by Fred Vargas (translated by Sian Reynolds)
When elderly Alice Gauthier is found, fully clothed, in a bathtub with her wrists slit, it appears to be a straightforward suicide — except for the strange symbol found drawn in eyebrow pencil on the wash basin. She’d had a visitor twice on the days before she died, but no one can identify him.
A neighbor who picked up and mailed a letter Alice dropped, is able to give the police an address and name. When they follow up, they discover there’s been a suicide (Henri Masfaure) at that address as well. Careful observation reveals the same symbol has been etched into the leather desktop.
As Commissaire Adamsberg, his deputy Commandant Adrien Danglard and their team dig at the problem, they find the two victims have two things in common. Both were on a trip to Iceland 10 years earlier where they got fogged in on a small island for two weeks. Two people died on the island, killed by a violent man who threatened to kill the others and harm their loved ones if they ever told about what happened on the island.
Both also were casual members of a society that reenacted the speeches of Maximilien Robespierre, a leader in the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror who ultimately lost his head to the guillotine.
As Adamsberg describes it, the case is like a pile of seaweed with no clues how to untangle it. Which is the red herring? Is the murderer among the 700 plus members of the Robespierre Society? Who is the ultimate target? Or is the murderer to be found among the survivors of the ill-fated trip to Iceland?
New suicide-like murders occur, while Adamsberg’s team struggles to get traction. A near mutiny occurs when Adamsberg announces his plans to revisit the Icelandic island and the scene of the 10-year-old cold case. The disapproving Danglard stays in Paris, trying to shake the murderer out of the shadows.
This is a suspenseful, complex mystery with interesting characters. The hostile coast of Iceland and the terrors of Robespierre’s world make equally fascinating foils for the murderer at work.