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 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.

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 Murder Stone by Louise Penny

The Murder Stone by Louise Penny is the fourth book in the Chief Inspector Gamache series and I’m so glad that I decided to read them all in order as the relationships between Gamache and his detective colleagues are developing nicely.

The Quebec village of Three Pines plays hardly any part in this book although Reine-Marie Gamache does stay there in the B&B whilst her husband solves the murder which has taken place when they were on their annual visit to the auberge which they had visited over 30 years ago for the first time.

The Manoir Bellechasse is one of the finest auberges in Quebec and the Finney family has also checked in, they consist of an elderly mother with her four middle aged children, their spouses and Mrs Finney’s second husband. They use the auberge for their annual reunion and this time around it’s a bit different as a huge statue of Mrs Finney’s first husband is being unveilled in the grounds of the auberge. It’s not something which the owner of the hotel particularly wants in the grounds but a large amount of money has been paid to her to accomodate the statue.

The Finney/Morrow family is a poisonous one with even the mother being cruel and vindictive, they all look down their noses at other people, particularly the Gamaches who they have decided are too common for the hotel. They all have long memories and take particular joy in hurting each other psycholgically. When a murder is committed there’s a plethora of suspects for Gamache to question.

I really liked this one despite the fact that I worked out how the murder had been committed long before Gamache did. It was good to discover more about Peter and Clara, the artist couple in Three Pines and to find out more about Gamache’s family background

Still Life by Louise Penny

Still Life by Louise Penny was published in 2005 and it’s the first book in her Three Pines series. I got to this one late because I ended up reading book 3 first, just because I wasn’t patient enough to wait to get it from the library. I know, I’m always saying that I’ll not read books out of sync again, but there you go!

I ended up buying this book because it is now unavailable from Fife libraries. It’s not that I’m dead against buying books but I’m trying not to buy them at the moment, until I read some of the ones in my piles, and I’m also trying to use the libraries more as I don’t want them to close down, some local ones are still under threat and I’m doing my best to keep their borrowing numbers up.

Anyway, back to Still Life, I really enjoyed this one, it was lovely to see the birth of the Three Pines community which is in Quebec and to understand some of the frictions involved in living in French Canada for those who aren’t French Canadian.

Early one morning a popular member of the village is found dead in a wood. Who would possibly want to kill the elderly lady? Perhaps she wasn’t murdered but was the victim of a hunting accident. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to investigate and he and his team soon find that the idyllic looking community isn’t all it seems.

This book cleared up some questions for me, such as what was the problem with Agent Nichol? a really unlikeable character. In fact Three Pines isn’t a stranger to odd characters and it’s probably that which makes it seem like such a realistic setting. I found myself wondering what on Earth Clara saw in her husband Peter who seems like an arrogant insensitive pain – and then suddenly he redeems himself, making the whole relationship completely believable. Now I’m waiting for number 4 in the series. Thanks Joan, for pointing me in the direction of this series.

The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny

This is the first book by Louise Penny which I’ve read and she was recommended by Joan Kyler who has a good idea of what I like, and I did enjoy this one. I tend to stick to vintage crime and there’s so much of it to read, but recently I’ve been thinking that I should read some contemporary stuff and this fitted the bill. I’m probably the last person in the western world to find out about this Canadian writer. I just wish I had waited and started reading them in order instead of grabbing the first one I saw.

Set in Quebec in the village of Three Pines, the sort of place where people still roll eggs at Easter and the hub of the village is Olivier’s Bistro where people gathered for the company and gossip as much as for the coffee and food.

But there’s an evil doom looming over Three Pines in the shape of a murder house, a dark presence on the hill above the village. In fact nothing about the village and its inhabitants is as it seems to be on the surface.

Gabri who runs the B&B likes to get his money’s worth out of his guests and they often end up being unwilling entertainers for the villagers. His new guest Jeanne has been lined up as a psychic and unknown to her she is expected to perform!

Things get completely out of control and C.I. Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec is called in to investigate.

I’ll definitely have to track down the two books which come before this one so that I can see the development of the village’s characters and get to know them better. There is one character who is portrayed as being a bit weird, or certainly unusual as he has such an affinity with trees that he can hear their cries of pain if they are being abused. I completely understand that, maybe I’m weird too!