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. 

A Rule Against Murder (CBR8 #45)

This is the fourth Inspector Gamache book, set in the week leading up to Canada Day (July 1), and the Gamaches’ wedding anniversary. I’m glad I remembered when this one was set, because visiting with Gamache always tends to improve the spirits, and its ben HOT here and driving around in the car listening to Ralph Cosham while the AC did its job was a wonderful way to break up the day.

Unfortunately, I felt like this was the weakest thus far of the Inspector Gamache books. Let’s go Pro/Con style as to why I landed on 3 stars for this book.

Pros:

  1. It continues to be refreshing to read about a detective who is also a family man and a good person. So many detective stories feature scarred men (or occasionally women). But not here. Inspector Gamache is a lovely man who is celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife whom he still loves deeply. The other characters are intricately drawn, even if they don’t always land.
  2. How. When an author writes a seemingly impossible murder they have to make sure they have a plausible and interesting explanation. Penny nails it.
  3. Dialogues and conversations. Penny has an ear for how people speak to each other and inner monologue (even if some of her characters are incredibly well spoken).
  4. Historical Details. Penny highlights the tensions between Francophone and Anglophone Canadians focusing on the “Quiet Revolution” of the 1960s when English-speaking residents of Montreal felt alienated and many left the province which had become officially French-speaking. Penny also highlights the class divisions that the two languages demarcated at the time, and the lingering classism. We learn about Gamache’s personal history and his father’s involvement in protests to World War II. But perhaps the favorite for me was Gamache’s lessons on Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais”.

Cons:

  1. Setting. We weren’t actually at Three Pines, where I want to be when I pick up an Inspector Gamache book, because the cast of characters there are so enjoyable. At times during the bookI wished that I was with Reine-Marie at the practices for Clogging Competition instead of being at the Manoir Bellechasse with the irredeemably awful Finney/Morrow clan. The interactions between Beauvoir and the Chef, or Elliot and the Maître d’Hotel left me cold and confused, and made me miss Gabri and all the rest even more.
  2. Plot. It’s basically a locked room mystery, which isn’t always my favorite, and is harmed by the following two points.
  3. Pace. What bothered me is that the killer is among them and yet no one is in a hurry to catch the killer. There is no sense of urgency, until the very end. Like the other books in the series, about half of the book has absolutely nothing to do with the murder. In the previous books the time away from the murder filled out the world surrounding Three Pines, the Sûreté du Quebec, or the Arnot case. This time… not really.
  4. Reason for Murder. While the how worked for me, the why was a big mystery. I was baffled by the motive for the murder. The murderer’s reason did not convince me: was it a crime of passion? But the incident that triggered the murder was a long time ago and the victim didn’t have anything to do with it. Was it then a crime of opportunity? Or premeditated, because the manner of death took planning? There is no satisfying answer to these questions.

With all of that, I’m still happy with the series and will be picking up the fifth book in the series, The Brutal Telling in the autumn.

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

A Fatal Grace (CBR7 #104 – Double Cannonball!!)

Ladies and Gents, welcome to my Double Cannonball review!

MsWas posted awhile back singing the praises of the Inspector Gamache series. I quickly started the series and fell in love with the main characters, setting, and pace of the mystery. I like to space out series when I can, so when I discovered that the second book in the series, A Fatal Grace, is set around Christmastime I knew I would chose it as my December Audible credit (the narrator of these, Ralph Cosham, is simply a delight). Nothing like reading about the coldest, snowiest winter in Quebec while experiencing an El Nino winter that has highs in the 60s in 70s in the Northeast and high 80s in the Southeast of the United States.

This novel finds Gamache traveling back to the town of Three Pines to investigate one or the odder murders he’s come across – murder by electrocution. It doesn’t seem too strange, until you realize that most accidental electrocutions have been reduced, and the possibility of actively electrocuting someone has been greatly reduced my modern life.  Gamache is called in to decipher who could have committed the murder, at a frozen lake during a curling match, of possibly the most hated woman in town.

What I really loved about this book, aside from the intricacies of the investigation of CC de Poitiers murder, was the natural expansion of the universe of the novel. We learn more about some favorite Three Pines residents including the Morrows, Gabriel and Olivier, Myrna Landers, and Ruth Zardo. We are also introduced to some additional residents and get more information on the case that has stalled Inspector Gamache’s career and those who remain loyal to him. Penny is working to create a ever increasingly complex world which is only a good sign as this series is expecting its twelfth installment in the new year.

As to the mystery, this one was a bit simpler to piece together than the Still Life’s but sufficiently complicated to hold my interest throughout. Expect a review of book number three, The Cruelest Month this spring, since I’m enjoying reading the Gamache books along with the seasons they are supposed to be taking place in.

I think this will likely be my last review for CBR7, since I’m not planning on getting any reviewing done while on vacation through the New Year, but I’m looking forward to CBR8 and book club!

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