Vargas, Fred. Have Mercy On Us All. Simon & Schuster. Nov. 2005. c.368p. tr. from French by David Bellos. ISBN 0-7432-8401-1. pap. $14.00. Mystery.

International bestselling mystery writer Fred Vargas (her first name is short for Frédérique) makes her U.S. debut with a contemporary crime story that revives the Black Death. In Paris, ex-sailor Joss Le Guern has resurrected the ancient trade of town crier. Recently, strange messages from an anonymous source have been creeping in amid the ads and announcements. When an old man deciphers these as literary references to the plague, each more ominous than the last, Chief Inspector Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his assistant, Adrien Danglard, take the case. Together they must deal with a serial killer who aims to create mass panic and whose motivation may be revenge for a past wrong. Vargas has an original, slightly skewed way of seeing the world; she populates her novel with a host of quirky yet appealing characters, from the oddball town crier to the off-kilter chief inspector. The plot, which merges the medieval with the modern, is gripping. (One minor flaw: the translation is clearly British.) Readers will be begging for more romans policiers (police procedurals) from this talented writer. Highly recommended.

LJ, vol. 130, no. 17 (October 15, 2005), 52.

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