Sunday, September 12, 2010
Format: review copy 372 pages
Characters: Armand Gamache, Jean Guy Beauvoir,Henri the dog
Subject: murder (old and new), psychological effects of trauma
Setting: the "old city" of Quebec, and fictional Three Pines Village
Series: Chief Inspector Gamache Novels
Genre: police procedural, cold case, psychological mystery
Source: trade from a friend
Challenge: who needs a challenge to read Louise Penny?
She's done it again! Louise Penny has given us an intricate, suspenseful, and exquisitely written novel about her main character, the urbane, humane, well-educated, loving and highly competent Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. In this one, she has moved the primary setting away from the village of Three Pines (where four of the five previous novels were set) to Quebec, where Gamache is recuperating from wounds suffered at the beginning of the book, and where he becomes involved in both a modern day murder, and the search for the remains of Samuel de Champlain, missing for nearly 400 hundred years.
The opening scene gives us only the barest of details about Gamache's wounding. Penny chooses to string the reader along through a series of flashbacks during the entire book before we get the whole story. So, there are three different mysteries for the reader to follow. But WAIT!! Gamache also decides that he may have made a mistake and arrested the wrong suspect for a murder committed in book #5 The Brutal Telling, so he sends Jean Guy Beauvoir back to Three Pines to unofficially re-open the investigation and see if he could have been mistaken.
With any other author, trying to weave these four different mysteries into a coherent story, and trying TO READ this melange would have been impossible. Penny however presents us with a tour de force- a magical, seamless, well-paced, and elegantly written group of vignettes that emerge as a single tremendous read. I was stunned when I realized what she was doing, as I read, and read, and read.....I could not put the book down. As if these four sub-plots weren't enough of a treat, she also gives us a subtle, but enchanting history of Quebec, and weaves in a presentation of the current situation with separatists and those who favor a united Canada.
The only caveat I have for others is that it is probably better to read at least The Brutal Telling first, if not all the others. She has certainly backfilled enough that it isn't absolutely necessary, but it would also limit the depth of the enriching experience the reader has from this book. I'm not sure where she can go from here, but the emotional growth of the two main characters, Armand Gamache and Jean Guy Beauvoir, that we see in this story portend well for future works.
The change of setting was refreshing: I've never been to Quebec, and certainly want to go now. The quiet return to Three Pines was even more comforting. It's still a place we'd all like to live. And Louise Penny is still the author we most want to have on our nightstand as Canadian blizzards howl outside our window.
Posted by Tina at 3:02 PM