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Vargas, Fred - 'This Night's Foul Work' (translated by Sian Reynolds)
Paperback: 416 pages (Feb. 2009) Publisher: Vintage ISBN: 0099507625

Fred Vargas (a female writer) has written several police thrillers, and this is the latest offering featuring Commissaire Adamsberg. He leads the serious crime squad in Paris, which is filled with a number of interesting and somewhat bizarre characters, all of whom show great loyalty to Adamsberg, and each of which have their own special qualities that Adamsberg uses to great effect to solve crimes.

In this story, there are two main strands. There is a 'New Recruit' to the team (Veyrenc). He has the rather strange ability to speak in rhyme, which he does often, in an almost prophetic way, and he has a photographic memory, which becomes important during the story. Veyrenc originates from the village next door to the one which Adamsberg himself comes from. He has auburn streaks in his hair that result from an vicious attack on him from a gang of four boys from Adamsberg's village in his youth, with a fifth boy on the sidelines apparently watching. It becomes apparent that Adamsberg was the fifth boy but it is unclear if he was the ringleader, or if he was there for some other reason. Has Veyrenc arrived to exact his revenge or to find out what happened?

In the other main strand, there is a murder investigation underway. Two men have been discovered, both tall, one black, one white, with their throats cut, a puncture mark in their arm, and dirt under their fingernails. The pathologist, Dr Ariane Lagarde, famous for her discovery of 'dissociated killers' asserts that a woman killed the two men, and that she used a scalpel, suggesting someone with medical knowledge of some kind. The two male victims had worked a few yards from each other in a dodgy part of Paris. The drug squad suspect a drug related killing, but Adamsberg doesn't believe this is the case. His team finds out that both men were seen late at night in a cafe, loudly celebrating the end of a well paid task that involved digging. The detectives discover that they were paid to overturn a grave of a young woman, aged 36, who had died a few months earlier in a car crash. But, when they re-open the grave, to try to discover what happened, the body seems to be intact, as confirmed by Ariane. Why pay two men to dig up grave of a young woman and then kill them? In addition, the cemetery attendant recalls seeing a 'shade' close to the grave two or three nights before the grave was opened, and was afraid to go out there. Is the shade really a seventy-five year old nurse, a serial killer of old people that Adamsberg previously tracked down and arrested and who has recently escaped from prison? If so, why did she want the grave opened, and then apparently not take anything?

And finally, into the mix comes the story of a stag, viciously killed, and its heart torn out, near a village in Normandy. This event is told to Adamsberg by the villagers when he visits the village to help look after his new son, as his ex-partner Camille is playing in a concert nearby. Is this just a distraction, or will this killing gradually come to play an important part in working out the motive for the killings of the two men, and the desecration of the woman's grave?

Adamsberg is the sort of detective who has to mix up lots of ideas, think about them, while appearing vacant and distracted, and then suddenly finds an important clue or idea in the morass that leads him onto the next step in solving the mystery. For most of this story, he and the reader are led down the wrong path and the eventual identity of the killer is a surprising one. The story is rich with detail, and bizarre events. For example, when one of of Adamsberg's team goes missing unexpectedly, and is evidently in danger, Adamsberg uses the Crime Squad's cat as a 'tracker dog' to find and rescue them from death. The story is a little slow to get off the ground, and at times the 'verses' from Veyrenc can be a little irritating, but this is a fascinating book, with a tense ending, that never fails to entertain.

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

Michelle Peckham, England
February 2009

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 14:16