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DOG WILL HAVE HIS DAY
by Fred Vargas and Siān Reynolds, trans.
Harvill Secker, May 2014
244 pages
$22.00 CAD
ISBN: 1846558204


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Readers who depend on translation to follow certain authors are bound to get a rather skewed idea of their literary development. There are readers who demand to read series in order - they had best stay well away from anything in translation. For example, the very first of Karin Fossum's Inspector Sejer novels, IN THE DARKNESS, appeared in English about ten years after Sejer #2 (DON'T LOOK BACK); the rest have followed in scattered order. Much the same can be said for the Harry Hole novels by Jo Nesbų - the first and second of which have only just appeared in English in the last two years. Fred Vargas has suffered a similar fate. L'Homme aux cercles bleus, in which Adamsberg makes his first appearance, originally appeared in French in 1991; the English translation, THE CHALK CIRCLE MAN, would only be published in 2009. THE THREE EVANGELISTS is the first of a series of three that appeared in the mid-1990s. EVANGELISTS was translated in 2006; at last we have #2. Number three, Sans feu ni lieu has not yet been announced.

So readers may be forgiven if they have by now forgotten some of the details of the book that precedes DOG WILL HAVE HIS DAY. They don't really matter, except it's as well to recall the Evangelists of the title - three young scholars: Mark, a medievalist, Mathias, a pre-historian who tries to live as a hunter-gatherer even in Paris, and Lucien, who specializes in the Great War. Whatever else may be said of them, scholarship can be an excellent training for detection, though here the trio bring certain other strengths to the case as well.

The prime mover is not an Evangelist, but Louis (Ludwig) Kehnweiler, a man of fifty, a kind of private enquiry agent who for twenty-five years has been tracking down "men of iron with toxic ideas." He is at the moment keeping an eye on a right-wing politician. His girlfriend has recently left him and he is left with his closest companion, a toad named, reasonably enough, Bufo that travels in his pocket and listens to him when he has something to say. While Louis may be a bit eccentric, he is a sharp, logical detective of the old school. When he notices an undeniably human toe bone left behind in a dog's mess under a tree in a street where he is conducting his observations, he is able through the application of impeccable logic to trace the dog who'd swallowed the toe to a Breton village, Port-Nicolas, on the coast where an old woman has recently died following a fall on the rocks along the shore. That this is also the present home of another of Louis' former lovers is both an asset and a complication.

He is finally joined there by two of the three Evangelists as he follows the logic of the case to its undeniable conclusion. Along the way, he also comes to know a vital bit of information about his own mixed German/French parentage (he was born in 1945), and brings justice to bear not only on the current murderer but on a war criminal who has been quietly going about his business since the end of the war.

Though DOG WILL HAVE HIS DAY is a bit more conventionally ordered than the Adamsberg series, especially the more recent ones, it still has an ample helping of Vargas' characteristic wit and her respectful fondness for a particularly Gallic sort of eccentricity, all of which is rendered in Siān Reynolds' supple translation.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, June 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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