Monday, February 8, 2010

This Night's Foul Work by Fred Vargas


This book will be the first reviewed for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge, set by Dorte Jakobsen. (Thanks, Dorte!)

I have to admit that the cover did not inspire me to read this one and in fact I would not have opened it if I hadn't heard good things about it over time, and if I hadn't set myself a small goal of tackling some of my shelf-sitters. The title is actually a tribute to the French poet Racine, who figures prominently in the book, due to one character's intimate familiarity with his style. The French title is actually quite different--Dans les bois ├ęternels , which translates to something more along the lines of "In the eternal woods". I don't know if that would have drawn me in any faster, but at least it would be unlikely to have the picture of a dead stag on the cover.


Anyway, neither the author's name, nor the title, nor yet the cover image clued me in to the fact that this novel is in fact a Parisian police procedural, and a very delightful one at that. Vargas' detective squad is the closest I have come to the classic Amsterdam based Grijpstra and de Gier series of Janwillem van de Wetering. Led by the Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, a right-brained dreamer if ever there was one, the Paris Crime Squad holds as many idiosyncratic characters as anyone could ask for. This book comes fairly late in the series, but Vargas does a good job at delineating the characters again for new readers like me.

I fear that certain kinds of readers will throw up their hands at many of the more absurd situations and improbable plot twists in this one. But for readers who are willing to surrender and enjoy the ride there are many rewards. It's extremely well plotted and woven together, and the twists and turns of the central mystery, as well as a secondary one involving Adamsberg's past kept me guessing.

One of the great pleasures of Vargas' work is the way she describes all the detectives--with the exception perhaps of the formidable Retancourt, a woman of many talents--as flawed and somewhat hapless in their own lives, but how in collaboration their strengths come to the fore.

I do have a small problem with the translation, which is that whenever the story ventures into the realm of dialect, the translator's efforts to find some substitute in English slang fall flat. It's a shame, because her rendering of the speech of Adamsberg and the detective squad is subtlety itself.

I found that at the end of reading this one, and despite many other goals, I wanted to nothing so much as begin reading another. And so I have...

14 comments:

  1. It is good to see that several readers enjoy their ´self-inflicted´ challenge, and as I have also been tempted by the many glowing reviews of Fred Vargas, I am glad that you can confirm all the favourable things they say about this writer.

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  2. Yes, give her a go, Dorte. And thanks for making linked reviews a part of the process. It makes finishing a book more of a milestone...

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  3. Another advantage of the links is that you can find inspiration by reading anybody else´s reviews. I sincerely hope I will find some good crime fiction for Antarctica.

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  4. Yes, I'm going to add Antartica to my list, provided I get through the rest of them even though I'm only doing the easy goal. And I too will probably need a little help to figure that one out!

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  5. You know, that's not a bad comparison: Admsberg and company with Grijpstra, de Gier and their commisaris. Both Vargas and Van de Wetering will slow the action down and let their cops sit back and view the world.

    I may have mentioned this to you before, but Hard Case Crime's next Gabriel Hunt book, due out in April and written by Christa Faust, includes action in Antarctica.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  6. Peter, if you haven't done so before, you have to mention that over on Dorte's 2010 Global Reading Challenge. People are going to be desperate for this info!

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  7. Hmm, what do you think the information is worth to them? Actually, I think I have mentioned it at Dorte's place already.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  8. Maybe you can get Christa to cut you in for a percentage of the profits.

    Assuming I actually get through the other five books of the easy challenge, I think Christa's book is a very strong contender for no. 7.

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  10. Here's a promo for the book along with a link to the first chapter. The opening line is irresistible, and you'll be able to say, truthfully, that you've started your Antarctica reading.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  11. I was enjoying this book very much until I reached the part in hospital where the nurse "breezes" into the room to give Veyrenc his "painkillers," calling him a "good boy." I wish Vargas would take a minute to flesh out her minor characters more realistically. Credibility hit took a star from my previous rating.

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  12. Anonymous, I suppose part of that problem could be in the translation, though that's not to take away from your point. I have to say that much of Vargas requires a very large capacity for suspension of disbelief, but for me her unique sensibility makes me willing to overlook a lot of improbability.

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  13. Anyone who loves Jane Eyre as I do must actually have a penchant for the suspension of disbelief! Now that I've read a bit farther though, I'm wondering if this was actually a bit of a device on Vargas' part. We'll see...

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  14. But as an Austen fan, you will also expect well drawn minor characters. Well, let me know what you think in the end.

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