Fred Vargas is a pseudonym for French historian, archaeologist and writer Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau. Her erudite and varied background really informs this well written and elegantly paced book.
Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is new to the 5th arrondissement in Paris. Newly promoted from his home post in the Pyrenees, he walks the streets, taking in this city of stone. From the beginning, this wild child seems an incongruous choice to lead this Parisian precinct but his record and a small amount of fame preceed him. He easily solves the first murder he encounters, the death of a textile merchant and immediately sets about collecting evidence of something more disturbing to him. Someone has been drawing chalk circles around seemingly random and abandoned items all over Paris. And to the dismay of his inspectors, he wants to them to investigate. Of course it’s not long until the body of a woman is found in one of those chalk circles, her throat slashed.
As far as origin stories go, this was delightfully entertaining. It doesn’t hurt that it is set in Paris, to be sure, but what I found most engaging was the emigmatic and unique Commissaire Adamsberg himself. He’s not your usual damaged/destructive/tortured detective nor are his powers Sherlockian in any way. He thinks without thinking about anything in particular and all, collecting all manner of seeemingly incongrous clues to finally get to the truth. It is a source of discomfort for his colleagues at times, his so-called cloud shovelling, but no one can argue with the results.