Fred Vargas

The Fred is short for Frédérique, and the Vargas in her nom de plume comes from the Ava Gardner character (Spanish dancer Maria Vargas) in The Barefoot Contessa, but if you've read her books you wouldn't expect French historian, archaeologist and crime writer Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau to have chosen a common or garden pseudonym.

Then there’s the family background. She’s the daughter of a prominent authority on the surrealist movement, who made his living working for an insurance company, seemed to be an expert on everything except science, forbade television, and authorised what his children could read, resulting in a literary diet of myths, folk tales and 17th-century baroque poetry.

A eukaryotic archaeologist who has worked on medieval social structures and the epidemiology of the Black Death and bubonic plague, published as Routes of the Plague (2003) and has more recently turned her attention to avian flu, Vargas turned to writing as a form of relaxation from academic pursuits, producing the first drafts of her books during her three-week summer vacation.

Writing took a back seat while she became involved in a support group for fugitive Italian writer Cesare Battisti, currently in custody in Brazil, accused of committing terrorist offences in Italy in the 1970s. Vargas has never defended Battisti's membership of a left-wing paramilitary squad, but while he’s accused of four murders, the only evidence against him is testimony from an informant offered immunity from prosecution in return for evidence. Battisti fled his home country, gained immunity from President Mitterrand and lived in French exile where he wrote a series of thrillers before an Italian court convicted him in absentia. A Paris appeals court approved his extradition, and Battisti vanished two months later, eventually emerging in Brazil.

The Three Evangelists:

Debout les morts (1995); English translation: The Three Evangelists, (2006)

Un peu plus loin sur la droite (1996) English translation: Dog Will Have His Day (2014)

Sans feu ni lieu (1997)

Commissaire Adamsberg:

L'Homme aux cercles bleus (1991); English title: The Chalk Circle Man (2009)

L'Homme à l'envers (1999); English title: Seeking Whom He May Devour (2004)

Les quatre fleuves (2000); English title: The Four Rivers. Graphic novel (with Edmond Baudoin).

Pars vite et reviens tard (2001); English title: Have Mercy on Us All (2003)

Sous les vents de Neptune (2004); English title: Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand (2007)

Dans les bois éternels (2006); English title: This Night's Foul Work (2008)

Un lieu incertain (2008); English title: An Uncertain Place (2011)

L'armée furieuse (2011) English title: The Ghost Riders of Ordebec (2013)

© Ian Hughes 2012