This latest sighting had them carrying three victims Lina can identify and one she can’t. One of the three has already disappeared and the mother pleads with Adamsberg to help since three more lives are on the line and her daughter’s likely to be blamed for inciting the deaths. 

The man who has disappeared is a notoriously cruel hunter, and the local gendarmerie are inclined to dismiss the whole thing as silly superstition, which explains the old woman wanting to enlist Adamsberg’s services. Danglard, predictably, knows all about the furious army, This ancient cavalcade causing havoc in the countryside is damaged. The horses and their riders have no flesh. It's an army of the dead is his explanation, though he needs a minute to recall thirteenth century details he’s able to cite precisely.

Again, in another setting, this would be remarkable. Here, it’s par for the course.

Adamsberg has his own reasons for wanting to get involved. Apart from the morning’s strangulation a fabulously wealthy Parisian industrialist has been torched in his car in circumstances that point directly towards a known serial arsonist affectionately nicknamed MoMo and while he’s the obvious suspect Adamsberg believes he’s innocent and is willing to go to great lengths to prove it.

This belief is based on traces of petrol on MoMo’s bootlaces, something that doesn’t add up because of the way MoMo would tie the laces. Again, remarkable elsewhere, routine for Adamsberg.

MoMo, of course, having been taken into custody, needs to escape, something Adamsberg arranges through the unwitting agency of his narcoleptic offsider Mercadet, and having escaped needs somewhere to go to ground. Given the fact that the police will check MoMo’s known haunts, the best place to hide him is obviously chez Adamsberg, where he can be monitored by Zerk.

 So Adamsberg heads for Calvados, where he discovers the body of the man who’s gone missing and sets about attempting to ensure the safety of the others who’ve been sighted in the clutches of the horde, becoming embroiled in local politics as the prophecy seems to be being fulfilled. He strikes up a friendship with the elderly Léone, who knows the secrets that lie behind Ordebec's cast of oddball characters and when she becomes the victim of a decidedly non-spectral culprit, Adamsberg becomes determined to solve the mystery, aided and abetted by his own regular cast of oddballs.

That’s the point where we draw the veil over proceedings, except to note the presence of long-running feuds, obscure aristocrats, unpleasant stepsons, secret marriages, six fingered hands, unplanned amputations, crossbows, speeding express trains, men made of clay, sugar lumps and Hebbeaud the injured pigeon that sleeps (and leaves deposits) in Adamsberg's shoe. 

 Like everything else Vargas has done The Ghost Riders of Ordebec is original, eccentric, with a sly, understated sense of humour lurking below the crimes, dark fables and supernatural elements that turn out to have predictably human explanations, though the explanations themselves are rarely predictable. While it’s not the best place to start with Vargas' work and her inimitable character it’s a joy to read and left this particular reader trying to figure out how to fill in the lengthy lead time until the next instalment appears.

© Ian Hughes 2012