Monday, July 11, 2011

This Night's Foul Work, by Fred Vargas

9780143113591
Penguin Books, 2008
originally published as Dan les bois ├ęternals, 2006
translated by Sian Reynolds
409 pp

O Earth, when I query, why disdain to reply?
And of this night's foul work all knowledge now deny?
Has the key been withheld, or are my ears too weak
To hear of they suff'ring, a sin too great to speak?


Book number five in the Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg series, and appearing on the the 2008  International Dagger Award shortlist,  This Night's Foul Work  begins not too long after the events of  Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand.  As the novel opens, we find Adamsberg in his newly-purchased home, talking to his neighbor about the ghost of an evil nun who inhabits the place. But the Commissaire is unphased -- he knows it's the living that he needs to worry about, not the dead.  And in this installment, events will prove him right.  The squad is  working on the case of two dead drug dealers that Adamsberg doesn't want to turn over to the Drug Squad because he knows there's more to the picture, but the team has only a limited amount of time to gather proof before the case is handed off.  Then there's someone who is killing large stags in the forest, leaving the antlers but taking out the hearts and chopping them up.  If that isn't enough, an elderly serial killer has killed a guard at the prison where she's incarcerated and has escaped, whereabouts unknown.  Someone is also digging up graves, but only opening the coffin at the head.   Adamsberg and the team must sort out this jumble and make sense of it all before anyone else is killed -- but the task will not be easy.  To add to the confusion, a new recruit joins the crime squad, who has an odd head of hair and speaks in twelve-syllable alexandrines, which must have been a great deal of fun for translator Sian Reynolds.   As if Jean-Baptiste and the squad don't have enough to deal with re the bizarre string of crimes, the new recruit seems to have it in for Adamsberg based on something that happened from childhood days.  And then there's Adamsberg's off again, off again relationship with Camille.

Adamsberg and his colleagues at the Crime Squad in Paris are run ragged in this installment.  Danglard, the walking repository of knowledge, has to step in and keep Adamsberg on track when he tends to wander off; Violette Retancourt, the lieutenant who once saved Adamsberg's life, has an amazing ability to "channel her energy," a skill that serves her well in this story; and there are a host of others, each with his or her own individual talents that makes the Crime Squad the unusual group that it is.  The character portraits are amazingly drawn and are the most successful element of every novel in this series, although at times you might believe you're sitting at the table with Alice at the Mad Tea Party rather than at the Brasserie des Philosophes as the squad plans strategy.

To be honest, the plotlines are all highly improbable and a bit convoluted, and there are some scenes that I can only describe as "yeah, right. Uh-huh. Sure." I must say, however, that despite the silliness and the required suspension of belief,  I liked this one. I could tell that the author was having a great deal of fun here in terms of both personality and plot -- and it paid off for me. Vargas' sleight of hand also got the better of me this time -- just when I thought I had it all figured out, she threw a curve ball into the works that threw me.

These books may not be the best or most believable mystery/crime fiction novels out there, but once you get started on the series, you won't be able to stop.  They're definitely among the best for character portrayal and development, and that will be enough to take your mind off the whole implausible storyline.  Besides, they're quite fun and become addicting after a while.

crime fiction from France

1 comment:

  1. They are so much fun! Fred Vargas is a genius. She can toy with my brain as much as she wants to.
    I read with amazement and a good sense of humor.
    Books are different, including mysteries.
    Vargas is a one-of-a-kind, the furthest away from formulaic that a writer can be.
    I like variety, and humor and quirkiness veering off in a very creative direction is fine with me.
    When I want a good, solid, thinking person's police procedural, I'll read Michael Connelly.
    If I want an interesting, literary police procedural with social issues of the day, I"ll read Donna Leon.
    But Vargas is unique. And is it ever exciting to open a book of hers and have no idea where you're going.

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