Louise Penny continues to explore new aspects in her Canadian police procedural series, pushing readers to open their minds once again. Major changes continue within the Homicide squad of the Sûreté du Québec, largest of all being the retirement of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. After purchasing some property in the bucolic town of Three Pines, Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie, settle amongst friends to enjoy peace in rural Quebec. All this is shattered when town resident, Clara Morrow, seeks assistance in locating her husband. Peter has been gone for a year when the couple agreed that they would take some time apart, but has failed to return after the agreed-upon separation. With no note or indication where he might have gone, Clara is beside herself with worry. Gamache engages the assistance of his new son-in-law, Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir, to make some calls and trace a few digital footprints that may help Clara better understand Peter’s movements. The results are staggering, as it would seem Peter has been all over Europe, including making an odd stop in Scotland, something that catches the eye of the former Chief Inspector. Working an angle as he did for so long, Gamache learns that Peter has been back in Canada after some time ‘retreating’ away in Scotland, having visited his old art school and liaised with some of his favourite professors. As the entire Three Pines community enters into the sleuthing business, more is discovered, only to realise that Peter’s disappearance may have something to do with an art commune, but still the questions pile up. With Clara becoming increasingly anxious, Gamache must try to determine what has happened to Peter and how all this might connect to an odd finding with some art supplies. Even after leaving his life’s work, Gamache is plagued with murder and deception. Highly recommended to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style, though they will have to keep an open mind about this new narrative tangent. I hold firm in my suggestion that new readers begin where the series began and progress accordingly.
This series was forced to engage in some significant rediscovery with the numerous revelations discovered at the end of the last novel. Tying Armand Gamache with the Three Pines folks was, perhaps, the easiest thing that Penny had to do, though even that took a little massaging of what the series reader understands and can accept. As with many individuals who have left a long-held post, it is hard to fully remove them from their thought processes, which paves the way for Penny to keep using Gamache as a central sleuth. While some of the major issues for Gamache are in his rearview mirror, he is still trying to come to terms with his retirement and the newly-discovered time to spend with Reine-Marie. There is also a significant change in his daily routine, isolated from Montreal and all that he knew, while being forced to live a simple life. Penny shows that Gamache struggles with this, particularly when put in the middle of a trying issue that begs to be solved. Many of the other characters here show why Three Pines was almost an essential setting for at least part of the novel. Their quirky characteristics and banter between this central cast that series fans have come to love proves to buoy the story at times when things get highly technical. Penny has taken so long honing these people that it would have been a pity to see them fade into the background. Everyone serves their purpose and Penny is able to move the story along at a decent pace. The narrative and plots were decent, though I did have to accept less grit in the piece than I am used to, especially with this case being one based more on a missing person than one who was slain. Trying to find an established character helped keep series readers connected, as did more exploration of the world of art and how it can lead to murder, though I will admit, it did not pack the punch I have seen in many of the previous novels. I am not prepared to decry a harsh dislike quite yet, but one can hope that this was a novel crafted during a significant pendulum swing in the series and not the new ‘post-Chief Inspector Gamache’ theme for the rest of the series. There are three more novels, to date, with a fourth coming out later this month. Here’s hoping we’ll get back in the swing of things soon!
Kudos, Madam Penny, for another decent novel. I need some time to see how I feel about all these changes and hope the next novel continues to aid in that transition.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons