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.

Library Haul

I have been doing really well recently at concentrating on reading my own books but I’ve had a terrible relapse culminating in me borrowing five books – they were all absolutely necessary though! I did have ‘borrower’s remorse’ as soon as I took them home, but I got over it.

Haul of Library Books

I went into the library only to pick up one which I had reserved – Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. I wanted to read this one as I really loved his book A Gentleman in Moscow, this one is very different but still good.

Then the librarian told me that Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce was also waiting for me. I have no idea if I’ll like this one but several bloggers that I trust have enjoyed it and as the setting is London 1941 its sounds like it’ll be right up my street. I’m the first person to borrow this one too – always satisfying.

I’m working my way through Helen Dunmore’s books and Zennor in Darkness just about jumped off the shelf at me. The setting is Cornwall in spring 1917 where ships are being sunk by U-boats, strangers are treated with suspicion and newspapers are full of spy stories.

Stet An Editor’s Life by Diana Athill is one I’ve wanted to read for a while but hadn’t got around to requesting it. When I visited the library in St Andrews the other day it was sitting on the shelf, obviously waiting for me.

I borrowed A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny thinking that it was her latest book but I’ve just realised that it’s one that I’ve already read and it was first published in 2006 with a different title – Dead Cold. I’m so glad that I only borrowed the book and didn’t buy it. I hate it when publishers do that and I can see no reason for it other than they want to con readers into buying the same book twice! At least that means I’ll get back to reading my own books quicker, but I had been really looking forward to being in Three Pines again for a few days. Have you read any of these ones?

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.

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

A Great Reckoning cover

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny is the latest in her Three Pines series and if you decide to start reading the series then make sure you start at the beginning and read them in order for maximum enjoyment. I’ve come to realise that although I ‘ve enjoyed them all my pleasure in them depends on how much the inhabitants of the village of Three Pines feature in the storyline, the more the merrier as far as I’m concerned.

There’s a mystery involving an old map that has been discovered in the bistro. It’s very strange because the Quebecois village is unusual in that for some reason it appears on no modern maps and has no mobile phone signal, so it must feel a bit like it has fallen off the edge of the word in some ways. But it’s the place that former Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie have come to love, so much so that they have bought a house there.

Previous investigations have left Gamache damaged both physically and mentally, but he isn’t quite ready to retire from public service yet and after pondering over several job offers he has chosen to be the new commander of the Surete Academy. In recent years that training college has become corrupt and the young recruits are being taught that brutality is normal and that they are above the law.

Gamache is determined to clean the place up but he makes some surprising decisions as to which teachers to get rid of and who to hang on to. Has Gamache bitten off more than he can chew? This is a cracking read.

The story involves village men – boys really who went off to fight during the First World War and who got caught up in the horror that was the Somme. This year – 2016 is of course the centenary of those battles and I’m sure that Louise Penny wrote this book in remembrance of the many Canadians who died there.

We were in Ypres earlier this year and photographed the massive but very moving memorial to the Canadians there, see the photo below.

Canadian War Memorial, Saint-Julien

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny

The Nature of the Beast cover

Well, I can hardly believe it but I’ve managed to catch up with Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache series. The Nature of the Beast is her latest and it’s set in Three Pines, that seemingly idyllic location which is actually quite dangerous to live in – given the murder count over recent years.

Armand Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie have retired and have chosen to settle in Three Pines. They are well known in the village and in turn they know the villagers well, so when a wee boy known for his wild imagination and tall tales rushes around shouting about a huge gun and a monster in the woodland surrounding Three Pines, nobody is particularly bothered, it’s just what he does.

So everybody ignores him, and that’s something that they live to regret. I really enjoyed this book although it is quite a bit darker and more unsettling in atmosphere than I usually go for.

In fact at one point I did think that the plot was maybe just a wee bit far-fetched, so I was completely flabbergasted to read in the author’s note at the end of the book that it was based on truth, with Gerald Bull being a real person, who was involved in weapons design and was happy to design and build weapons for anyone who would pay him. He designed Project Babylon for Saddam Hussein. I certainly didn’t hear anything about it in the news at the time. But if you’re interested you can read a New York Times article from 1990 about it here.

Books and such

I hardly dare say it, but today it didn’t rain and there was this strange yellow orb hanging in the sky. No doubt it was just an aberration and normal services will return soon – rain and storms are forecast for later in the week again. Very depressing, but I mustn’t grumble as at least we aren’t living in any of the many flooded areas of Scotland and northern England. You can read about storm Desmond here. We had intended going down to Dumfries and Carlisle for a few days before Christmas too, thank goodness I suffer from terminal procrastination otherwise we would probably have been caught up in it all. At least I’ve been getting plenty of reading done.

In the Guardian Review section this week there’s an article you might be interested in if you are into Jane Austen. Is anyone not a fan? – I ask myself. You can read How Jane Austen’s Emma changed the shape of fiction by John Mullan here.

Meanwhile, back at the library I’ve been borrowing these:

Borrowed Library Books

the distance between us by Maggie O’Farrell
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
The Lonely Skier by Hammond Innes
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
Whay Matters in Jane Austen? by John Mullan

I’ve finished Go Set a Watchman which I swithered about reading but I really enjoyed and have plenty to say about it, soon I hope.

I’m annoyed about the Louise Penny book because it’s one which I somehow missed when I was working my way through the Three Pines series, so it’ll be all out of whack!

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In cover

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny was published in 2013. It’s the ninth book in a series featuring Chief Inspector Armande Gamache of the Surete of Quebec. When I got to the end of it I thought it might be the last in the series but thankfully another couple have been written since this one.

I can’t say too much about this book because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. The words ‘just brilliant’ are what come to mind – or ‘pure dead brilliant’ in Glaswegian. It isn’t a cosy comfort read in fact it’s quite stressful as just about everyone in the Surete seems to be against Gamache. Henri his German Shepherd dog is keeping him sane it seems.

I’ve been catching up with this series after getting to it late, it was Joan of Planet Joan who recommended the books to me as a great read – how right she was. In fact I think I will be reading the books again eventually, just to get my fix of the village and its weird but somehow very human inhabitants.

Louise Penny also chose to make her detective a decent chap who is very happily married, such a nice change from the usual cliche of a dysfunctional anti-social divorcee which so many other authors seem to prefer.

But it’s not just the characters and the setting which are so addictive, it’s also the twists and turns in the plot. What a page turner!

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny was first published in 2012. Unusually this one has nothing to do with the attractively dangerous village of Three Pines in Quebec. The setting is a remote Gilbertine monastery in the wilds of Quebec. The monastery has been there for hundreds of years, with just 24 monks in residence at any time as the environment couldn’t sustain any more people.

The monastery had originally been set up by monks who had been fleeing the Inquisition but they had always been great singers and Gregorian chants had become almost a religion in themselves. Bizarrely they had had a hit with a record and had made lots of money which had been used to renovate the monastery which had been very basic, with nothing in the way of heating, making life there in the winter very difficult.

But all was not well within the community and murder was committed which is why Armande Gamache and his trusty assistant Jean Guy Beauvoir have been summoned to the remote monastery which is in the middle of a large lake. Nobody other than the monks ever gains entrance to the place and the boatman who ferries them there is confident that he’ll only have to wait a few minutes for them before they end up back at his boat for the return journey. So he’s amazed when they disappear into the building. There are 23 monks in the monastery and one of them is a murderer.

Of course Gamache and Beauvoir get to the bottom of it but Beauvoir is still fragile mentally after a previous case went disastrously wrong and it all comes back to haunt him in this one. Gamache has known for a while that someone within his own force is out to get him and it becomes a wee bit clearer who it is in this book. I did find some bits of it quite predictable though. Top marks to Penny though for her nod to Monty Python – Nobody expects the Inquisition.

Despite the setting I still enjoyed this one, maybe just not as much as the Three Pines books. If you’re going to read them be sure that you start at the beginning, reading them all in order to get the most from them.

Bury Your Dead and A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

I was really annoyed with myself because by mistake I read these two Louise Penny books out of order, but in the end it didn’t really spoil things for me.

Bury your Dead was published in 2010. The setting is mainly Quebec City although it does switch to Three Pines occasionally when Beauvoir is sent there by Gamache to do a bit of sleuthing.

A man is murdered in the basement of the library which is a focal point for the English speaking inhabitants of Quebec. It turns out that the body is that of a famously obsessed man who has been searching for the body of the man who founded Quebec.

This one doesn’t rank amongst my favourites of the Gamache series, mainly because I found the rivalry or should I say prejudice between the French Quebecois and the Anglos to be a bit depressing. Also I found it to be too sad, with one of the young members of Gamache’s team not surviving. I know, that’s silly of me as it is FICTION after all.

I enjoyed A Trick of the Light much more, it was published in 2011. Everything is going well for Three Pines inhabitant the artist Clara Morrow, at last her dream has come true and her work is receiving the recognition that it deserves. But everything starts to go wrong on her big day and it only gets worse the day after when a body is found in her garden, where only hours before everyone had been celebrating Clara’s success.

A Trick of the Light is about the nasty business of the art world and also the stresses of marriage when jealousy and fear cause one spouse to do their best to scupper the career of their partner.

I just love the way Louise Penny’s characters are developing. The more I find out about their back stories the better it gets.