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Vargas, Fred - 'This Night's Foul Work' (translated by Sian Reynolds)
Hardback: 416 pages (Feb. 2008) Publisher: Harvill Secker ISBN: 1846551862

Commissaire Adamsberg has moved and has a ghost in his attic, among his other problems. The crime squad begin the investigation of the murder of two big strong men on the outskirts of Paris. Because one of the victims is black some think it is drug-related crime but Adamsberg is convinced this is not the case as they have soil under their nails. Both men have had their throats cut and attractive pathologist Ariane Lagarde thinks evidence of the angle of the cuts points to the crime being committed by a woman.

A female serial killer of 33 elderly people has escaped from prison killing a prison guard, and Adamsberg suspects that this 'angel of death' is the culprit. The trail leads to a disturbed grave which has been opened for no apparent reason. Then on a trip to Normandy, to act as sitter for his baby son Tom, while ex-girlfriend Camille plays in a concert, Adamsberg is told about the killing of a stag and the removal of its heart.

To complicate the situation further the squad has a new recruit from the next valley to Adamsberg's childhood home in the Pyrenees. The good looking enigmatic Veyrenc, mysteriously quotes twelve syllable alexandrines and has striped hair, the result of a terrible frightening childhood incident that possibly Adamsberg knows too much about. There is a growing tension between these two as the crime squad follows a trail of complex evidence to try to unravel a modern mystery with the help of medieval history.

Frederique Audouin-Rouzeau, who writes as Fred Vargas, and her translator Sian Reynolds have produced another gripping literary crime masterpiece. The medieval historian and archaeologist has used her knowledge and great talent to win back to back CWA Duncan Lawrie International Daggers in 2006 and 2007. I would not like to bet against Vargas pulling off a "three-peat" with this complicated story which has enough twists and turns to satisfy the most demanding of mystery fans. As with the previous Adamsberg stories there is a hint of the supernatural and a lot of Gallic introspection and quirkiness. But what makes this novel stand out are the fine characterisation and the accounts of the friendship, loyalty and comradeship between the members of the crime squad:

Adamsberg's right hand man Adrien Danglard, single parent father of five, part time drunk, full time cop and a walking encyclopaedia.

Violette Retancourt the big blonde policewoman, who has saved Adamsberg in the past.

Helene Froissy, who can eat all day and still keep her enticing figure, while her electronic skills in "transmission reception services" help play a big part in the resolution of the case.

Estalere the devoted dedicated youngster, Mordent, Lamarre, Noel and all the rest of the 27 person team attending their conferences in the Brasserie des Philosophes presided over by Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, the nondescript short scruffy man with vague eyes and a brilliantly quirky mind.

They are a disparate group, talented and intelligent, able to deal with complicated cases but with a plethora of human failings and jealousies. That is what makes them so interesting, and in this novel we also have Louis Veyrenc, a man on a mission with a score to settle, added to the steaming bouillabaisse.

The translation by Sian Reynolds kept the story flowing and ensured the dialogue was suitably Gallic and idiosyncratically Norman where necessary. I have almost got used to the strange Vargas titles, but I much prefer the French DANS LES BOIS ETERNELS, to the English THIS NIGHT'S FOUL WORK.

This was a superb book full of the author's Gallic individuality that frankly I did not want to finish as I was enjoying it so much. I am certainly looking forward to reading the next Fred Vargas.

Read more reviews of THIS NIGHT'S FOUL WORK: here, here and here.

Norman Price, England
February 2008

Norman blogs at Crime Scraps.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 8/02/2009 14:01