Review 1396: Kingdom of the Blind

Here’s another review that is suitable for Readers Imbibing Peril!

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Although I’ve enjoyed many of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache series, I had stopped reading them. However, on impulse I picked Kingdom of the Blind up at the library.

Having skipped one book in the series caused a problem, as the last book apparently climaxed in a major event that forced Gamache to allow a new drug onto the street, a killer. Now, Gamache is suspended and under investigation, a familiar situation for him. And that’s one problem for me. Since the beginning of the series, different figures in law enforcement have been out to get him. Each time this plot line seems to be wrapped up, it isn’t. I’m frankly tired of it.

This novel centers on two plot threads, something common to Penny’s books. In one, Gamache is among three people asked to execute the will of a woman they don’t know. Why were they selected, and why has the woman, who worked as a house cleaner, left money and property she doesn’t seem to possess?

The second thread is related to the search for the drugs. It begins when Gamache has one of his proteges, Amelia, dismissed from the police academy for possession of drugs.

It wasn’t very hard to figure out what was going on in one of these plot lines. The other was more difficult.

But really, my problem with this series relates to its sameness, the reason why I almost always quit reading series. First, the same ancillary characters go through the same routines. Second, Penny doesn’t really trust her audience. If someone says half of a well-known phrase, someone else has to finish it. She constantly tells us what to think about exchanges between characters. There’s a certain heaviness to Gamache, whom she depicts as almost like a saint, so that despite some kidding around, everything feels heavy. And anyway, the jokes are always the same.

Finally, there’s the writing style. Penny uses lots of short sentences and sentence fragments in this novel, particularly when hammering home a point that the reader doesn’t really need hammered. I don’t remember her using this style before, but perhaps I just didn’t notice it in the previous books.

This all sounds like I hated the book. I didn’t. I am just tired of the series, as I often become tired of series. This series started out as a really good one, so if you’re interested, I suggest starting at the beginning. Penny almost always links story lines from one book to the next, so it’s best to read them in order.

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Day 1043: A Great Reckoning

Cover for A Great ReckoningA Great Reckoning is the latest in Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache mystery series. Gamache has found retirement too unchallenging, so he has taken the position as head of the Sureté Academy. He has noticed that cadets graduating from the academy are ill-trained and thuggish and realizes that the corruption he eradicated from the Sureté itself has infected the academy.

He fires many of the professors but decides to keep the second in command, Serge Leduc, where he can see him. He also invites his ex-friend and enemy, Michel Brèbeuf, to join the faculty as an example of failed corruption.

While going through a box in Three Pines, someone finds an old orienteering map that had been walled up in the cabin that became the bistro. It has several mysteries about it. Gamache makes copies of the map for four of the cadets and challenges them to solve the mysteries of the map.

Then Leduc is found dead, shot in the temple with his own gun in his rooms at the school. Although Gamache cannot be on the case, he notices that Leduc had a copy of the map in the drawer of his bed table.

Gamache’s first instinct is to protect the four cadets, who were among Leduc’s inner circle. So, he takes them to Three Pines and has them continue to work on the puzzle of the map.

Meanwhile, Deputy Commissioner Gélinas of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has been brought in to the case as an independent observer. He shortly decides that Gamache himself is guilty of murder.

Although I always find these mysteries complex and like the characters, I think I’m beginning to tire of this series. We’re in a rut with the main characters of the village. We hear the same jokes and repeat the scenes when strangers realize this village houses both a famous poet and a famous painter. And why do murder mysteries always resort to that hoary plot of the main character being accused of murder?

But for this novel explicitly, there is a key plot point that stretches credibility. I won’t say what it is except that it is something Leduc has been doing with the cadets. It’s as if Penny tried to imagine the most horrible, while not obvious, thing she could think of without thinking it through. Let’s say that there’s no way Leduc could have been doing this for years without someone dying. Even though he is called a stupid sadist, even he would know it and not risk it.

Finally, just a small point, but with this cover, the series has lost its award, bestowed by me, for most beautiful book covers for a series. The cover is all right, but it doesn’t meet the standards of the previous covers.

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Day 830: The Nature of the Beast

Cover for The Nature of the BeastLaurent 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.

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