Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Cruelest Month

By Louise Penny

Minotaur Books     2007
311 pages     Mystery

The wise Chief Inspector Gamache prevails for the third time solving a murder in Three Pines, Quebec. And again, the crime involves the colorful villagers and the scary Hadley house. For a variety of reasons, some of the villagers who meet frequently at the village pub decide to use the services of a visiting psychic to stage a séance—first on Good Friday evening at the pub, and then on Easter night at the “haunted” Hadley House. The second séance causes the death of one of the newer village residents, Madeleine, who has come to live with the long-time resident Hazel and her daughter Sophie. All outward appearances seem to indicate that Madeleine was scared to death at the séance, but of course, it was murder, and Chief Inspector Gamache returns with his associates from the Sûreté du Québec.

It took me until nearly the end of the book to figure out the murderer and the reason for the murder. This is a good thing because I became engrossed in the secondary—but perhaps more important—plot, which pits Gamache against the other officers of the Sûreté. Some are out to seek vengeance on Gamache, and they go to great lengths to expose and incriminate him. How could anybody be out to get such a lovely, caring, insightful man? In an interview, Penny acknowledged that she was really pleased with the concept of the “near enemy” in this book. I think that is probably what fascinated me most. The reader, who is so sure of Gamache’s intuition, wonders how he couldn’t see who his enemies really were? Or was he blind to the treason?

One of the things that I like about Penny’s writing is the artful way she makes the setting one of the characters. The village is as important as Clara and Peter the artists, Myrna the bookseller, the couple that run the pub and B&B, and Ruth the crazy poet. “But Three Pines itself was a village forgotten. Time eddied and swirled and sometimes bumped into it, but never stayed long and never left much of an impression.” The Hadley House, at the edge of the village evokes a sinister presence over this benign village. At the end of The Cruelest Month, however, the goodness of the village prevails over the evil of the Hadley House.

By The Cruelest Month, the third in the series, Louise Penny has hit her stride, and the reader becomes very comfortable with the village, its residents, and Inspector Gamache. One of the strengths of her writing is that she doesn’t need to spend much time retelling the past mysteries to allow the reader to move into the setting and the characters.

Do the books need to be read in order? I have read Still Life and A Fatal Grace in order and I think that it helped me through The Cruelest Month. I plan to begin the fourth mystery next week in anticipation of a trip to Louise Penny land in Quebec with a friend. Never done anything like this before. Penny releases her newest book, Glass Houses, on August 29, and we will be there to meet her. More about that later.

Generally, I am not a big fan of books in series, but I truly enjoy meeting Inspector Gamache, and the delightfully quirky village residents of Three Pines. Now, on to book 4. Watch this space.
Louise Penny website.

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