Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Fatal Grace

by Louise Penny
Minotaur Books     2006
313 pages     Mystery

Chief Inspector Gamache complained to his wife that the case he is on, the murder of C.C. de Portiers, is wearing him out. He says, "It's this case. It's become about more than murder. Somehow it's about belief." She responds, "Every murder you've been on is about belief. What the murderer believes, what you believe."

A Fatal Grace is all about belief, and more importantly, it's about grace. Not that the novel is religious, because it's not, but it is filled with the grace with which Chief Inspector Gamache runs his operation, how he treats his staff, and the gentle way he deals with the suspects as well as the people affected by the crime. He is a remarkable man, and this is a remarkable novel.

Gamache returns to the village of Three Pines, Quebec, which we first became acquainted with in the first Inspector Gamache novel, Still Life. This time, a new resident of the community, C.C. dePortiers is murdered. No one in the village liked her; she is actually despised because she had alienated everyone, including the three elderly women that form the backbone (or the tall pines) of the village. They revile her on many levels, but most importantly because of the way she treats her husband and her young teenage daughter. When C.C. dies a horrible death by electrocution, they become Garmache's first suspects. They know a lot more than they are telling him, but did they murder C.C.?

Three Pines is the most incredible village inhabited by genuine and deeply developed characters. Penny's greatest skill is bringing life to the community and its inhabitants. The Publisher's Weekly reviewer mentions that the novel may be bogged down by too much back story, but I really enjoyed meeting the characters again. Especially Garmache, whom I have grown to love. It is obvious that Penny loves him too, because she has endowed him with almost mythic qualities. She says of him, "Garmache's job was to collect the evidence, but also to collect the emotions. And the only way he knew to do that was to get to know the people. To watch and listen. To pay attention. And the best way to do that was in a deceptively casual manner in a deceptively casual setting. Like a bistro." 

It is Christmas time in Three Pines, so weather plays a huge role in the novel. It is snowy and bitterly cold. Even the natives of the region recognize that it is cold—and snowy—and below zero.  One of the major events of the Christmas holiday season in Three Pines is a brunch and a curling tournament. This is where the murder takes place. It is a community outing, and everyone is there, even the victim, but no one sees the murder happen. Strange! By the way, you have to live in Canada or Northern Minnesota, Wisconsin or the U.P. of Michigan to know what curling is. There is a huge debate whether curling is a sport or a game, witness the article in the Washington Post. In the case of curling in Three Pines, it is a lovely game that is played out on the pond, and people sit in the stands and watch. Apparently watching the game and not the murder! 

I encourage you to move in your mind to Three Pines, the lovely village in Quebec, and see the homicide in A Fatal Grace evolve through the eyes of Canada's greatest detective, Chief Inspector Gamache. 

Louise Penny website

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