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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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.

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.