The King of Fools by Frédéric Dard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A short review for a short work? Why not.
Frédéric Dard was a prodigious creator, a Frenchman who was a prolific creator of crime novels, often taking elements of his own life to fuel his works. (The kidnapping of his daughter ended up in a book, and he said his biggest regret about dying was that he wouldn’t be able to write about it.) He wrote under a number of pseudonyms (Cornel Milk, anyone?) though this is the first time I’ve encountered his work.
The King of Fools is not part of Dard’s San-Antonio series – it’s standalone. And though it’s a murder mystery, it opens with a would-be romance. Despite its main character being French, and the action beginning in France, the meat of the story takes place in Edinburgh’s mists. Its lead character, Jean-Marie Valaise has chased Marjorie Faulks to the city after a little romantic encouragement.
It’s here things become sticky. You know the drill: there’s a husband, and eventually there’s a murder. But who will be left to carry the can?
Is it predictable? Yeah, sure. I had figured out what was going on before it was confirmed in the text. But I think that’s part of the appeal of this kind of mystery – the reader pits themselves against the characters and the authors and is either pleasantly surprised, or is able to pat themselves on the back for their sleuthing prowess.
I found this work to contain elements of strangeness that echoed films such as Vertigo or even Don’t Look Now. There’s a feeling of otherworldliness to the setting, though that could perhaps be simple Gallic disdain for the wet-weather environs. Regardless, it pulled me through the work, livening up something that could be considered a little mystery-by-the-numbers.
I came across the book during a brief wander through Amazon’s Kindle section. The King of Fools is a release in the Pushkin Vertigo series, that provides short crime reads (including the book which inspired Vertigo) for a couple of bucks. It’s proved a good investment in this case, and has encouraged me to seek out some of the other entries in the catalogue.