Get personalized recommendations and earn points toward a free book!
Check Out
The Bestselling Books of All Time
See the List

This Night’s Foul Work Reader’s Guide

By Fred Vargas

This Night's Foul Work by Fred Vargas


Questions and Topics for Discussion


“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 thy suff’ring, a sin too great to speak?”

This Night’s Foul Work (p. 112)

Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is headed toward one of his toughest cases at the moment he is most in need of respite. He has only recently returned from a particularly dangerous assignment in Canada* and—on top of that—is still unsettled by the recent death of his father and his estrangement from Camille, the mother of his infant son. But Adamsberg is second-in-command of Paris’s Serious Crimes Squad. Peace is a luxury he can seldom afford, especially when a double murder and a shade from his own past threaten to turn his eccentric but devoted squad upside down.

The case should be open and shut: two small-time crooks are found with their throats slashed—and needle marks in their arms—in the seedy Porte de la Chapelle neighborhood. The narcotics division is eager to claim both victims but Adamsberg is certain the crimes are not drug-related. Fortunately, eminent pathologist Dr. Ariane Lagarde shares Adamsberg’s opinion. A renowned expert in criminal psychology as well as a former colleague, she determines that the killer is a woman and the needle marks a red herring, buying Adamsberg twenty-four hours to bring in solid evidence and back up his suspicions.

However, a prior commitment interferes with the case and so—as his squad pursues leads—Adamsberg drives 136 kilometers to babysit his son, Thomas, while Camille performs with a touring orchestra in the small Norman village of Haroncourt. During a brief stop in a local bar, Adamsberg becomes embroiled in a discussion surrounding the mysterious killing and evisceration of a locally renowned stag. He dismisses the incident but, upon his return to Paris, newly unearthed evidence sends him back to Haroncourt when the villagers there inform him of another deer killing.

The already tricky investigation is further complicated by the recent escape of a deranged female serial killer with a grudge against Adamsberg, and by the disconcerting presence of Lieutenant Louis Veyrenc de Bilhc, the unit’s new recruit. Diffident yet charismatic and handsome with distinctive brown hair streaked with red, Veyrenc has very personal motives for transferring to Serious Crimes—and Adamsberg is at the heart of them. Veyrenc speaks largely in verse but it is his silent reproach that heightens tensions as the team leaps to defend their commissaire in a feud whose history they know nothing about.

Literally chasing after shadows, Adamsberg connects the double murder to first one “accidental” death and then an ever-growing web of enigmatic crimes and corpses. But just as he begins to comprehend the killer’s bizarre and sinister motives, Adamsberg finds one of his own staff has gone missing and that he himself may be targeted for death.

The second of Fred Vargas’s internationally acclaimed novels to be published in the United States by Penguin, This Night’s Foul Work is an elegant tale whose horrors deepen with every page, while Commissaire Adamsberg is a delightfully idiosyncratic detective who is quickly winning over fans of intelligent and compulsively readable literary mysteries.

*Read Wash This Blood Clean from My Hands for details


Fred Vargas is the pseudonym of French historian, archaeologist, and writer Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau. She worked at the French National Scientific Research Centre and later at the Institut Pasteur specializing in epidemiology of the Black Death and bubonic plague. She has written eleven novels, five of which have been translated into English.

  • Discuss the recurring metaphor of Lucio’s spider bite.
  • Old grudges and the desire for revenge are a central theme of this novel. How far do you feel Veyrenc would be justified in pursuing his revenge? How would you act in his position?
  • Why does Veyrenc think of Camille as “the grain of sand” (p. 31)?
  • “Sometimes,” Adamsberg suggests, “it’s harder to get on with your neighbour than with a perfect stranger” (p. 80). How does the distrust of neighbors inform the events of the novel?
  • “As a girl, Retancourt had already been massively built and she had decided that defeatism was her only defence against hope” (p. 88). Does Retancourt’s attitude toward love make her any happier than Lieutenant Froissy? Or just less unhappy?
  • “When women cross the red line, the universe tilts” (p. 99). Why is the idea of a female killer so much more menacing than that of a male?
  • Was Danglard wholly malicious in warning Roland and Pierrot against Veyrenc? Or was he sincerely concerned about their safety?
  • Would either Adamsberg or Veyrenc make a good partner for Camille and father for Tom? Or are both using Camille as a pawn in their own rivalry?
  • Why does Veyrenc offer to help protect Adamsberg given the bitterness Veyrenc feels toward Adamsberg?
  • The priest tells Adamsberg “The world of fantasy fills the gaps in people’s knowledge” (p. 208). How does his statement apply to this novel? Why do you think Vargas doesn’t give him a name and calls him simply “the priest”?
  • “Someone who has a secret, a secret so important that this person has sworn by all that’s holy not to tell a single soul, always does in fact tell one other person” (p. 249). Is Adamsberg’s rule one you’ve found to bear out in real life? Why does it go against the grain of human nature to keep a secret?
  • “All that was left for him to do was return to his own territory, chastened and soiled, encrusted with memories that he would have to destroy” (p. 257). Is Adamsberg sufficiently punished for having spied on Veyrenc?
    Back to Top