Louise Penny | How Mysterious! » How Mysterious!
Sep 192014
 

Louise Penny’s last book, How the Light Gets In, ended with the resignation of the homicide chief of the Sûreté du Québec, but also with the hint that he wasn’t really finished with investigation.

The Long Way Home runs with that notion.

A number of characters were killed or injured at the conclusion of that last book, but by the time this one picks up, all the main characters are healthy and happy where they should be. All but one: Peter Morrow.

Morrow’s wife Clara is a successful artist whose career suddenly and surprisingly surpassed that of her husband. His inability to enjoy or even appreciate her success led her to ask him to leave, but they decided he’d come back in a year so that they could decide what to do about their marriage. A year later, he’s failed to come back, and so she asks Armand Gamache to help her find him.

The fact that he’s no longer an inspector doesn’t really cause any problems; Gamache’s new son-in-law Jean-Guy is an officer and can access databases and so forth without any trouble. In addition, his replacement at the Sûreté is one of his most loyal officers, one who can be relied upon to help. So Gamache, Jean-Guy, Clara and her best friend/Armand’s therapist Myrna leave Three Pines in search of Peter.

As with earlier books, some of the clues lie within art and on an artist’s (or poet’s) inability to interpret clues the rest of us might miss. At times that’s a little annoying to me, someone with no artistic ability whatsoever, because I can’t see how they could deduce as much as they do from someone’s art, but maybe I’m just jealous.

The Long Way Home lacks the punch of some of Penny’s earlier books, but I suppose that’s to be expected since the last book provided the grand finale of a multiple-book story arc. I ordered the audiobook from Amazon.com prior to a long road trip to Alabama, and it sure made the drive a lot more entertaining.

Sep 022013
 

It’s not quite the same as the anticipation for a new Harry Potter book, but I’ll admit to pre-ordering Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In, which I don’t think I’ve done since Harry #7. It arrived early in the morning on my Kindle, so I read the first two chapters before I went to work and then read as much as I could here and there (new habit: carrying the Kindle in my bag. Reading in restaurants, in my office, at traffic lights — just kidding about that last).

It was worth it. How the Light Gets In completes a major story arc hinted at in early books and gradually building, especially in Bury Your Dead and The Beautiful Mystery.

Within the larger arc, each book has a murder mystery for Inspector Armand Gamache and his team to solve. This one begins with Myrna, the owner of a bookstore in Three Pines, calling Gamache because her friend Constance has gone missing. When Gamache finds her body, murdered in her own home, Myrna has to admit that Constance was the last of the Ouellet quintuplets — the only living quints ever when they were born in the 1930s, a miracle brought about by their mother’s desperate plea to a Canadian saint, his last miracle on earth. They were as famous as Princess Elizabeth, and even more photographed. Yet Constance was the last remaining quint, and none of them had been very happy. Gamache is quickly convinced that her death had to be related to her birth, so he goes to the national archives to dig into the quints’ past.

In the meantime, though, the Sûreté du Québec is crumbling around him. At the end of The Beautiful Mystery, one of his closest comrades deserted him, and from then until this book picks up scores of others in his department have been moved or requested transfers out of Homicide, leaving only Agent Isabelle Lacoste to be trusted: all of the replacements are lazy, angry, cynical or downright bad human beings. It’s clear that all of this is part of some larger plot of people at levels higher than Gamache’s in the Sûreté.

In reviews of previous books I’ve complained about Gamache being too perfectly perfect, and there’s an element of that here, too. There’s one thing involving a text message to an enemy that I can’t for the life of me figure out how Gamache would’ve known in advance should be sent or how it would be received by said enemy, yet the fact that it was sent and received is significant to the resolution of the plot. It makes him seem a little omnipotent.

Despite that, Gamache can’t handle the corruption situation without help from his friends. First and foremost he relies on Thérèse Brunel, a superintendent at the Sûreté, and her husband Jérôme, who risk their own careers, if not lives, to help him investigate. A close second are the people of Three Pines, the village hidden in the hills, inaccessible to electronic communication and not located on any map. Recognizing that something is very wrong, they step up to help and to protect their old friend Gamache. And then there are a couple of Gamache’s former officers, who may or may not be trustworthy. Things have gotten so bad that Gamache just has to hope they’ll come through for him. In the end it will all hinge on them.

To say that I couldn’t put it down might be a cliché, but it’s also the truth. No, it’s not Harry Potter, but it’s close to being the crime fiction version of that series. Read them all, and read them in order.

Dec 132012
 

I’ll admit it, the prologue to Louise Penny’s The Beautiful Mystery turned me off: I put it down and didn’t pick it up again until it was almost due back to the library and I had to read it or lose it. Not surprisingly, I read it. And not surprisingly, it was really good.

So, the prologue: a monk is writing down information about Gregorian chants, preserving them for history. I immediately leaped to the conclusion that, like a previous book in which Inspector Gamache solves the mystery surrounding Samuel de Champlain (founder of Quebec), somehow Gamache and his team would rush to Europe to solve the mystery of Gregorian chant. What a stupid plot — which is why I am not the mystery author in this review.

No, the plot is far more intriguing than that. Instead, the mystery involves the murder of a monk, the music director at a monastary in a remote location where only another monk could be the killer. The reclusive monks had been hidden to the world until they emerged just long enough to market a recording of themselves performing the most beautiful Gregorian chants ever heard. The recording raised enough money for the men to pay for repairs to the monastary, but it also divided the group to the point that someone thought murder was the only answer.

As always, a great portion of the book concerns Gamache’s team, almost as much as the mystery. In this case, the team consists of just Gamache and his longtime sidekick Jean-Guy Beauvoir, who still hasn’t confessed that he’s in love with Gamache’s daughter, and a surprise appearance by another officer in the  Sûreté du Québec — even the cloistered monks can tell something is badly wrong with that.

As for the ending, well, let’s just say the wait will be too long for the next Three Pines mystery.

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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