A Better Man by Louise Penny

 In a Dark Wood Wandering  cover

A Better Man by Louise Penny was published in 2019 and it’s a continuation of her Chief Inspector Gamache series, number fifteen.

As expected this was a really good read, a lot of the enjoyment is just being back in Three Pines, that off the map Quebecois village that so many of us want to live in – despite its crime rate! The odd local murder now and again would be worthwhile putting up with if you could have your coffee and pastries at Gabri and Olivier’s bistro, sitting by the fire.

It’s a time of change at the Surete de Quebec, Armande Gamache has been demoted and Jean Guy will soon be moving on with his family to a new job in Paris, meanwhile there’s still work to be done. Vivienne Godin is a 25 year old local woman and her father is worried as she’s missing. To make matters worse she’s also pregnant. Her drunken and abusive husband is under suspicion.

At the same time the police are having to deal with the fast melting snow and ice which is threatening to flood the whole area. The Riviere Bella Bella is in danger of breaking its banks, and the dams are about to burst. If that happens the flooding will stretch into Vermont. All the villagers can do is fill sandbags and watch the river rise.

As ever there’s a lot of angst as Armande has more than his fair share of enemies among politicians in power, but there’s also an awful lot of love around, not only between Armande and his wife Reine-Marie but also among the other villagers and their various animals – not forgetting Ruth the ancient poet (how old is she?) and her beloved companion the duck Rosa. I think they’re both mellowing with age.

If you do read Louise Penny’s books you should make sure that you read her Acknowledgements at the back of the book. They’re always very personal and moving. I think she should copy Elizabeth von Arnim and write a book called All the Dogs of My Life. Mind you given the shortish age span of most dogs it would be a tear-jerker.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Kingdom of the Blind  cover

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny was published in 2018 which means that I’ve caught up with this series which I think it’s important to read in the correct order. Louise Penny’s husband died before she began to write this one and she didn’t think she would be able to write after losing him, particularly as her detective Armand Gamache was modelled on her husband, but after a while she felt able to continue with the series. I suppose for her it’s one way of keeping her husband alive.

When an elderly woman – a complete stranger – names Armand as an executor to her will he’s perplexed. Myrna, a retired psychologist who is another inhabitant of the village of Three Pines is also named and a young man called Benedict who is a builder. It’s a complete mystery to all of them and when the will is read in the dilapidated home of the deceased they’re none the wiser. Bertha Baumgartner has left millions to her three children and an aristocratic title as well as property abroad. But surely nobody with that sort of money would be living in squalor as she did.

As the setting is Three Pines it wasn’t going to be long before a body turned up and so begins Gamache’s investigation, helped by his staff at the Surete de Quebec. At the same time the local politicians in Quebec seem hell bent on ruining Gamache. The stress is all too much for Jean Guy his son-in-law. As ever you’re never quite sure who the good guys are.

Despite Louise Penny’s loss she still has her sense of humour. It’s the many quirky villagers that bring so much charm to these books and Ruth Zardo with her pet duck Rosa aided by Gamache’s grandson are hilarious.

Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Glass Houses cover

I’ve been waiting for quite a wee while in a library queue to get my hands on Louise Penny’s new book Glass Houses, and it was worth the wait as it was another enjoyable trip to Quebec and the loveable village of Three Pines in particular. Armande Gamache had of course retired to the quaint and friendly village (despite the previous murders) it’s now home to him and his wife Reine-Marie. But he’s back at work now and having to testify in court in a homicide case where he was the arresting officer. It’s July and the heat is unbearable, especially for the judge and lawyers in their gowns and wigs. Everyone is fanning themselves with paper in a vain effort to get a waft of cool air, this part reminded me very much of the court case in To Kill a Mockingbird.

But the incidents that led to the court case took place in the freezing Quebec winter, and through the case we’re taken back to that time. Gamache has had some very difficult decisions to make, going against everything he has been taught about being a good Surete officer. There’s a massive drug ring bringing opioids through Canada and into the US and on top of that there’s been a murder in Three Pines.

It’s all very topical as opioids have in recent years caused havoc in the US but for me the murder/mystery aspect of this series isn’t necessarily the most important part. The close knit community of the villagers of Three Pines and their activities mean that reading these books is like being in the company of good friends. Everybody should have a Ruth and Rosa in their lives.

There was one thing that perplexed me, the nursery rhyme Ring a ring a’ roses which was apparently inspired by the Black Death/plague is mentioned quite a few times but where the words in the UK are ‘atishoo atishoo we all fall down’ – they’re written in this book as ‘ashes ashes we all fall down’

I’m left wondering if in Canada the word ‘ashes’ is used to denote a sneeze. I know that in Germany they say/write ‘atchi’ or hatchi’ for a sneeze, but ‘ashes’ seems strange to me. Can anyone enlighten me?

If you read this book make sure that you don’t skip the Author’s Note at the end where Louise Penny explains that her writing and Three Pines and its inhabitants helped her as her husband’s life was coming to an end, he had had dementia. It’s very moving.

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny is the fifth book in her Armand Gamache/Three Pines series, and I think that this one is the best yet. I thought it was a cracker, I don’t know if that is because I had lots of time for reading so I was able to read it in about three sittings, despite the fact that I’m really not a fast reader as I don’t skim read. Or maybe this really is the best so far.

I was just beginning to think that Three Pines is the Quebec equivalent of Midsomer Murders when one of the characters – Clara says: Every Quebec village has a vocation. Some make cheese, some wine, some pots. We produce bodies.

So, Three Pines is beginning to feel like a home from home for Chief Inspector Gamache. It should be a nightmare of a place to live in but the community is so close and the inhabitants so quirky and flawed that it feels like real life, after all, nobody is perfect.

I can’t say too much about the story because I don’t want to spoil it for any possible readers. Suffice to say that the body of a tramp is found in the bistro, he’s a complete stranger to everyone and Gamache has the job of finding out who he is and why he has been murdered and put into the bistro overnight. The lives of all the locals are turned upside down as the police search everywhere for clues. The loyalties of the locals are pushed to the edge.

Ruth Zardo, the elderly poet who is rude and foul-mouthed to everyone, and who is accompanied everywhere by Rosa her pet duck, proves herself to be the opposite of the personality which she works so hard to project.

I’m so glad that I took the time to request these books in order from the library as the lives of the characters unfold bit by bit and there’s always something new to find out about them.

The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

My thanks go to Peggy Ann for pointing me in the direction of this book. I really enjoyed it. Again, it’s set in Scotland so it’s not exactly exotic for me, but although Susanna Kearsley is actually Canadian she did very well at getting the correct speech patterns and of course the book is sprinkled with a plethora of Scots words.

Verity Grey is a young, ambitious English archaeologist who is travelling to a dig near Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders. Peter Quinnell is in charge of the dig, he’s getting on in years and the archaelogical world sees him as a bit of a nutter, but Peter is determined to be taken seriously and he has the money to pay for plenty of assistants.

Peter is looking for the lost Ninth Roman Legion. Although there is no evidence of any Roman camp in the area, Peter is sure there is one because young Robbie, a local 8 year old who has the ‘second sight’ has seen a Roman soldier walking around in the fields.

This book did remind me of Mary Stewart and Rosemary Sutcliff, which can’t be bad. It’s a mixture of mystery, history and the supernatural and has romance thrown in for good measure. I could quite happily do without the romance but I understand that for a lot of people the romance will be the most important aspect of the book. I must admit that I think I have a 10 year old boy stuck in me somehow as my reaction to romance is generally yeuch – but it’s probably something to do with me having been married for a very long time indeed!

You might know that I never see anything as being perfect – in fact I don’t think perfection is possible or even desirable, so here are my few gripes.

I could have been doing with a bit more description of scenery, but that goes for nearly every book which I read. The other thing is my bugbear because although the author says that she had the book checked to make sure that there were no mistakes in her Scots I have to report that one did get through the checkers – and it was on page 300. It’s not the first time that I’ve found this mistake in Scots and in fact the word might have been ‘corrected’ by an English editor. That has happened before I know, and I happen to know that the author involved had words with his editor who realised that he had been wrong and it was put back to the original version. I am of course speaking about – amn’t I, because there are not only Scots words but also Scots grammar and there is just no way that a Scottish lad from Eyemouth would be saying – ‘I’m a finds assistant, aren’t I, Miss Grey?’ Of course he should have said amn’t I.

What’s she making a fuss about? I hear you say. But it is important that we don’t lose the correct way to speak Scots and it is in danger of being wiped out because from time to time Scottish actors do occasionally say aren’t I on TV, obviously because they aren’t confident enough to say to the director that it’s wrong. They should because it sounds awful in a Scots accent, but more than that we will get Scottish youngsters speaking like that because someone on the telly did, and I happen to think that the Scots language is every bit as important as the Gaelic language, so we have to be vigilant otherwise it will disappear and we will be left with just an accent rather than a dialect and language.

As my m-i-l grew up in Eyemouth I know for sure that it isn’t some kind of weird anomaly that they speak in an English way there. She definitely said amn’t I despite the fact that she was a daughter of the rectory, meaning that her father was the minister of the Scottish Episcopal Church there, and they were always seen as being a bit posh/snooty/English!

Of course the same goes for all languages, they are mobile to an extent but it can be taken too far. Another of my pet hates is the English word fulsome – well I don’t hate the word but I hate the fact that people use it completely wrongly. We’re always hearing people on TV speaking about ‘fulsome praise’ – when they mean that someone or something has been praised a lot. However the word fulsome means – cloying, excessive, disgusting by excess, which is a very different meaning altogether. Honestly, look it up if you don’t believe me. Call me Mrs Pedantic if you like, I don’t mind!

Anyway that’s my rant over, to get back to the book, I’ll be looking for more books by Susanna Kearsley in the future and if you are doing a Canadian reading challenge, which I’m not, remember that she is a Canadian author.