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Jan 052012
 

Jill Edmondson’s second Sasha Jackson mystery, Dead Light District (2011), sets Sasha in the seamier side of life. When her client, Candace, asks for her to search for a missing (upscale) prostitute, a young and beautiful Mexican woman named Mary Carmen, Sasha finds herself trawling the Toronto hooker’s stroll, searching through pawn shops, and renting a really low-rent room.

If you don’t know her yet, Sasha is a private investigator, 30ish and trying to build a new career after giving up on fronting a rock band. She still lives at home with her dad and brother, and she spends a great deal of her time with her two best friends, Jessica and Lindsey.

It struck me, reading this second book in the series, that Sasha confides in these friends and relatives a lot, sharing information about her cases to help herself think them through. If you say “female private eyes in crime fiction,” loners like Kinsey Millhone or V. I. Warshawski come to my mind. Sasha’s a nice counterpoint — although I like both of them, too! It’s just easier to relate to Sasha from my perspective. Except maybe that part about her running topless down the street of a nice neighborhood to chase a murderer… but you’ll have to read about that yourself.

I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, The Lies Have It, and once again send my thanks to author Jill Edmondson for sending me an autographed copy of Dead Light District.

Sep 232011
 

I hope there’s not a devoted reader out there who’s offended by all the Louise Penny this week, but getting a free audiobook copy of her latest, A Trick of the Light (2011), prodded me to write up my reviews of her other books so I could post this one right away (don’t get me started on the backlog of reviews that are half written, or worse).

The book begins with Clara’s long-awaited vernissage at the Musee d’Art Contemporain in Montreal; the mystery begins the next morning, when a body shows up her garden. Lillian Dyson was Clara’s best friend as a child, but after treating her badly one time too many, Lillian finally pushes Clara too far and their friendship ends. (And, by the way, has Peter finally done the same thing to their marriage?) Why is she in Clara’s garden after all these years, and why is she dead?

The book’s theme is chiaroscuro, the pictorial relationship between light and dark. This idea is first brought out at Clara’s show, where Gamache and an art dealer are viewing her painting of the drunk poet, Ruth, who’s portrayed as a bitter, elderly Virgin Mary. Some people who see the painting see only that; others, like Gamache, notice the speck of white paint in Ruth’s eye, which may signify hope — or may be nothing more than a trick of light. Similarly, Lillian Dyson used to epitomize dark, but she’s joined Alcoholics Anonymous and was apparently trying to turn her life around… or is that just a trick of the light, too? A number of other characters are struggling as well, most of all Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, who must make some fateful decisions about his personal life.

I liked Bury Your Dead better, primarily because Gamache was so human in that book, but this is a fine addition to the Inspector Gamache series.

The audio, narrated by Ralph Cosham, is lovely. His voice is smooth and dramatic, but not over the top, and it never gets in the way of the story. Many thanks to Margot Kinberg, whose blog post put me in touch with the Macmillan Audio publicist, Esther Bochner, who sent me a copy of the audiobook.

Counts toward the Audio Book Challenge

Sep 212011
 

Louise Penny‘s sixth Inspector Gamache mystery, Bury Your Dead (2010), is also the best book in the series so far– but only, I think, if you’ve read them in order.

I loved Marcia Muller’s Locked In because I thought it was the payoff for faithfully reading the series for so many years. Each character did things that made so much sense if you’d been following them through 20-odd earlier books. This book had much the same feeling, but the payoff is in the plot rather than the characters: all the twists in the investigation described in The Brutal Telling; the ins and outs of the people on Gamache’s team; even the chief’s track record, all come into play.

The book begins with Armand Gamache in agony because he made a mistake involving his agents. This story unwinds slowly, told by more than one character (sorry, I can’t tell who without revealing who is or isn’t still alive), throughout the book. At the same time, Gamache finds himself involved in a double mystery. Although he’s supposed to be recovering at the home of his old mentor Emile, he finds himself drawn into the investigation when a famous amateur archeologist is killed in the basement of the library where Gamache is doing research, and his murder is inextricably linked to his search for the long-lost burial site of Quebec founder Samuel de Champlain. And, that’s not all! Gamache has also begun to doubt his own conclusion about the murder described in The Brutal Telling, and sends one of his team to Three Pines re-investigate that case.

Penny invents an intriguing (and possibly offensive to some Canadians) resolution to the Champlain case, and an interesting solution to the murder, which is all tied up in the French-English divide in Quebec. The book is, then, very Quebecois, moreso than the other Three Pines mysteries, in what I thought was a very satisfying way. The Three Pines reinvestigation is also satisfactorily resolved, and the events regarding the operation that went bad are slowly, and painfully, revealed. I’ll only say that I do congratulate Penny on making Gamache a bit less perfect in this one.

For your reading pleasure, Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books in order (U.S. titles) with links to my reviews:
Still Life
A Fatal Grace
The Cruelest Month
A Rule Against Murder
The Brutal Telling
Bury Your Dead
A Trick of Light — new release! Reviewed here on Friday

Sep 192011
 

The fourth Louise Penny Three Pines mystery, A Rule Against Murder, wasn’t my favorite. It didn’t take place in Three Pines, and it seemed to lose some of the momentum building throughout the first three books.

Never mind all that. The Brutal Telling, Three Pines #5, is excellent. We’re back in Three Pines, with all of its old familiar faces, and we’re forced to consider of one of those old friends might be a murderer. How well do we really know anyone?

The victim is a hermit, hiding in the forest in a cabin he built himself, accepting visits from only one companion: Olivier Brulé. Olivier hasn’t told anyone about his secret visits to the cabin, so when the Hermit’s murdered body turns up in the bistro, he decides to pretend not to know who he is, just like the rest of the town. But this is just the first of many lies, and Olivier keeps creating a more and more tangled web (perhaps one with the word “woo” woven into it, but you’ll have to read the story to learn about that). Still, does that make him a murderer?

Only Armand Gamache and his team, Inspectors Beauvoir and Lacoste and the new kid, Agent Morin, can figure that out.

On a side note, you’ll learn more about Canada, particularly Canadian art, in this Three Pines mystery. At one point, Gamache makes a trip to the Queen Charlotte Islands, or Haida Gwaii, in British Columbia — a place that I’d never heard of but that sounds (and looks) stunning. Adding to my “maybe someday” list.

Book #9 in the Mystery and Suspense Challenge

Aug 092011
 

Louise Penny’s fourth Three Pines Mystery, A Rule Against Murder (2008), changes the series up a bit by not actually taking place in Three Pines. That, my friends, is not a good thing.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his wife are taking their annual anniversary getaway at a private lakeside lodge when a murder occurs. A member of a most unpleasant family having a reunion at the same lodge is killed by a falling statue — a statue of the woman’s own father, as it happens. It turns out that some people from Three Pines are connected, and the Gamaches make a visit to the village, but the story is not set there — and, whoa!, there’s no connection at all to the haunted Hadley house. (Thank heavens, I was getting tired of that place taking all the blame.)

Although the solution to the mystery was credible, the solution to the family problems was almost completely unbelievable. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say I believe that people know when they are loved regardless of what others do or say and to ask us to believe that an entire family somehow missed it is asking too much.

I didn’t like this Three Pines mystery as well as the previous one; in fact, it’s probably my least favorite of all, but I certainly liked it enough to read the next one. Which I’ve already done… review to come eventually.

Jul 252011
 

Okay, okay, okay. I admit it. I’m on the Louise Penny bandwagon now, too. I’m glad I listened to my friend Janice and started this series from the beginning, because now I’m really getting to the good parts!

The Cruelest Month (2007) is the third book in Penny’s Three Pines Mystery series, and it takes place at Easter time; the book opens with villagers hiding wooden painted eggs for the children, and hoping for good weather. Oddly enough, some of the good citizens decide to hold a seance in the old, haunting (if not haunted) Hadley House, and one of the participants dies. The death, of course, turns out to be murder, so Inspector Armand Gamache and his team return to Three Pines to investigate.

This book really has two plots: the investigation into the death of Madeleine Favreau, and the continuing fallout from Gamache’s actions during the Arnot case, alluded to in the previous Three Pines mysteries, but finally out in the open here. Since I’m not a fan of the paranormal, I found the whole subtext of the first plot — the haunted mansion, evil emanating from its very foundations — a little, well, silly. (Have no fear, the resolution is entirely human.) Instead, I was drawn to the Sûreté du Québec plot and the revelation that Gamache is not infallible after all.

When I finished reading The Cruelest Month, I tweeted “Must. Get. Next. One.” and received a reply from Criminal Element: “And that would be why she keeps winning #agatha awards.” Ain’t that the truth?

Counts toward the Mystery and Suspense Challenge

Jun 092011
 

Louise Penny’s second book, A Fatal Grace (2006), is convincing me to jump on the Three Pines Mystery band wagon.

Spiritualist author CC de Poitiers and her family have moved into the dreaded Hadley house, scene of Inspector Armand Gamache’s last Three Pines case, and her hateful ways are perfectly suited to that location. She has stolen business ideas (her “Be Calm” book title is also the name of the spirituality center of Three Pines’ Mother Bea), verbally eviscerated her own daughter on Christmas Eve, had an affair with a photographer to get him to take the cover photo for her book, cobbled together a fake philosophy called Li Bien that claims people would be happier without emotions, and offended pretty much everyone over something. So it’s not surprising when she dies.

The method of CC’s death is more unexpected: she’s electrocuted at a village curling match. As Gamache and his team get a better understanding of how this might have been accomplished, they begin to see how complex the plot must have been, and their investigation allows them to get to know many of the villagers on a deeper level than in the previous book.

A secondary story line involves the Quebec Sûreté and Gamache’s team itself — who’s on it and why. There are more cryptic references to the Arnot case, first mentioned in Still Life, and this story arc is the biggest reason that the books should be read in order (I’m not making a prediction, it’s just that I’m so far behind on writing reviews that I’ve already finished the third book in the series).

Perhaps the one thing I don’t like about the series so far is that Gamache is so perfectly perfect. His team adores him, he always does the right thing, his style of policing is better than everyone else’s, and he always catches the killer. He could use with a little of the humanization that Penny brings to the witnesses and suspects in Three Pines.

Nonetheless, this is a series that I’m going to run through in no time and then sit around waiting for the next book to be released.

May 272011
 

Is there such a thing as a cozy procedural? A police traditional? If not, there should be.

My first North American entry in the 2011 Global Reading Challenge is Louise Penny‘s Still Life (2005), the first book in her series featuring Montreal’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.

I’d heard a lot of buzz about Penny’s latest book, Bury Your Dead, and then my mystery reading friend Janice started talking about this great series she’d found and how much she wished she hadn’t read them out of order — and of course, that turned out to be Louise Penny. For that reason I started with the first book in the series, which introduces all of the characters and hints at some larger issues that I think will be important in later books.

Still Life is the story of the death of Miss Jane Neal, a beloved elderly schoolteacher and longtime secret artist in the small town of Three Pines. She’s found dead in the woods near her home — shot through by a bow and arrow — on the cusp of her long-delayed art debut. Gamache’s team includes Jean Gey Beauvoir, a French Canadian detective who’s often amazed by the Anglais, Isabelle Lacoste, a wisecracking female detective, and young Yvette Nichol, who wants to prove herself so badly that she sabotages her own place on the team. The characters are well developed, and the mystery is believable, if a bit too easy to solve.

Janice described the series as “atmospheric,” and that’s true. I did get a feel for life in Quebec, and the village feel of a British cozy transfers well here. In fact, it reminded me of Caroline Graham’s village mystery/police procedural combination, which is why I think we need a cozy procedural category. Or something like that.

I didn’t love this book as much as other people have loved, no ADORED, Penny’s later books, but from what I can tell, they all build upon each other to create something much greater than just one story. I’m looking forward to working my way through this series.

Counts toward the 2011 Global Reading Challenge

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