As you know, when not writing you need to be reading. I try to read the spectrum of mystery fiction. But I have my favorites. This weekend I got to read the much anticipated twelfth book in Louise Penney’s series about former Chief Inspector Gamache. It did not disappoint.
On back-order for several months, it arrived as I left for Bouchercon, where I picked up three bags of books to read. But this one stayed at the top of my pile.
Fans will know that Armand Gamache is the former Chief Inspector of the Homicide division for the Sûreté du Québec. Having almost died cleaning up the corruption in the famed police force, he has retired to the sleepy village of Three Pines, which figures greatly in most of the books. Seemingly recovered but bearing the scars, both mental and physical, he passes up grandiose positions to become the new Commander of the Sûreté Academy. It is the last bastion of the evil and decay that almost overwhelmed the division. In what seems an act of insanity, he brings two of his fiercest enemies onto the faculty. The struggle for hearts and minds inevitably leads to a murder and the investigation that targets him as a suspect gradually peels away layers of scandal that shock even Gamache.
Penney skillfully intertwines the central story with a historical thread, following a mysterious map through twists and turns worthy of Dan Brown. But, as always, it is the finely, almost poetically-drawn characters and the rich heritage of Québec that holds us riveted, not the tightly structured plot.
If you are a novice to this fabulous Canadian author, sprint to your nearest used bookstore to find the first book of the series, Still Life. It is not always available at your local box store. Begin at the beginning and follow the twists and turns of the progressive relationships between the varied and wonderful cast of her books. No one stands still; they all grow and evolve, and make terribly human mistakes. My only small disappointment in this book was that Clara, the resident artist of Three Pines played so small a role.
Fans of Louise Penney will know that the release of the last two books were somewhat delayed by the onset and increasingly devastating dementia of her husband, Michael. That she can still write such beautiful prose while coping with this is extraordinary. It is especially poignant since many of Gamache’s most endearing qualities are those she based on her beloved husband.