Day 619: The Long Way Home

Cover for The Long Way HomeAfter the traumatic ending to How the Light Gets In, Inspector Armande Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie have retired comfortably to the lovely village of Three Pines. Gamache feels none of the restlessness experienced by retired cops in other crime series, so he is not really pleased when Clara Morrow comes to him, reluctantly, with a problem.

Clara’s difficulties with her husband Peter have been growing throughout the series. The two are both artists, and their relationship was fine as long as he was the more acclaimed. But of late, Clara has gained a reputation that has surpassed Peter’s, and he has been jealous and unsupportive.

A year ago Clara asked him to leave. But she made a date with him to come back in exactly a year to see where their relationship lay. That date has come and gone, and Clara has no idea where he is. She wants Gamache to find him.

Gamache finds it easy enough to trace Peter’s movements to Paris and Venice and then, oddly, Scotland through his credit card use. They find he returned to Toronto a few months ago and then disappeared.

With Clara leading, Gamache, his son-in-law Jean-Guy, and Clara’s friend Myrna set off to find Peter, eventually ending up in a remote village at the mouth of the St. Lawrence. In their quest, they encounter a tale of madness and revenge.

This novel makes an interesting start to a new life for the series. I’m not sure how successfully it will continue, as there have been more murders per capita in Three Pines than just about anywhere. But perhaps basing the series in this small village rather than continually returning there to deal with crimes will work better, because the crimes can take place elsewhere and readers can still visit this peaceful village. I have already enjoyed some of the other novels that were set elsewhere in Canada, usually in gorgeous or interesting locations.

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Day 610: How the Light Gets In

Cover for How the Light Gets InI didn’t realize I had never reviewed this book, even though I finished it almost exactly a year ago, until I started to post a review of its sequel. So, you’ll have to forgive me. I’m working from memory.

This novel serves as a culmination of an ongoing plot from the very first of the series. Inspector Gamache’s enemies in law enforcement have gutted his department and alienated the loyalty of his friend and lieutenant Jean-Guy Beauvoir through encouraging his drug addiction. Now they are planning to destroy Gamache.

In the meantime, Myrna Landers has summoned him to the picturesque village of Three Pines to look for a friend who has disappeared, Constance Pineault. Myrna is cagey about the true identity of the friend, but eventually Gamache finds out that she is very famous, the last surviving sister of a set of quintuplets. Gamache and his department are also dealing with a possible terrorist threat. All of this action takes place over a snowy Christmas.

The end of How the Light Gets In is extremely dramatic, but it left me wondering if the novel was intended as the end of the series. (Hint: I wondered this at the time, but notice that I referred to a sequel.) As always, it is complexly plotted and colorful in detail.

Every time Penny describes Three Pines, I want to go see it. Also, Penny’s books continue to win my award for the most beautiful covers, ever.

Day 372: A Trick of the Light

Cover for A Trick of the LightThe morning after the village of Three Pines throws a big party to celebrate Clara Morrow’s show at the prestigious Musée d’Art Contemporain in Montreal, the body of a murdered woman is found in Clara’s garden. The body turns out to be that of Clara’s childhood friend Lillian Dyson, whom she has not seen in more than 20 years.

Clara’s friendship with Dyson was broken because Dyson cruelly betrayed her in art school. This puts Clara on the list of suspects. However, as Inspector Gamache’s team investigates Dyson, they find that she has a reputation for doing harm to others by trying to ruin their careers in art, providing a broad field of suspects, especially after a party celebrating an art debut.

On the other hand, Dyson is viewed completely differently by her new circle of acquaintances, which leads Inspector Gamache to wonder if people can really change their natures. Eventually, the police realize that Dyson was on a 12-step program and that she was probably intending to ask forgiveness of one of the people at the party.

On another front, Clara seems to be headed toward trouble in her marriage. Although her husband Peter has been happy with his own moderately successful career in the art field, now that Clara may be proving to be more talented than he is, he is becoming jealous and insecure.

Although this mystery has Penny’s usual hallmarks of beautiful description and insight into people’s characters, I do not like where the plot involving Jean Guy Beauvoir is going. Also, I thought it took the police an awfully long time to figure out about the 12-step program.

Day 348: A Fatal Grace

Cover for A Fatal GraceIn this second novel of the series, Inspector Gamache is investigating the death of an old bag lady when he is called back to Three Pines to solve the murder of a very unpleasant woman. C C de Poitiers is a minor celebrity who is poison in the village because she treats others so callously. Now she has met an unusual and complicated death, electrocuted while watching a curling game on the day after Christmas.

Gamache has lots of suspects, including the victim’s hen-pecked husband and her daughter, whom she continually heckled about her weight. But as he investigates, he finds that Poitiers was not who she said she was.

In an ongoing plot, Gamache’s career is threatened by an old case where he took down some crooked officers high in the force. He has two new members of his team, local agent Robert Lemieux and agent Yvette Nichol, taken on because he likes to mentor young officers. However, one of them is working for his enemies by helping them sabotage his career.

It is always a pleasure to return to Three Pines, and I like the generous Inspector Gamache. Apparently some readers who were charmed by the picturesque village in the first novel were disenchanted by this sequel, but a mystery series about murders in a small town is bound to affect the atmosphere of the location. My favorite of the series so far is actually the one that took place in Quebec City, and it’s hard to imagine how many more people Penny can kill off in this village, but I still enjoy the series.

Day 329: Still Life

Cover for Still LifeStill Life is the first of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries. It provides us an introduction to the kindly Gamache and his team and to the beautiful village of Three Pines, where many of the subsequent mysteries are set.

An elderly woman named Jane Neal is found dead in the woods near Three Pines, shot apparently by a careless bow hunter. Inspector Gamache and his team are initially called in to ascertain whether the suspicious death is an accident or a homicide. Gamache quickly determines that the death was a homicide and then begins to look for the murderer.

Although Jane was highly regarded by most folks in the village, one suspect is her cold and greedy niece, Yolande Fontaine, who can’t wait to get her hands on her aunt’s property. Her husband has a criminal record, and her son is a delinquent who may have been out with a bow on the day of the murder.

Through this novel we get to know the characters who recur throughout the series–Olivier and Gabri, the gay owners of the bistro and bed and breakfast; Clara and Peter Morrow, local artists; Myrna Landers, a former psychologist who owns the bookstore; and Ruth Zardo, an eccentric curmudgeon who turns out to be a famous poet. Another important character is Ben Hadley, Peter Morrow’s best friend for years, whose mother died a month before from cancer.

Penny’s mysteries have the feel of cozies set in a small village, like some of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books. Her characters are well developed and interesting. The peaceful atmosphere of the village is palpable. I had a disadvantage in reading this novel after most of the others, so it was clear to me that the murderer was someone who no longer lives in the village in the later books. This narrowed the field considerably. I would advise those who are interested in reading Louise Penny’s series to start with Still Life and try to move forward in order.

Day 314: The Brutal Telling

Cover for The Brutal TellingI was unable to judge the difficulty of this mystery because I read its sequel first and therefore knew how the mystery would be solved. The other Louise Penny books are not quite so dependent upon sequence, but I suggest that you read The Brutal Telling before Bury Your Dead, if at all possible.

That being said, I still found the novel to tell a compelling story.

A body is discovered in the bistro/antique shop of the small village of Three Pines. The bistro owners, Gabby and Olivier, are appalled but also confused. No one knows who the man is or where he lives. At least they say they don’t, but the reader knows from the first that Olivier knows more about the man than he is saying.

Inspector Gamache and his team quickly determine that the victim was not killed in the bistro. Soon, they find a cabin deep in the woods that apparently belongs to the man, apparently a hermit. They are amazed to find it stuffed with priceless antiques, first edition books, and treasures from Europe thought to have disappeared during World War II. Gamache begins wondering how Olivier has made such a success of the antiques side of his business. And where did Olivier, or for that matter, the victim, come from in the first place?

Louise Penny’s novels always have more going on in them than the mystery. The setting of the small village is beautiful. The characters are interesting, and we learn more about them with each visit. Gamache is warm and perceptive. As always, I think the covers of the paperback editions should win a prize for most beautiful artwork.

Day 296: The Cruelest Month

Cover for The Cruelest MonthThe village of Three Pines in remote southern Quebec has a psychic visiting, so bed and breakfast owner Gabri arranges a séance on Good Friday evening. It is not very successful, but some of the participants decide to try again at the deserted Hadley house the next night. A few additional people attend, and several of the group are filled with foreboding. The Hadley house has, after all, been the scene of frightful crimes.

In a dusty, candle-lit room, the participants hear a horrible noise and one of their party drops dead–Madeleine Favreau, a vibrant, popular woman who shares a house with Hazel Smyth. When Inspector Gamache and his team arrive, they find that someone has slipped Madeleine the banned drug ephedra, which, combined with a weak heart, has resulted in a fatal heart attack.

The investigators find motives for several of the people at the séance, mostly those of jealousy or thwarted love. But Gamache’s team is also dealing with its own problems. Senior officers want to destroy Gamache because of his role in accusing a popular superior officer of crimes years ago and so have inserted a spy into his team. However, they have found other ways to strike, as Gamache begins finding newspaper articles attacking him and his family.

As always with Louise Penny’s mysteries, the plot is compelling and Gamache and the other characters are interesting. Of course, it is unusual that a small village like Three Pines would suffer so many violent deaths, but it is a pleasure to continue revisiting the village and its inhabitants, so I think we have to suspend our disbelief. I also think the series deserves some kind of prize for the most beautiful cover art.