We gave it a B-
The strongest feature of Fred Vargas’ thriller is the way she (yes, Fred is a woman) places it just outside of time. Both the language and subject matter of Have Mercy on Us All, translated from the French by David Bellos, evoke a past long gone: The mystery begins on the backstreets of Paris, where a town crier shouts the news each day, a sinister sign is painted on doorways, and people are dying of what appears to be the Black Plague. But then Vargas mentions a Rollerblade shop or someone’s mobile phone, and the illusion is broken — though never completely dispelled. It’s a shame the plot isn’t as strong as the atmosphere, but anyone who enjoys kooky characters and intricate detail will happily follow along.