The Ghost Riders of Ordebec

Wednesday, 10 April 2013


Here’s an exceptionally strong case for reading a series in order. While you could (I guess) read The Ghost Riders of Ordebec without having opened the previous episodes in a quite wonderful series there are two very strong arguments against that.

The first lies in the fact that with Ghost Riders we’ve come to the point where there are no titles written in French in the translate these queue. That means we’ve probably got to wait for French medieval historian and archaeologist Frederique Audoin-Rouzeau to morph herself into Fred Vargas, spend three weeks turning out another Adamsberg title and a further six months on the editing process (source here) and then wait for translator Sian Reynolds to do her thing and render the title into English.

Given that factor, those unfamiliar with the eccentricities of Commissaire Adamsberg and his misanthropic bunch of misfits would be best advised to go back to 2009’s The Chalk Circle Man (originally published in France eighteen years earlier) and working on through Seeking Whom He May Devour (1999/2004), Have Mercy on Us All (2001/2003), Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand (2004/2007), This Night’s Foul Work (2006/2008) and An Uncertain Place (2008/2011).

Looking at that little sequence one can expect the next title, assuming one were to appear on the French best sellers’ list some time this year (two years since L'armée furieuse appeared in French, two years’ lead time to transform the furious army into Ghost Riders) to appear on our shelves some time around 2015, so you’ll have plenty of time to work your way through them.

The other argument involves both the thoroughly quixotic Commissaire Adamsberg, and the team he’s built around him (you won’t find an outfit like this just coalescing) at the Serious Crimes Squad. His (mostly) loyal lieutenant Danglard, the depressive alcoholic walking encyclopaedia and single parent, Danglard's nemesis Veyrenc who delivers off the cuff remarks in rhyming couplets and the statuesque Violette Retancourt whose role this time around is largely confined to caring for a wounded pigeon aren’t the sort of characters you’re likely to come across anywhere else.

A sequential reading helps make sense of the back story with those individuals being added to the fold gradually as the series evolves.

The latest addition to the outfit, though he’s not an actual member of the squad is Adamsberg’s recently discovered twenty-eight-year-old son, Zerk emerged in An Uncertain Truth and one tends to suspect there’s someone on the periphery of The Ghost Riders who’ll end up being added to the cast at some point in the future. It’s that sort of series.

When a fragile, panic-stricken little old lady named Valentine Vendermot travels to Paris from a village in the Calvados region of Normandy to tell Adamsberg (she’s quite definite who she wants to talk to) about the peculiar affliction that's befallen Ordebec she’s not quite sure she wants to enter the building that houses the Serious Crimes Squad. 

Seated in a nearby cafe, discussing his future with Veyrenc, who’s facing a reenlistment deadline after a brief investigation of a death involving suffocation through the agency of sliced bread, Adamsberg sees her loitering, knows who she’s there to see and ushers her inside. For any other protagonist this would come across as far fetched and unlikely in the extreme, with Adamsberg it’s pretty much par for the course.

The old woman’s daughter Lina Vendermot has had a vision of the Furious Army, a ghostly horde of phantom riders from the Middle Ages lead by Lord Hellequin who allegedly search out people with serious crimes on their conscience. Those who appear in their clutches tend to disappear and later turn up gruesomely dead. 


© Ian Hughes 2012