly squad of Commissario Salvo Montalbano in the novels by Italian Andrea Camilleri (which also are among my must-reads). In Vargas's earlier novels that were translated into English, his number two Danglard, he of the large brood of children and love of white wine and incredible grasp of pertinent trivia, was the main secondary character. He has not been replaced, but Adamsberg's crew is being featured more to become another worthy descendant of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct group of beloved characters.
But of all the family ties in this novel, the greatest one is Zerk. He is Adamsberg's son, who our commissaire first met in An Uncertain Place, and he and Adamsberg are getting to know each other and respect each other even as the two crime investigations take over their lives.
The Ghost Riders of Ordebec is a deceptively paced novel, as most of those by internationally renowned crime writer Vargas are. The story appears often to ramble as much as Adamsberg does. But it's all to a purpose. And, in this novel, the threads weave together in the end extraordinarily well. This is a novel worth reading not only for the whodunit aspect, which is handled with great care, but also for its characters who live and breathe beyond the pages of this story and for the tale they tell herein.
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