Now then: I enjoyed Wash This Blood Clean from My Hands, so I looked forward to reading This Night’s Foul Work by Fred Vargas (translated from the original French by Siân Reynolds). Wash This Blood… was my first Vargas and I have a soft spot for eccentrics (characters fitting that description abound), a love of the original (this one defined “quirky”), and so I was suitably impressed. So what does This Night’s Foul Work offer?
In a nutshell: Commissaire Adamsberg and his team have the investigation of the murder of two men on their hands – their throats have been cut. Adamsberg is also drawn away from Paris, to Haroncourt in the départment of the Eure where he is entrusted with the details of the brutal killings of two stags. He is haunted by a shadow – well, more than one ghost – one of which is a female nurse serial killer he saw off to prison two years ago, now escaped. Could she be behind the murders? (As the dead men carried her calling card.) Meanwhile, Adamsberg has a new recruit in his team and they have a history. What is the New Recruit’s objective in seeking to work for Adamsberg? The pathologist is on sick leave suffering from the “vapours” (depression) and is replaced with Ariane Lagarde, someone who crossed swords with Adamsberg 23 years ago, when he got the better of her thoughts on a case…
Thus, there is plenty going on in This Night’s Foul Work creating a veritable page turner equally brilliant and frustrating in measure. Why frustrating? I believe Vargas’s penchant for whimsy is a bit over the top in this novel. One character says in respect of dropping the case, about half way through this novel:
“Everything. The book, the cat, the third virgin, the bits of bone, the whole bloody lot. It’s a complete load of bollocks.”
A good few chapters before that I was thinking “bollocks” as Adamsberg’s direction of the investigation seemed to be based on imaginative response and not pure and substantial evidence. Indeed, I had thought and hoped to God that investigations were not carried out in this way, in France or anywhere else.
Factually, I also had a problem with this novel. Ariane Lagarde is a pathologist. You know the kind: they deal with the dead and determine cause of death; their patients no longer have thinking brains, just grey matter on a tray waiting to be weighed. So how would a pathologist come to write a paper on dissociation in serial killers (dual personality)? That’s the domain of a psychiatrist only, surely? And don’t get me going on the tracker cat…
As for the plotting, I could see the dénoument a mile off.
The New Recruit has a tendency to speak in twelve syllable alexandrines which is, on the face of it, quirky and eccentric. But it also slows down the progress of the plot.
In conclusion, I was drawn in and read to the end what was a page turner. Dare I say it? Yes I will: the whimsy, quirky, eccentric quotient well outweighed the sensibilities and structure of a crime novel. It’s an enjoyable read, but as I said before, that brilliance can come in equal measure with frustration. I found that suspension of disbelief was required and I don’t remember needing that for Wash This Blood Clean from My Hands.