Joss Le Geurn was the captain of a trawler before an accident led to a run in with the ship’s owner and banishment from Brittany’s fishing fleet. Several years later and he has taken up the family business as a town crier, working a square in Paris, reading out the messages left in his box three times a day. Over the course of a few days he receives a series of semi-cryptic messages, written in an old style, foretelling the coming of the Black Death. Then doors around the city start to be daubed with an ancient symbol that supposedly wards off the plague. In each apartment block a single door is left untouched. Detective Commissionaire Adamsberg is drawn to the case, sensing the work of a crank, but then the people who live behind the un-daubed doors start to perish, apparently showing plague-like symptoms. As the press start to speculate on whether the fatal disease has once again broken out in the city, Adamsberg seeks to track down a serial killer with a well-developed sense of history and purpose.
Have Mercy on Us All is a curious book. At one level it is a highly enjoyable read that rattles along at good pace, with colourful characterisation and an interesting plot. On another, the dialogue is weak (quite possibly a translation issue), some of the police procedural elements and plot are simply not credible, and Adamsberg, whilst an engaging character, is difficult to imagine as a cop in charge of a busy murder squad, whose antics border on Clouseau territory at times. For example, Paris is gripped by the threat of the plague, yet Adamsberg has loads of time to wander the streets pondering life, have an affair, and sit in a bar waiting for things to happen, seemingly without any pressure from his superiors, politicians or the public. One would imagine he would be flat out dealing with leads, directing his squad, and handling the media and other diversions. Overall, an enjoyable read that is particularly strong on characterisation and concept, as long as one doesn’t mind clunky dialogue and is able to suspend one’s belief in how the investigation is conducted (which I appreciate wouldn’t be a big issue for some readers).