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The Chalk Circle Man [Hardcover]

Fred Vargas , Sian Reynolds
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Jan 2009
Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is not like other policemen. His methods appear unorthodox in the extreme: he doesn’t search for clues; he ignores obvious suspects and arrests people with iron-clad alibis; he appears permanently distracted.

The Chalk Circle Man is the first book featuring Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, one of the most engaging characters in contemporary detective fiction.

When strange, blue chalk circles start appearing overnight on the pavements of Paris, the press take up the story with amusement and psychiatrists trot out their theories. Adamsberg is alone in thinking this is not a game and far from amusing. He insists on being kept informed of new circles and the increasingly bizarre objects which they contain: empty beer cans, four trombones, a pigeon’s foot, four cigarette lighters, a badge proclaiming “I Love Elvis,” a hat, a doll’s head. Adamsberg senses the cruelty that lies behind these seemingly random occurrences. Soon a circle with decidedly less banal contents is discovered: the body of a woman with her throat savagely cut. Adamsberg knows that other murders will follow.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 247 pages
  • Publisher: Random House of Canada Ltd (6 Jan 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307396878
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307396877
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 16.5 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,489,198 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Rich and witty" (Independent)

"She wants to surprise, unsettle, frustrate and amuse - and succeeds in writing a gripping novel that takes readers out of their comfort zones" (The Scotsman)

"The hottest property in contemporary crime fiction" (Guardian)

"The novel shows Vargas in riveting form right from the start of her writing career" (The Times)

"Witty, inventive and vaguely surreal, this novel should win over the most diehard crime fiction fans" (Melissa McClemets Financial Times) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


"The wonderful Commissaire Adamsberg novels by... Fred Vargas have been runaway successes in Britain." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fred Vargas - The Chalk-Circle Man 19 Mar 2009
By RachelWalker TOP 500 REVIEWER
"The Chalk Circle Man" is the very welcome first novel of Vargas' Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg series, the eccentric French series featuring an eccentric French policeman who investigates by intuition and instinct, and arrests people against logic. And always gets his man.

Mysterious chalk circles have started to appear on the streets of Paris. Drawn overnight, they contain increasingly bizarre objects: a pigeon's foot, cigarette lighters, a hat, a doll's head. Are they there to draw attention to discarded rubbish? Or does the artist put the items inside the circles? Is it for amusement, or is it for something more sinister? Adamsberg tends towards the latter option, and, being the man he is, keeps a close eye on the newspaper reports, which treat the circles as a silly practical joke. That is, they do until something far more sinister turns up in one of the blue circles: the body of a woman with her throat cut. Adamsberg's instincts are proved right, and he begins digging into the case in earnest. But his crucial question is: is the blue chalk circle man the killer, or is the killer a clever opportunist who has spotted a great moment to muddy some waters?

By now, anyone familiar with Vargas' work will not be remotely surprised by such a quirky synopsis, and, indeed, would probably be delighted to read something so seemingly bizarre! And I don't think they'd be disappointed, because the first Adamsberg novel is a perfect example of Vargas's fiction. It's the shortest of her works so far, the most succinct, the one most unclouded by subplots: Vargas takes her odd starting point by the scruff of the neck and turns it into the most streamlined and straightforward of her novels so far.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as I hoped 28 April 2009
By Bluebell TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fred Vargas is a new author for me. The blurbs on the book-cover promised something really good and so starting with high expectations I was disappointed by a rather meandering story with implausible characters. The story lacks tension and didn't, for me at least, make me eager to find out what happens next. I can take some pretty far fetched motives for murder in detective fiction but the final denouement didn't convince me. I found that I was getting bored by the last third of the book. Ruth Rendell, Karen Fossum, PD James, Caroline Graham and Donna Leon in their different ways do crime-writing better and have each created a detective, as a central character, who comes alive in ones mind's eye and with whom one can identifiy. I didn't feel that with Vargas's detective Adamsberg.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the world of Adamsburg and Vargas 19 Oct 2009
By L. J. Roberts TOP 500 REVIEWER
First Sentence: Mathilde took out her diary and wrote: "The man sitting next to me has got one hell of a nerve."

Someone is drawing chalk circles on the streets of Paris. Initially, each surrounds such mundane items such as an old handbag, a cotton bud, a one-franc coin, a torch battery, or a screwdriver. Things change the night the circle contains the body of a woman whose throat has been slashed.

I am so glad to have found this series, although I started at the most recent book and am now starting at the first and reading forward. The book has a wonderful voice; you can hear the cadence of French in the dialogue.

The characters are fascinating. Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is a fascinating character and the fact that I can't form a mental picture of him is more fascinating than frustrating. I liked the unexpected connection between math and Adamsburg, which made perfect sense once I thought about it. I enjoyed his observations, realizations and introspections about himself and his idea of a universal uniform. Once he explained his logic for identifying the killer, it made perfect sense as all the clues were there. Adamsberg follows no discernable procedure but seems to `know' things is balanced wonderfully by Insp. Adrien Danglard who believes in the procedure, is raising five children on his own, indulges in too much white wine and discusses his cases with his children. In this book, there is also Mathelde, who brusqueness I enjoyed, as well as the way she sections her week and her various tables, particularly her Cosmic table.

The book's plot is cleverly done with a twist at the end which explains the killer's motive. I am very glad I read other books by this author before this one or I may not have liked it as well.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Early signs 2 May 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While this was the first novel in what has become an intriguing series,it probably is not the place to start. For here we encounter in characters,mood and quirkiness key apects and features of Vargas'later and more developed Parisian policier novels. Familiarity with those later and more succesful texts makes this an interesting read,a first draft,for the later more rewarding reads that we have already experienced. It has undoubtedly been published to cash in on the plaudits the later novels have deservedly received.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better in French 18 Dec 2012
By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER
Blue chalk circles begin to appear in the Paris suburbs, each ringing some everyday object. But Commissaire Adamsberg knows it is only a matter of time before a circle contains a murder victim. Unlike his sidekick Danglard, the pragmatic, cynical, stereotypical heavy-drinking inspector deserted by his wife, Adamsberg is not your usual senior police detective. Burdened by his acute intuition, "if only I could be wrong about someone once in a while", he wanders round with his shirt half hanging out, idles around in coffee shops too depressed to go into work, and is only tolerated by colleagues at his new post in Paris because of his astonishing success record in solving cases.

Some of the characters are entertaining, such as the beautiful Mathilde, a famous marine biologist, only really happy deep-sea diving, who spends her time when on dry ground following and observing strangers. I liked her glass table with a built-in aquarium. However, the main characters are all highly eccentric and somewhat unrealistic. I enjoyed some of the quirky dialogue and was prepared to go with the flow of the off-the-wall plot until it reverted abruptly to the kind of trite, contrived thriller overfull of coincidences with a hero who keeps presenting his bemused colleagues with the next piece in the jigsaw, obtained through his latest light-bulb moment.

Some of the English translation is a little oddly worded perhaps partly because the distinctive whimsical quality is hard to capture in English.

Not sure I'll read any more in the series........
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing
The style is a little different to that I am used to but I became fascinated and engrossed. I recommend it.
Published 2 months ago by Mr. N. J. Pettefar
5.0 out of 5 stars Unusual and hypnotically facinating
The Commissaire Adamsberg series is very unusual and definitely addictive. Certainly worth reading in the correct order as the relationships deepen as the series develops. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Clare
5.0 out of 5 stars Introducing Commissaire Adamsberg
First published in France in 1996, this is the first book in the 'Commissaire Adamsberg Series'. Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg has recently arrived in Paris to work in the 5th... Read more
Published 4 months ago by M. Dowden
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read as always
I have only recently started reading Fred Vargas, but will certainly purchase more of his books relating to Commissaire Adamsberg
Published 4 months ago by Ms. Ann B. Deacon
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark and quirky - The best of French crime writing.
Another fabulously dark, quirky story involving Commissaire Adamsberg and his side-kick Danglard. Another winner from the Queen of French crime writing.
Published 5 months ago by travelgently
3.0 out of 5 stars But would I read another?
I had already given up on one Fred Vargas / Adamsburg story but a friend raves about her books so I tried this, Adamsburg's debut. Read more
Published 7 months ago by R. Phillips
2.0 out of 5 stars Quirkiness for its own sake
The lead policeman is so laid back he has almost no personality and yet we are to believe he is invincible. Read more
Published 11 months ago by T. King
4.0 out of 5 stars chalk circle man
i bought his on reading reviews,but to be honest it didn't reach my expectations.Probably me, as i like a faster moving story & this was slower than i liked. Read more
Published 13 months ago by lesley
5.0 out of 5 stars If you've not read any Fred Vargas you're missing out. Big time!
Fred Vargas is one of crime fiction's undiscovered geniuses. All her books are brilliant. They are strange and highly innovative. Not for everyone but, hey, live a little! Read more
Published 13 months ago by Touff1
3.0 out of 5 stars Dreamy and illogical
This is the first Commissaire Adamsberg novel, and finds him newly arrived in Paris and trying to win his team over to his dreamy, illogical (and frankly unprofessional) style of... Read more
Published 18 months ago by westwoodrich
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