Originally published as L’Homme aux cercles bleu, 1996
Source: library copy
The Chalk Circle Man does not begin with a dead body nor any crime being committed. The opening chapter introduces an older woman who meets a younger blind man in a cafe in Paris, and the subsequent chapter introduces Commissaire Adamsberg, newly appointed to a post in Paris. As the story develops, Vargas spends lots of her time on the characters as they become involved in the mystery of a series of blue chalk circles that appear on Paris sidewalks late at night. After finding an assortment of object in the chalk circles, the police eventually find a dead body.
Vargas does not follow a standard police procedural format in this book. In fact, one of Adamsberg’s first conversations with his detective Danglard is his justification of operating on hunches and letting facts wash over him as opposed to Danglard’s love of process. The Chalk Circle Man is the rare first book in a police procedural series that takes its time showing us its main character’s investigative process from the inside, however circuitous that process appears to his colleagues. Also rare is the time Vargas spends setting up the relationship between Danglard and Adamsberg.
Otherwise, the story progresses with a number of conversations with an assortment of intelligent, slightly eccentric people who aid the investigation: a philosopher and an oceanographer among them. The actual solving of the mystery happens quite quickly, with a few twists in the last section of the book, and, I’m happy to say, without a violent showdown between the police and the suspect at the end.
All in all, I was happily surprised by the pacing and characters in this book, and I look forward to reading more in the series.