The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas, translated by Siân Reynolds
Penguin, June 2013
Originally published as L’armée furieuse, 2011
Commisaire Adamsberg book 7
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.
I’m a fairly new fan of Fred Vargas. I read The Chalk Circle Man about a year ago and liked it quite a bit, but I haven’t read any of her other books before picking up The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, the seventh installment in the Commisaire Adamsberg series. While I liked this book a great deal too, I feel a bit conflicted about liking it.
The Ghost Riders of Ordebec is a novel about the workings of Adamsberg’s brain as he investigates the appearance of the titular ghosts, who, according to legend, seize four people who have gotten away with crimes before they themselves die. He makes the trek to Ordebec after a scared older woman approaches him in Paris about her daughter’s vision of the furious army. The old tale is interesting, and it sets up an interesting discussion about the nature of justice. Is retribution the only way to get justice, basically, is the question. The investigation meanders: Adamsberg and his team interview lots of eccentric folks in the community of about 2,000 people, and the police officers are eccentrics as well. Besides the ghost rider investigation, Adamsberg is also investigating the arson murder of a steel magnate in Paris.
My main quibble with the book is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of action: Adamsberg develops his theories as he talks, and some of his theories are pretty convoluted and based on seemingly insignificant pieces of evidence. Because his theorizing stood out for me, the violence of the crimes they investigate in Ordebec seem to fade in importance, and that makes me uncomfortable. I think what it comes down to is that it doesn’t feel like Adamsberg and his team are grounded in the reality of the crimes they are investigating. I do really enjoy the writing, the humor, the characters, and the legend of the ghost riders, but the combination of the violent crimes with those more pleasant elements of the reading experience felt a bit off to me.