Fred Vargas






Random House Australia. This Edition first published 2008
Reviewed by Kerrie Smith, April 2008

What a lot of disparate elements come together in the plot of THIS NIGHT'S FOUL WORK by Fred Vargas. An ancient recipe for eternal life. One elderly district nurse who just happens to be a serial killer, recently escaped from gaol. Two men murdered, their throats cut in what looks like a drugs-related killing. Stags found dead in Normandy with their hearts cut out. Someone who polishes the soles of his shoes. Snowball the station cat, so devoted to a policewoman that he'll travel over thirty kilometres in search of her.

Someone close to the inquiry into the drug-related killings is manipulating the investigation.

Commissaire Jean Baptiste Adamsberg has recently returned from enforced leave and finds himself working with a pathologist whose apple cart he upset two decades ago. He has moved into a new house haunted by the Wicked Silent Sister, Saint Clarisse, a serial killer of gullible women, before the Revolution.

To add to the feast for the reader there are some odd, vividly drawn, characters in Adamsberg's team: Veyrenc, the new lieutenant who spouts Racine constantly, and is assigned to guarding Camille, the mother of Adamsberg's baby son Tom; his colleague Commandant Dangland who works ceaselessly to eliminate Unsolved Questions; Estalere who has a knack and passion for memorising trivial detail; and Retancourt, devoted to protecting Adamsberg with her own life, to name just a few.

THIS NIGHT'S FOUL WORK showcases Adamsberg at his best, sifting and sorting a smorgasbord of information. Adamsberg is equally at home in the country and in the city. His methods are eccentric but his team recognises that eventually they will solve the case. There is an eclectic mix of folklore, history, mystery and just plain human interest. I wouldn't classify this as a pacey novel. In some ways it lurches from one crisis point to another. It abounds in red herrings and the way forward can be hard to see. Tension builds, then climaxes, only to build again as a new element is included. As in other Vargas novels, at times the plot strains the bounds of plausibility and some readers may find this a leap too far. For me this didn't matter.

THIS NIGHT'S FOUL WORK, translated from the French by Sian Reynolds, is #4 in the Adamsberg series. It was first published as Dans les bois eternels in 2006. The second in the series, SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR, was a finalist for a Dagger Award in 2005. Vargas went on to win the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger twice with THE THREE EVANGELISTS (2006) and WASH THIS BLOOD CLEAN FROM MY HAND (2007).

April 2008 review originally published in Murder and Mayhem


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