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Those Who Are About to Die Greet You, by Fred Vargas

July 19, 2010 6 comments

 Fred Vargas is the pen name of a French author of crime fiction. Some of her books featuring her recurring character Commissaire Adamsberg have been translated in English, but not this one so far. Those who are about to die greet you – in latin Morituri te salutant – is the sentence the gladiators used to say to the Emperor as the fight in the Coliseum was about to begin. How does that phrase become the title of a crime fiction book?

Ceuw qui vont mourir te saluentThe plot starts in Paris when an unlisted drawing of Michelangelo appears on the art market. A famous art expert, Henri Valhubert, suspects it was stolen from the Vatican library. He thus flies to Rome, where his son Claude is studying and where his beautiful and mysterious wife Laura and her childhood friend Cardinal Vitelli come from. He has just enough time to visit Cardinal Vitelli to give him hints on the subject before being murdered in Rome. The investigation is officially lead by the Italian inspector Ruggieri, shadowed by a French special agent Richard Valence.

The story is well lead and the protagonists are all odd and unusual. Claude forms a triumvirate with two friends nicknamed Tiberius and Nero. They are named after three of the five emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty of Ancient Rome and as their famous homonyms, have quite a temper. This explains the title of the book. Laura is the typical feminine character of such books: beautiful, mysterious and slightly poisonous. Richard Valence has the role of the private detective, with his own moral rules and bruised soul while the police officer is slightly ridiculous.

Fred Vargas has a literary style of her own and though she did not invent something new in literature, her gift for creating characters and her sense of original dialogues are real. Hear Richard Valence and Tiberius talk:

  – What do you see when you look at the ceiling of this room ?

–  My inner mind

– And how is it?

– Opaque

  Or Tiberius to Richard Valence again:

 “If I could give you some advise before leaving you, it would be to take care of your eyes. They are beautiful when you put something in them”

I still haven’t understood the subtle difference between genres in crime fiction and though I am reading “A handbook for literary terms” to improve my vocabulary, crime fiction was not considered worth including in such a book by the author. So I won’t venture to tell in what kind of crime fiction genre it fits.

However, it is good entertainment and well written, which is basically what one can expect from crime fiction. I have also read The Three Evangelists and liked it too. This one is available in English, if by chance someone is interested in discovering this writer after reading this review.

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