Review: An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas

An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas
An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas


Commissaire Adamsberg has left Paris for a police conference in London, accompanied by anglophile Commandant Danglard and Estalere, a young sergeant. The city offers a welcome change of scenery until a gruesome discovery is made – just outside the gates of Highgate Cemetery a pile of shoes, all containing severed feet, is found.

Returning to Paris, the three men are then confronted with the violent killing and dismemberment of a wealthy, elderly man. Both the dead man’s son and gardener have motives for murder, but soon another candidate for the killing emerges. As Adamsberg investigates the links between these two unsettling crimes, he puts himself at terrible risk.


An Uncertain Place is the sixth novel to feature the peculiar detective Commissaire Adamsberg and perhaps is Vargas’s strangest to date. The several pairs of shoes that trigger this strange series of events doesn’t really give an indication as to how strange this whole case is going to get.

I think you need to be in a certain frame of mind to read a Fred Vargas novel. I say this after struggling with the previous one, This Night’s Foul Work, last year. Fred Vargas demands concentration but not analysis. Her writing also requires a leap of faith; it doesn’t seem that she is going to bring everything together but she always does. She’s the queen of manipulation and deception in that regard.

I put down This Night’s Foul Work I think because I was frustrated as I was more in the mood for a novel that was linear and direct. Not something you’d get from Vargas.  But when I picked it up again, because I know how amazing Vargas can be, I pushed through and  by the end I wondered what the barrier was as Vargas has a way of revealing things so you see what has gone before in a different way and when she does the fog goes away and everything is clear and not how they first appeared.

Not to spoil An Uncertain Place but the same thing happened. There was a point where the story turned in an instant and the mist lifted. Not that she obscures things exactly but like her hero she has a way of storytelling that is unorthodox. And it’s definitely a positive thing for both parties. In Adamsberg’s case you get a detective who is illogical and whimsical (as are the detectives he is surrounded with) and with Vargas you get an author who takes you places that you’d never get to go to with any other writer.

This has to be one of the strangest cases yet. It starts off with the feet in London, which is weird in itself, and it gets weirder. It also parallels  Adamsberg’s  strange relationship with those around him, they intermingle, as they always do in Vargas’s books. I think in this book’s case it’s a good idea to read the last one as knowing some of the characters a bit better would enhance a few key moments.

This book I didn’t struggle with. I whizzed through it. I met Vargas’s mind and let her guide me. She informed me too. I know more about a certain area of Europe and its legends than I did. And she managed to fool me, again.


Commissaire Adamsberg remains one of my favourite detectives, the cast is quirky, the crime (murder) is as unformulaic as you can get. There is a reason she’s sold 10 million books!

I’m very much looking forward to reading the next one, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec. And I won’t have long as it’s out today.

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