Dark Passages: The French Detection

My newest LA Times column looks at the Inspector Adamsberg novels by Fred Vargas, one of the best series of detective novels being published right now. They are delightfully odd books, but what’s also odd – though less satisfactory – is the scattershot way they have been published in the US. Here’s how the piece opens:

Lately, English-language publishers have developed an unfortunate habit
with crime fiction in translation: Instead of starting at the very
beginning of a series — as Pantheon did in bringing out the 10-book
"Story of Crime" opus by Swedes Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo in the
proper sequence — books appear out of order, in haphazard fashion.

Heads are still being scratched over why "The Man Who Smiled," the
fourth outing of Henning Mankell's popular detective, Inspector Kurt
Wallander, was the last to be published in America. Because Jo Nesbo's
Norwegian sleuth, Harry Hole, first showed up on British soil with "The
Devil's Star" — book five in the series — it spoiled important plot
points in "The Redbreast" (book three) and "The Redeemer" (book four),
published in subsequent years. And I can't help but wonder if Stieg
Larsson had lived to complete all 10 books he allegedly envisioned for
his series characters Lisabeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, "The Girl
With the Dragon Tattoo" would have been published in English long after
some mythical fifth or sixth volume took the entire world by storm.

Publishers choose the nonlinear approach for all sorts of reasons,
such as commercial viability and what book in a series may grab reader
attention best, so they will seek out earlier installments. "Jar City,"
for example, was a smart choice to introduce Iceland's undisputed
crime-writing star Arnaldur Indridason because it was a major step
forward, creatively and sales-wise, from the first two books featuring
Inspector Erlendur (which remain untranslated). But readers who want to
commit wholesale to a new series character and follow him or her
through all manner of delightful and dangerous adventures are
understandably frustrated at the disregard for series order….

  Read on for the rest, including my thoughts on the "newest" Vargas novel just out here &#8211; THE CHALK CIRCLE MAN, which actually introduces Adamsberg for the first time and was published in France way back in 1996.