Worth Every Penny
I’ve picked up a lot of great books as the result of popping into a blog and getting a recommendation. At the moment, I’m on a mystery craze and recommendations have come in very handy as I’m out of the swing in any genre other than romance. My current craze is a Canadian mystery series by Louise Penny featuring the very debonair Chief Inspector Gamache.
Armand Gamache of the Sûreté de Québec isn’t at all like a lot of the detectives who feature in their own series. He’s remarkably well adjusted. He’s kind. He’s not world weary at all. He’s not a loner – he’s madly in love with his wife of many years, Reine-Marie. He’s also smart, intuitive and a compelling center for these mysteries. He’s a man with a good heart and he seeks out the truth by letting that good heart lead him. I’m used to tortured heroes featuring in these books and Gamache isn’t tortured at all which makes for a refreshing change.
The mysteries revolve around a small village south of Montreal called Three Pines. This is a mystical, magical place full of wonderful characters – and with a murder rate that would put New York City to shame. If I could be sure I’d emerge from the experience breathing, I’d love to visit Three Pines and stay at Gabi’s B&B, and have dinner at the bistro, and browse at Myrna’s bookshop, and watch the locals interact on the village green. But ONLY if I knew I’d leave in one piece, not guaranteed in this deceptively sleepy little village.
The first book in the series is Still Life which introduces us both to Chief Inspector Gamache and to the vibrant community at Three Pines. Two of the main characters are artists, Clara and Peter Morrow, and there’s a strong artistic theme running through many of the stories. Gamache has an affinity in particular with Clara who, like him, sees with the heart. As Gamache investigates the seemingly senseless killing of beloved village resident Jane Neal, he reveals a tapestry of old hatreds and misdeeds.
While I really enjoyed Still Life (obviously enough to keep reading the series), it was with the second book A Fatal Grace (US title) / Dead Cold (UK title) that the series really hit its stride for me. In the middle of winter, a woman who has proven a disruptive influence in Three Pines is electrocuted during the Christmas curling match. So many suspects but who is the killer? While Gamache investigates the murder, dark forces in his own organization work against him in a pattern of jealousy and hatred that mirrors events in the village. This one is a cracker of a story and the writing is fantastic – you can almost feel the painful crackle of the cold in the Canadian midwinter.
The Cruelest Month gives us the conclusion to the intrigue plot based on the Sûreté but in the meantime, Gamache returns to Three Pines to solve a murder that has paranormal overtones. The dark counterpart of Three Pines is gothic Hadley House on the Hill – just as in the Sûreté, Gamache has a dark counterpart, a man he hasn’t yet recognized as his enemy.
The fourth book in the series, A Rule Against Murder / The Murder Stone, takes up the theme of paradise profaned that appears again and again in these books. Armand and Reine-Marie celebrate their wedding anniversary every year by returning to the beautiful wilderness lodge Bellechase where they spent their honeymoon. But this year, Bellechase is the site of the Finney family reunion which turns nasty when a body is discovered in the woods. Peter and Clara turn up to keep the Three Pines link going. Some very creepy scenes, especially in the woods which feel like an encroaching and sinister character in the story. Brrr! Scary!
The Brutal Telling returns to Three Pines and focuses on characters we’ve come to know and love – wrenching when there’s a strong possibility one of them is a murderer. After a stranger’s body turns up at Gabi and Olivier’s bistro, Inspector Gamache and his team arrive to investigate. But investigating friends exposes long-hidden rifts and secrets and at the end, the resolution of this mystery will break hearts and shatter trust and affection. There’s a stolen art plot in this story that picks up on the artistic trope that runs throughout this series. That’s something that appeals strongly to me – I love learning something when I read a book.
The sixth book in the series Bury Your Dead is probably my favorite so far. Inspector Gamache is suffering burnout after the emotional storms of his last cases and he takes leave to stay with his mentor in Quebec City, which it turns out is North America’s only walled city. I loved the descriptions of the old town locked in deep winter, and all the information about the French presence in North America. There’s some wonderful historical detail about English and French relations in Canadian history (which isn’t something I knew a lot about although I loved the subplot about Captain Cook fighting in the Battle for Quebec – Captain Cook is dear to the hearts of Australians!). This one also has a fascinating cast of characters. A body is discovered in the half-forgotten English library and Gamache finds himself drawn into a tangle of old hatreds and prejudices even as he struggles to rebuild his enthusiasm for police work.
A Trick of the Light returns to Three Pines and all our beloved characters. This one has another strongly artistic plot when at the launch party for Clara Morrow’s dazzling solo exhibition, her oldest and bitterest enemy is found dead. Again, old friends fall under suspicion and Gamache finds himself questioning every step he takes in both this investigation and his previous one in Three Pines. One of the things I love about these books is that the murder is always a vehicle for taking us deep into people’s psyches, exposing both the good and the bad. And sometimes the bad is vicious indeed.
The Beautiful Mystery is out in hardback in August. It’s based around a monastery that’s mentioned in earlier books as the source of Gregorian chant and chocolates. It sounds intriguing! I’ll definitely be revisiting Inspector Gamache and his friends in Three Pines.