Lorna Scott Fox writes:
Fred Vargas is a woman. Said to be the sixth best-selling author in France, she is unusual there in being a female crime writer, in contrast with women’s dominance of the genre in Britain. Vargas also writes like a woman, if that implies an interest in character, feeling and motive, rather than ‘brutality and eroticism’ (Queneau’s description of the polar – a contraction of policier – a genre inspired by the Série noire’s postwar translations of American crime novels). There’s a moment in her latest thriller, Un lieu incertain, when an armed punk breaks into the detective’s home and starts throwing his weight around. The boy seems to have wandered in from some hard-boiled tale of urban dystopia, quite unlike the world Vargas has perfected over 13 police mysteries: fanciful, ironic, glancingly philosophical, freshly, even childishly funny – a retro-French whimsicality à la Prévert. Later it turns out that the boy was acting a part, goaded into it by the real murderer, and integrity is restored.