The Nature of the Beast (CBR11 #9)

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This is my first Inspector Gamache book without narrator Ralph Cosham. It took me a bit to get used to hearing Gamache’s voice in my head without the aid of Cosham, but after ten books Cosham is Gamache’s voice for me and once I got started it all worked itself out.

The tenth book, The Long Way Home, was a departure for both Penny and her characters and in some important ways this book is a return to form. We have at the core of this book a mystery set within the greater environs of Three Pines which opens even further the backstories of our favorite residents. But this is also a book that accepts the new status quo of the lives of Gamache, Beauvoir, and Clara.

I don’t fully know that I knew what to expect in this one, but I know that I wasn’t expecting Penny to dive into some truly horrendous baddies. There’s a serial killer haunting the periphery of the story and while other authors would use that to pile up the bodies Penny instead uses it to dig ever further into the whys of human nature. Why are we fascinated with what the serial killer did before the events of the novel, why would he kill so many, why is he resurfacing now, why is he still a threat from the SHU, and why is Gamache so afraid?

The serial killer isn’t even the main thrust of the mystery. Gamache is intent on enjoying his retirement with Reine-Marie in Three Pines, but that idyll is broken when the body of a young boy from town is discovered on the side of the road. An initial small, local search discovers things aren’t quite what they seem and something large and scary is found in the woods which brings in Chief Inspector Lacoste as well as the larger Canadian intelligence community. Three Pines is far from done uncovering her secrets.

I read an interview with Penny, and she nails what I love about these books. “[They] aren’t about murder; they’re about life and the choices that we make, and what happens to good people when such a harrowing event comes into their lives. It’s an exploration of human nature, I hope.” This book does that in spades, and while this book had to be returned over the Christmas holiday and I read it neatly in two halves I’m looking forward to book twelve, A Great Reckoning, and getting to read it all in one go.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

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The Long Way Home (CBR10 #35)

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In order to pace myself I read the Inspector Gamache books in the season or month they are set and it has been eight long months since I last visited the greater environs of Three Pines. Book nine, How the Light Gets In, had a feeling of finality to it, of bringing together the various storylines and setting a new normal for our characters. I was unsure what I should expect when it finally came time to read The Long Way Home, what would life look like in Three Pines now that Gamache had retired there?

In reality what I found was characters and an author trying to decide what is next. The Long Way Home refers to several things, and certainly the book is chronicling how Gamache and others come to terms with the actions necessitated by the end of How The Light Gets In, but it is also a study in the character of Peter Morrow even though he is largely absent from the page. It has been over a year since Clara kicked Peter out, and she is finding the weeks of silence following when he should have returned to Three Pines to be filled with ever-increasing dread. Why has he not returned? What has happened to him? She is concerned enough to ask the still recovering and newly retired Gamache to help her find him.

Gamache and Beauvoir do help Clara, and the majority of the book trails the Clara-led journey to find Peter, visiting new locations and old characters along the way. It is hard to find the best way to write another review of a Louise Penny book, particularly when I’m not fond of it, while also walking the tightrope of not giving the mystery away. The mystery in this one isn’t who committed the murder (although there is eventually a confirmed murder) but rather what is keeping Peter away. I found it hard to care why Peter was missing, or if he had in fact reformed from his terrible ways which led to Clara kicking him out in the first place.

The other let down for me in this book was the lack of a secondary plot. Everything is very linear, including the direction of the hunt for Peter. In a certain way Gamache and Beauvoir are going through the motions, and in much the same way of my other least favorite, A Rule Against Murder, we are kept almost entirely away from Three Pines and its residents. The portions of the book which interested me were when Penny went poking around in the psyches of our characters, but we get less and less of it as the book continues.

The language, however, is delicious and Penny finds ways to insert food into her narrative to describe locations and character moods. The characters are richly developed and beautifully layered that you will want to return time and again and Penny charmingly and closely describes some new enchanting food in each chapter. I’m not kidding, of the 41 chapters in this book I think 39 had some glorious description of exquisite food, just enough to add some lightness to the book as well as make the reader hungry.

This was the final Ralph Cosham narrated Gamache book, and I will miss his work greatly. His voice is the voice of Three Pines for me, and I hope to be able to read the next few books in his voice.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

How the Light Gets In (CBR9 #74)

I traverse my reading year with Gamache books waiting for me along the way. Self-imposed rules mean that I read these books in the season which they are set, but in 2017 that still meant an embarrassment of Louise Penny and Ralph Cosham* riches as Bury Your Dead, The Hangman**, A Trick of the Light, The Beautiful Mystery, and How the Light Gets In happen chronologically between January and December, although across several years.

*Ralph Cosham narrated the first ten Inspector Gamache novels before he passed away in 2014. I have one more of his audiobooks and I will miss his Inspector Gamache very much.

**Technically I gave myself a pass on reading this novella out of seasonal order

How the Light Gets In follows the devastating events of The Beautiful Mystery and in many ways wraps up the threads that have been unspooling since Bury Your Dead. Gamache’s department is being turned upside down, Beauvoir has descended further into his drug addiction to pain killers, we discover who truly leaked the video surveillance footage of the attack at the dam. Gamache also has a limited time to solve a murder (or two) and uncover what his enemies inside the Surete are really up to.

It is hard to find the best way to write another review of a Louise Penny book singing its praises while also walking the tightrope of not giving the mystery away yet convincing you all to read this series. The language is delicious, the characters are so richly developed and exquisitely layered that you will want to return time and again to their world, no matter what new terrible thing is happening to them.  So, believe me and gives these a read.

 

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend. Registration for our tenth read is open now. 

The Beautiful Mystery (CBR9 #52 – CANNONBALL!)

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It turns out that this year’s Cannonball book is an Inspector Gamache book, and that seems oddly fitting.

I have chosen to spread out the Inspector Armand Gamache books instead of mainlining them. I read them in the seasons they are set, and it always proves to be something to look forward to. Following the disappointment of In Praise of Hatred I needed a comfort read, and Gamache is that for me. Luckily enough, autumn in northern Quebec is now, so we were all set.

Louise Penny stretches as an author in each book, and is often trying something new. In the eighth book in the series Penny gives us our first true locked room mystery. A monk is murdered in a cloistered monastery, and one of the brothers is guilty. It is up to Gamache and Jean Guy Beauvoir to travel to the remote Quebec wilderness to be some of the first outsiders ever admitted to St. Gilbert entre les loups to solve the case. The mystery of the murder is relatively straightforward, the biggest obstacle being to decipher what the murder weapon was and who had opportunity. Up until the final denouement, I was vacillating between two possibilities.

One would think I have learned my lesson with Gamache books: be careful what you ask for in the world of Three Pines. After A Rule Against Murder I was impatient to return to Three Pines, and The Brutal Telling put me through the ringer as the small town and all the characters I care about were raked over the coals. At the end of book seven, A Trick of the Light, I said that I was “exceptionally excited to spend more time with these two characters based on where we left them emotionally”. Well, I got my wish as Beauvoir and Gamache work this case solo, away from everyone else, making the book almost exclusively focused on their interactions and relationship. Woo boy, did it nearly break me.

Beauvoir has returned from rehab and has begun quietly dating the love of his life, Annie Gamache. Series readers (or at least ME) have been tracking this pairing since the beginning of the series, and the shootout at the Factory in Bury Your Dead serves to rattle each character’s status quo. We are allowed even further into Beauvoir’s mind in A Trick of the Light and the depth of his emotions regarding Annie. Now, we also know for sure how Annie feels, and we are treated to some domestic bliss at the beginning of the book as we see these two in the early months of a blooming relationship. We will not see it again in this book.

While investigating Beauvoir and Gamache are cut off from the rest of the world. But that does not mean their past doesn’t follow them there, in the form of memories (Beauvoir still struggles greatly with feelings of inadequacy and memories of the night he almost died) and the physical being of the superintendent. The Arnot case, and its fallout, are not as over as we may have hoped, and Gamache is under scrutiny once again. In a turn that rendered me nearly speechless, Beauvoir is turned against him. I of course looked ahead, book nine; How the Light Gets In takes place before Christmas. I will have a few months to wait to find out what the devastation is repaired for I must believe that it will be.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we want (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

A Trick of the Light (CBR9 #27)

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When I finished this book, I quickly posted on Goodreads my placeholder review, as I do with all books. Usually it is just the star rating and the phrase “full review to follow”. However, that wasn’t enough to wrap up how I was feeling. Instead, I wrote “It is almost unthinkable that a series can be getting better, more nuanced, and satisfying in its seventh installment but that is where we are with Louise Penny and Inspector Gamache” because this might be the best book yet in the series.

Several days later, I feel the same way. I think kella, in her omnibus review of books 7-12 of this series, nailed it when she said, “[Penny’s] characters become more and more complex with each book, as their experiences keep building. The characters are growing and changing throughout, which is probably why I can’t put these down. I’m invested now- it’s as much about seeing these people grow and interact as it is about the murder at hand.” Penny, like other great series writers, has taken the time to flesh out all of her main cast of characters and isn’t afraid to allow them to grow, change, behave, and experience pain as anyone would given the situations surrounding them. These books are going somewhere, and it is plot based, but it is character driven. Penny is offering a meditation on the human spirit and its ability to recover.

The murder this time is of a former friend of Clara and Peter’s who is found dead in their garden. There was a large party celebrating Clara’s lauded solo show but, as is often the case the past slinks its way into the present. Throughout the investigation, each new avenue that Gamache and his team head down uncovers another person whose past is affecting their present. We head down a path exploring the art world, the people who make its community, people trying to forgive the unforgiveable, those who are fighting their addictions in AA, and the continuing power struggles within the Surete du Quebec.

The book also masterfully takes on what recovering from trauma like that which Beauvoir, Gamache, Lacoste, and the other officers of the Surete du Quebec faced in Bury Your Dead, never sugarcoating the reality of profound injury, loss, and the mental wounds. Penny has used this tragedy to set some characters more surely into themselves, and allow others to shake off decisions of the past, and to grow everyone. We don’t know yet what the long term effects will be, but as with any long-form storytelling the waiting is part of the experience.

I don’t know if I will be able to hold to my previous rule of reading these in the month/season they were set. I already bent my own rule with this one, as it is set in June, but I couldn’t find that information before I got started and based my start date on the flowers described in the blurb (yes, that is the type of nerd I am) and once I realized I was reading it early I just kept going. I believe the next book, The Beautiful Mystery, is set away from Three Pines and focuses on Gamache and Beauvoir. I am exceptionally excited to spend more time with these two characters based on where we left them emotionally, and hope the next one isn’t set too much into the fall/early winter and I can get started on it soon.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. We read what we want, set personal goals, and review to our hearts content. Oh, and say “Fuck Cancer”, for good measure.

Bury Your Dead (CBR9 #6)

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Often it can be difficult to review a book in the middle of the series, particularly on the first read through. I don’t know, for example, what will happen to the characters in this story as the next 6 novels progress, I only know that they exist.

This means that I can only trace the works as they culminate in this book, Bury Your Dead. Bury Your Dead is, however, not a book which can stand alone: it is tied inextricably to its predecessor The Brutal Telling. I will have to spoil that book in order to discuss this one, so after the next paragraph, SPOILERS can be found.

I listen to these on audio, since Ralph Cosham was the perfect pair to the material.  I cannot recommend highly enough that you take this series on if you enjoy classic mystery novels. In an interview at the tail end of the recording Penny discusses the adventure of creating these books and building the community of Three Pines, the characters who inhabit it, and those who come to visit. She speaks earnestly about creating characters true to life, and not caricatures. I was also pleasantly excited to hear her discuss these books as not being cozies, which I certainly didn’t think they were. Penny is an author with a good idea, the character of Inspector Gamache, and she is dedicated to exploring all the stories that build out the person he is, and the various facets of a personality.

Spoilery zone.

Penny uses a new layout for her arsenal to tell three stories simultaneously. We work forward in time with two, and backwards

Of the two plots which work in forward time, the first links with the end of The Brutal Telling. Gamache and company arrested Olivier for the murder of the hermit. Olivier has told too many lies, and while Gamache has built and the prosecutors have won the case against him and he is in jail. Bury Your Dead picks up over a year later, with Olivier in prison and his partner Gabriel writing Gamache a letter every day, enclosing his favorite candy and a handwritten note with one question  “why would Olivier move the body if he committed the murder?”. Gamache is unsure about his findings following another tramatic event, and deploys Beauvoir to build the case as if Olivier is innocent.

The plot which unfolds in reverse order, with a touch of nonlinear storytelling deployed, is that of how Gamache and Beauvoir came to be recovering from nearly catastrophic injuries and the discovery of who kidnapped Agent Moran.  The final thread is that of the investigation of a murder in Quebec which Gamache finds himself pulled into as he finishes his convalescence at his former chief’s home.

Other than time this various strings would not necessarily be bound together, and the novel could certainly be read on a surface level where you do not unpack anything further. I am occasionally guilty of doing just that with the Inspector Gamache books. However, the struggle to face our shortcomings, and our fears, and our mistakes its linked across every facet of this novel. Penny continues to tell us stories about art, food, and death as well as meditations on the human condition.

This book, and the next A Trick of the Light, was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Brutal Telling (CBR8 #64)

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My chief complaint when I read A Rule Against Murder this summer was that while it was an Inspector Armand Gamache novel with all that entails, and it featured some of the characters who populate Three Pines, the book was not set there and I felt the lack of the world that Louise Penny had spent three books crafting. Well, in book five I got my wish to return to Three Pines, and Penny makes the reader pay mightily for the return.

Mild spoilers for the book and series, I suppose, from this point forward.

Louise Penny crafts incredible prose. I have chosen to listen to the Ralph Cosham read audiobooks for as long as they last (through book 10, I believe) and sometimes while listening I actually lose track of the plot threads because my brain is busy savoring the way the words are put together. The way Penny uses language to describe art, music, and food is simply sumptuous. It is by far the best part of the books, followed closely by the character of Armand Gamache himself.

At the end of book three, The Cruelest Month, the Arnot case has been put to rest and we are left with Gamache in what is perhaps his first time truly being post-Arnot. The books move away from the inner workings and conspiracies of the Sûreté du Québec, and instead focus on the solving of the crimes at hand. I find myself missing that side of the narrative as books four and five have narrowed their focus to the cases at hand. There is some expansion of the story of the residents of Three Pines, specifically the Morrows, but it takes a back seat to the mystery.

In The Brutal Telling Gamache is called in when a body is found at Olivier’s bistro. From the beginning the reader knows that Olivier knew the dead man, whose name we do not know, while Gamache does not. Over the course of the book we watch Gamache, with his team of Beauvoir and Lacoste, and the new man Moran, piece together the seeming impossible mystery of the hermit, his cabin filled with unspeakable treasures, and who moved his body after his death, not to mention who actually murdered him.

At the end of the book I’m not sure the man who was found guilty of the crime of manslaughter actually did it, and there are plenty of characters in the book who agree with me, perhaps even Gamache. It’s interesting to watch a character we trust implicitly, Gamache, have no choice but to follow the evidence where it leads, even if it means arresting someone he considers a friend.

This book wasn’t perfect, there was a decidedly ridiculous portion of time where highly esteemed cryptographer doesn’t just do a very simple check to solve a code, and when the thing is solved it matters not to the overall case, it felt like a needless eddy in a book full of interesting eddies. There is also the problem of the case left seemingly dangling. My personal plan for these books is to read them in the time of year they are set, which means I won’t be reading Bury Your Dead until January and that is a long time to wait to find out what happens to Three Pines with one of its own in jail, and Inspector Gamache left with an unsatisfying conclusion to this case.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.