The Three Evangelists (Vintage 2007) written by Fred Vargas and translated by Sian Reynolds. The Three Evangelists takes place in Paris, during the mid-1990’s. The story introduces three historians turned amateur sleuths. The author’s background in history and archeology are evidenced in the story.
This was a good read that started off well enough. The first mystery that’s brought to our attention involves a beech tree that was discovered by Sophia Simeonidis. It was planted in her garden overnight and she has no idea who put it there. Her husband Pierre didn’t plant the tree there either and seems to be undisturbed by it but Sophia is distressed.
As a famous ex-Greek opera singer, Sophia’s had her share of crazy fans that makes her understandably nervous. Her neighbors, Lucian, Marc and Mathias are three out of work and down on their luck historians, living together in a house they call a “disgrace.” They befriend her when she approaches them to dig under the tree. Soon after the “tree incident” Sophia disappears and it’s up to Marc, Mathias and Lucian to figure out how her disappearance relates to the mysterious tree.
The villain was one that was unobtrusive in here. Hidden right under our nose. The author did an excellent job with the red herrings, throwing suspicion on everyone and it stuck on quite a few people, too, namely the husband Pierre, who didn’t bother to report Sophia missing. Then there’s Sophia’s niece, who shows up out of the blue after a ten year hiatus and lastly there’s an unstable ex-boyfriend back in Greece.
The mystery was a good one. It’s one of those mysteries, told in third person, where you have a lot of speculation/introspection where one character tries to figure it all out towards the end and comes rushing to save the day. The mystery was somewhat difficult to solve. I was interested to know who planted the tree and what had happened to Sophia.
The three men–Marc, Lucian and Mathias, find themselves involved in solving this mystery under the guidance of Marc’s godfather/uncle, Armand Vandoosler. He’s an ex-policeman. The men are each nicknamed St. Mark, St. Luke and St. Matthew respectively by Vandoosler hence the title, The Three Evangelists. All four men are a tight group and all are quite broke (no money) with a lot of time on their hands.
Writing-wise, I found the narrative quite choppy but then I got used to it. The idea of the story was enough to have me overlook quite a few things that were annoyances to me. Revenge seems to be a popular theme. In here, I would say that this is a story about revenge. It brings to mind all those sayings like: revenge is a dish best served cold and my favorite: keep your friends close but your enemies closer. That last one would be more appropriate fit for this story. I found it quite scary to know that someone can harbor so much hate for one person for so long (in this case 14 years) yet smile & laugh with them to their face. There were clues but they were subtle. This is a mystery where you really have to pay attention to the details. I didn’t have any favorite passages to quote and the ending played out in the usual manner with the protagonist relating the motive, the means and naming the culprit behind the murder(s).
I enjoyed The Three Evangelists but I wasn’t blown away by it. After reading talented writers like Jo Nesbø, Stieg Larsson and Ken Bruen, I’m afraid they have spoiled me to expect the best. I’m not saying that Fred Vargas isn’t good in her own right. In fact she is quite good at writing a complex mystery. I really enjoyed the setting and unlike some readers, I did enjoy the characters. If one is looking for a solidly written French mystery then The Three Evangelists would fit the bill. Just don’t have high expectations going in like I did. My grade, B. Other authors to recommend: Jo Nesbø, Steig Larsson, Ken Bruen and Michael Connelly for starters.