Laurent Lepage is known in the village of Three Pines as a boy with an active imagination. So, when he runs into the bistro and announces he’s found a big gun in the woods with a monster on it, no one pays attention. Then, the next day he is found dead of an apparent bicycle accident.
Isabel Lacoste and Jean-Guy Beauvoir send in a foresics team that establishes Laurent’s death as an accident. But retired Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has Jean-Guy take another look. The body was positioned incorrectly for the boy to have fallen off the bike while speeding down a hill, as was supposed. Laurent was murdered somewhere else and his body positioned to look like an accident.
While the police search for the site of the murder, Gamache also gets them to look for the gun that no one believed in. The murder site will be located by a search for a stick that Laurent always carried and pretended was a gun.
They find the stick, and next to it is a huge cannon, a missile launcher that is enormous, covered by camoflage, in the woods outside Three Pines. Eventually, the police find out that the gun is the invention of an arms dealer named Gerald Bull, 20 years deceased. His idea was to launch missiles into low Earth orbit to travel thousands of miles to their targets. The gun is completely mechanical, too, so that power outages won’t affect it. This weapon has always been considered a myth, but here it is, with an engraving of the Whore of Babylon on it. The firing pin and the plans are missing, however.
Shortly, three people arrive on the scene. Professor Michael Rosenblatt claims to be an undistinguished physics professor with an interest in arms. He is the person who fills Gamache in on Bull, but Gamache thinks he knows more than he is saying. Mary Fraser and her partner Sean Delorme identify themselves as from the CSIS (Canadian intelligence service), but say they’re just file clerks. Although they look unprepossessing, Gamache fears there is more to them. The goal for all these parties is to locate the firing pin and the plans before various arms merchants find out about the gun.
Another recent incident has disturbed the village. Several of the villagers have been rehearsing a play under the direction of Antoinette Lemaitre. The author of the play has been kept anonymous, but then the actors find out the play was written by John Fleming, a notorious murderer. When the actors learn that Antoinette knew who wrote the play, they all quit.
Once the gun is found, Gamache has an intuition that the two events are connected. But he can find no logical link. And then Antoinette is killed.
The novel is another excellent mystery for Louise Penny. Its characters are interesting as always, even the recurring cast of old friends. There is some action and danger, but the emphasis is on puzzle solving. Although the retired inspector seems to be encountering too many murders for a small town, Penny leaves hints that Gamache may come out of retirement.
Penny tells us in the afterword that the story of the gun is based on true events and that Gerald Bull was a real person.
As a totally gratuitous side-note, I have to say that with this cover, Penny’s series has lost the most beautiful mystery series cover award I bestowed on it some time ago. The cover is okay, but it isn’t gorgeous, like the others in the series.