The Madness of Crowds (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #170, by Louise Penny

Nine stars

I can be assured of something sensational when Louise Penny pens a Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novel and I was not disappointed with the latest offering. Penny develops a strong story and layers it with narrative twists that take the reader on an adventure, without venturing too far from the bucolic community of Three Pines. Gamache juggles another homicide and some family issues as he focuses his attention on that which many overlook. Penny provides some of the best descriptive writing I have seen in years, entertaining and offering social commentary along the way. I cannot offer enough praise to her for what she’s done with this novel and series.

The rural community of Three Pines, Quebec is in the festive season with the New Year on the horizon. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is looking forward to spending some time with family only to have it cut short by an odd request. When a visiting Professor of Statistics arrives to deliver a lecture at the local university, she’s in need of some security. Abigail Robinson has made a name for herself and causes a whirlwind of sentiment wherever she goes. Enter, Gamache.

During the lecture, shots are fired and Professor Robinson is whisked off to safety, leaving Chief Inspector Gamache to determine what’s happened and how security has been compromised. While the shooter is identified and taken into custody, Gamache is not ready to rest on his laurels. As New Year’s Eve celebrations begin, Gamache cannot help but wonder if the shooting was planned well ahead of time.

After a body is discovered in town early on New Year’s Day, Chief Inspector Gamache opens up the investigation. The body is soon identified as Professor Robinson’s assistant, leaving some to wonder if it was a case of mistaken identity in the pale moonlight. However, nothing is as simple as that and Gamache pulls together his team of Homicide investigators to comb through all the evidence.

With a number of subplots taking the investigation in a handful of directions, Gamache must pay close attention to what’s before him and peel back the layers to get to the heart of the matter. With the usual Three Pines residents adding flavour to an already busy story, it’s no doubt that the madness of crowds will cloud Gamache’s thoughts on a regular basis.

It was a few years ago that I stumbled upon Louise Penny and this stunning series, which grips onto the reader and will not let go. Penny develops complex storylines and lively characters throughout the novel to educate and entertain in equal measure. Many have applauded Penny’s work and this novel falls in line with many of the preceding books, making it well worth the reader’s time and effort.

While Chief Inspector Armand Gamache remains front and centre throughout, Penny brings back many of her core characters to offer a number of perspectives and lighter moments amidst the heartier narrative. Many of the familiar faces are past offering backstories, though there is some minor character development in the piece, primarily in the realm of Gamache’s own family. This provides some interesting subplot development and Penny does not shy away with the controversy there. Those familiar with Penny’s writing will likely enjoy her introduction of some new faces throughout this novel.

I have read a number of novels lately that allow me to push through in short order. However, Penny’s novels always force me to pay close attention and listen/notice the nuances offered throughout the narrative. The story moves quickly and the reader is pulled into the middle of it all, never losing its momentum throughout, though there is so much going on, making it difficult to enjoy without investing my full attention. Strong characters appear throughout and keep the reader on their toes. Some novels appear to lose steam the longer the series progresses, but Penny is able to defy the norm and has me begging her to keep writing years into the future. I can only hope that this collection of Canadian mysteries receive their due and readers from all over the world take notice.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for showcasing Canada so effectively. Brilliant work, sure to impress readers who take the time to enjoy your novels.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

All the Devils Are Here (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #16), by Louise Penny

Nine stars

This was my first NetGalley audiobook and I hope it is not the last. I loved it!

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Louise Penny, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Louise Penny returns with the sixteenth novel in this gripping series, which takes the reader out of the comforts of Three Pines. There is, however, no lack of action or intrigue in this book, as Armand Gamache is as sharp as ever. Having traveled to Paris to witness the birth of his granddaughter, Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache have organized a family dinner. Alongside the Gamaches and their respective spouses, is Stephen Horowitz, Armand’s godfather and a billionaire financier. When Stephen is run over as they leave the meal, he is rushed to the hospital, though Armand Gamache feels this is anything but a random accident After Armand and Reine-Marie make their way to Stephen’s apartment, they discover the body of a recently murdered man, with the killer’s lingering cologne still in the air. Armand brings his former second-in-command and current son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, into his inner circle and wonders if he might be able to help. Burdened with his own job, Beauvoir will do his best to assist in the informal investigation, though he is already juggling his job with an engineering firm, still baffled as to how he landed the position. While the authorities take charge, the investigation spans most of Paris, as Gamache soon discovers that nothing is quite as it seems and that no one can be trusted. In a case that has many twists that reveal countless layers, Armand Gamache will end up neck-deep in the investigation, though he is supposed to be on holiday. The deeper he trolls, the more he learns, though some of it will surely be secrets he wishes he had never unearthed. As Stephen Horowitz clings to life, someone lurks in the shadows with a motive to snuff out the life of this elderly man. Who that is will come out in the most telling of ways. Penny outdoes herself again with this piece, which will keep the reader riveted until the final reveal. Recommended to those who love this series, as well as readers who cannot pass up a superbly crafted mystery.

I got hooked on these books when someone recommended I try the first one and have not been able to stop. While they are surely binge-worthy, Louise Penny writes in such a way that reading one and spacing them out works just as well. Even though the bucolic setting for the story has drastically shifted, there is no lack to the action of key characters. Armand Gamache is back in his role of protagonist, as sharp as he’s ever been. There is a great deal of backstory and personal growth that the reader will witness throughout this piece, beginning with some key flashbacks to set the scene between himself and Stephen Horowitz. There are also some key points throughout where Gamache spends some face to face time with his eldest child, Daniel, as they discuss the deterioration of the relationship and how it might be mended. Penny keeps the Chief Inspector in his role effectively, even though he is out of his jurisdiction, and the reader can revel in the magic of the detective work. There are others who play a key role in the story and their presence flavours the tale. The reader is sure to enjoy the many names and characters used to add depth to the plot’s development. I was a tad concerned when I realised that the story would not be in Quebec, but the busy streets of Paris. This was soon allayed as Louise Penny was able to craft something that pulls the reader into the middle and develops a mystery that would not fall flat. There are so many layers to this piece and the reader will have to sift through a great deal, but the final prize is worth the effort. With a mix of chapter lengths, there is no telling how the twists will emerge or what awaits within the pages, but Penny does not skimp at any point, offering series fans with something they have waited to see for many novels. Crisp, poignant, and without fillers, Penny delivers and provides fans proof that she has much more to say with this series. Here’s hoping she sticks with it, as I know she has many who adore her work! Robert Barthhurst remains a stunning narrator and I cannot say enough about his clear and crisp delivery of the story.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for another stellar piece. Please keep the ideas coming and know you have many who hang on your every word.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

A Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #15), by Louise Penny

Nine stars

After getting my hands on the latest Louise Penny novel, I could not wait to get started. This explosive series, set in rural Quebec, gives not only the feel of a wonderful mystery but also hones in on all things Canadian. After serving his suspension, Armand Gamache is back in his position as Chief Inspector within the Sûreté du Québec, though there is a whispered power struggle within Homicide. While many are worried about how it will resolve itself, Gamache wants only to work and agrees to investigate a query of a pregnant woman whose gone missing. When Gamache arrives, he meets the woman’s husband, a known abuser, who explains that he has no idea where his wife might be, but could not care less. Gamache gets a bad feeling about it all, but is equally distracted when Quebec’s spring thaw begins to cause issues. His community of Three Pines is set to flood, which could be devastating if the floodwaters don’t drop soon. With no signs of the pregnant Vivienne Godin, Gamache tries to determine if there may have been foul play, which is exacerbated when a body is discovered amongst some cracked ice close to a bridge. The receding waters reveal much, including a potential murder scene, with the perfect suspect who denies having anything to do with his wife’s death. Trying to connect the dots, Gamache turns to some of his fellow villagers, who use social media to coax out a slew of information. Will it be enough to convict a man who holds his wife in such low regard that she is only good as a punching bag? Additionally, the higher-ups within the Sûreté are keeping a close eye on Gamache, especially as old troubles have an uncanny way of resurfacing. Could the Chief Inspector’s return have been a set-up to bury him once and for all? A wonderful addition to this stellar series, sure to keep fans wanting more. Recommended to those who have loved Armand Gamache from the early Three Pines days, as well as readers who enjoy police procedurals with a Canadian flavour.

After a major binge of the series last summer, I was forced to wait like the rest of the Penny fans for this newest piece in the Gamache series. It was well worth the wait, though I know Penny has had some personal issues, which makes the publication of this piece even more exciting. Gamache remains on point, working through the blips that had him sidelined and trying to keep from letting the politics of the job get to him. Still eager to help, both within the Sûreté and towards his friends in the Eastern Townships, Gamache makes his mark in a variety of ways. Keen to solve crimes, he has little time for those who seek to circumvent justice or cut corners to get the answers they want. Other characters continue to evolve in the series, though the locals are more background than at the forefront of the case. There are a few new faces whose presence could become more regular, depending on how Penny chooses to advance the series. I am eager to see how this will all play out in the coming years. The story remains exciting and fresh, though there are some significant mentions of past events, which thicken the plot and the series development effectively. Penny has a wonderful handle on the series, even fifteen books in. She represents Canada and the genre so well, choosing interesting plot twists that keep the reader wondering. Established chapters and current events weave together a story that many readers will surely devour, as I did, leaving them begging for more. The need for patience is high by the time the book ends, but there is still so much to learn. Alas, it will likely be another year or so.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for dazzling your fans with another strong novel. Gamache is in good hands under your guidance.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #14), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

After a lengthy binge-read of Louise Penny’s spectacular series, I was forced to wait a few weeks for this latest release. The wait was worth it, as Penny continues to impress while building on established story angles. Fans will surely find something with which they can relate in this highly detailed novel. On a cold day in the dead of winter, Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache finds himself searching for a nondescript home. He received a letter from a notary, asking that he attend this location, though cannot make sense of what might be taking place. Gamache soon notices that his longtime friend and fellow Three Pines resident, Myrna Landers, has also been summoned. When a third individual, the eccentric Benedict Pouliot, arrives, things begin to make sense, in a way. All three have been named liquidators—read: executors—of the will of a woman they do not know. While trying to piece together this mystery, the hierarchy of the Sûreté du Québec are working through the major gaffe Gamache facilitated, which is just now reverberating through the streets of Montreal. In order to neutralise a major drug cartel, Gamache permitted a huge supply of opioids onto the streets, including the new carfentanil, which is exponentially more potent than fentanyl. Gamache remains suspended and his eventual permanent demise is a certainty, given time. While Quebec’s Justice Ministry is now involved, it is close to impossible to stay ahead of this, as drugs tend to move at light speed. The Sûreté Academy is rocked when one of its cadets is found with a significant amount of drugs in her room, forcing her immediate expulsion. Gamache knows this woman all too well and wonders if her past experience with street drugs might help him track down the new shipments as they hit the streets. Gamache is staying busy as he tries to peel back the layers on this drug shipment, as well as the details of the will, which poses numerous financial hurdles that span over a century. Soon, all three liquidators can understand their connection to the deceased, though when an immediate relative is found dead inside a collapsed house, questions arise as to who whether there may have been a murder to grease the financial wheels within this family. With all this taking place, needy addicts are turning up marked with ‘DAVID’, though no one seems to know who this could be. Gamache and his second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, work to piece it all together before more people die at the hands of these new drugs, which may also be the only way for Gamache to save his job. A thrilling addition to the series that will keep Penny fans wanting more. I would highly recommend this book to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. Readers new to Penny’s series ought to begin where the stories began and progress accordingly.

Those who follow my reviews closely will remember that I recently completed a major Louise Penny binge, reading her entire collection of Gamache novels. I saw a great deal of development in the series, both in the settings—particularly Three Pines—and the characters, especially Armand Gamache, the constant protagonist. Some readers were critical of such a major undertaking, but I found it highly refreshing. Penny places her protagonist in an interesting spot as the novel opens—the head of the entire Sûreté du Québec and yet on active suspension—which enriches the entire reading experience. He seems sure that his past choices related to drugs and the cartels will be vindicated when the bureaucrats see the bigger picture. As usual, Gamache seems unfazed by the trouble that awaits him, content to find a mystery that needs his attention. Gamache is pulled in by this ‘liquidator’ mystery, which takes over much of his time, though the opening with former Cadet Amelia Choquet returning to her life as a drug addict is an interesting subplot that permits the Chief Superintendent a glimpse into the drugs he has permitted to hit the streets. This character struggle is a brilliant angle that Penny adds to the mix of this piece, which enriches his already-strong character. While Jean Guy Beauvoir and Isabelle Lacoste are active throughout the book, their police presence blends in with Gamache’s work, rather than standing out alone. There are references and entire scenes related to the Three Pines residents, though the story takes place out of the community, making these unique and highly entertaining characters more decorative than essential. There are a handful of other characters whose presence help propel the story forward, in true Penny fashion, and offering the reader some wonderful development opportunities. The story is well done and it pulls on both threads left hanging from past novels and new ideas, which serve as a mystery that keeps the narrative moving forward. Penny finds new ideas to entertain and educated the curious reader, as well as showing her great abilities at painting a scene that pulls the reader in and does not let go. While some may have panned the latter part of the series, I cannot offer enough praise for this novel or the entire collection. Penny has a grip on things and there is no sense that it is in trouble, even with more than a dozen novels completed. I cannot wait for more and hope Penny has more ideas over the coming years to keep the characters exciting for all. Her acknowledgement section is worth a read for those who have followed the series, as Penny reveals an interesting tidbit.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for allowing me to be fully committed throughout. This is a series I will not soon forget or regret!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #13), Louise Penny

Nine stars

Louise Penny continues to impress with new and exciting story angles to enrich this already alluring series. Fans of these novels will surely find something here to whet their appetites or at least provide something with which they can relate. On the night of the Three Pines Hallowe’en celebration, many of the townsfolk notice a mysterious figure dressed in black. He stands in the town square, not speaking, but his menacing glare cannot be missed. Soon identified as a cobrador del frac, this man serves as a debt collector, though he does not speak, which only adds to the mystery. Which townsperson might he be here to see and what have they done? Cobradors are common in Spain as a last ditch effort to shame a person into settling their debts, but their more historic service has been as a conscience to push a person to see their error and do right, all without uttering a word. When Katie Evans is found murdered in the church basement, dressed in the cobrador outfit, many wonder who might have done this and whether the mysterious man could be responsible and have fled the scene. Newly promoted Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache seeks to better understand the entire situation, particularly since he now resides in Three Pines. However, his attention is divided between this and a major covert operation being undertaken by senior members of the Sûreté du Québec, seeking to bring down a major drug cartel. This will be extremely delicate and require much patience, with each decision potentially blowing their cover. In an odd turn of events, the narrative splits between these storylines in the past and a trial for the murder of Katie Evans, with Gamache on the stand and seeming to work with the Crown to bring down an unknown defendant. As the story unfolds, the Three Pines residents learn more about what Evans might have done to require such a mysterious guest. It also permits each resident to look inside themselves to explore their own faults and what they might be able to do differently; almost as if they were peering into their own glass house. Definitely a unique reading experience as I see things from a variety of perspectives, which only goes to show that Penny does not want her readers resting on their laurels. I would highly recommend this book to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. Readers new to Penny’s series ought to begin where the stories began and progress accordingly.

I have finally completed this major Louise Penny binge, reading her entire collection of Gamache novels that have been released, with one more set to land on my iPod in the coming weeks. I have come to see a great deal of development in the series, both in the settings—particularly Three Pines—and the characters, especially Armand Gamache, the constant protagonist. Some readers have been critical of such a major undertaking, reading/breathing nothing but Armand Gamache for an extended period. They comment that it only serves to supersaturate me with his quirks, though I found the undertaking quite sobering. I noticed a few of the series nuances lost to the reader who relies on annual instalments of the progress all characters make. While Gamache spent much of his time in this series as the Chief Inspector of Homicide, where he led one of the most prestigious teams in the country, his personal growth emanates from the pages of each novel. Through some significant turmoil, he left the Sûreté du Québec, as series readers will know well, an inner fight between professional decisions and personal sentiment. Returning to the fold in the last two novels, Gamache has shown that he is a quintessential part of the police force and, while some still see him as a major disturbance, he is the one needed to steer it back into calm waters. Gamache proves to be a leader who may not be sullied with corruption, but whose record remains somewhat unimpressive. He seeks not only to continue delivering sage advice, but also use stern leadership skills to keep his subordinates in line. He has grown significantly throughout the series and this novel is no exception. Gamache connects well with the reader, though there is always some degree of distance the protagonist demands with each developing narrative. Other characters of note include the recurring townsfolk of Three Pines, each with their quirks and hilarious banter. I have come to love some of them and await the disappearance of others. One cannot make it through a book in the series without at least one squabble between two of these unique characters, though it lightens the mood as the reader is usually ensconced in some deeper mystery at the time. Jean Guy Beauvoir is back, working alongside Gamache, while continuing to grow as a worthwhile son-in-law and battling his own recovery from significant addiction. I have come to see much growth in him as well, though I sense that he petered out a few novels ago, perhaps Penny’s way of punishing him for being so judgmental. The story here was quite unique and held my attention throughout. The title perfectly parallels some of the themes within the book and keeps the reader wanting to know a little more before reaching the climax and complete reveal. While I have come to the end of the binge, I can see great things for Penny, should she continue the series well into the future. It is a stunning Canadian police procedural that mixes great writing with poignant Canadian references, which warms the soul. I am so pleased I undertook the journey and am eager to continue later this month with the latest instalment. While I said it before, highest recommendations for anyone seeking to delve into a well-crafted series that does not disappoint most readers.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for allowing me to be fully committed throughout the series. This is a binge I will not soon forget or regret!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #12), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny shows her creative side in reimagining the central characters in her well-established Canadian police procedural series, taking the reader on a mysterious journey in which only Armand Gamache could find himself. Gamache has decided that a life of retirement might not yet be for him. While huddled around a pile of paperwork, the former Chief Inspector has to make the final decisions on new admission to the Sûreté du Québec Police Academy. Having accepted the role of the academy’s commander, there is little time to waste in order to get the new semester started. This will also be a time for Gamache to make his mark and reshape those cadets who graduate in the years to come. One can only wonder if this might be his reaction after such poor treatment by new Sûreté officers in the last novel. While Armand works, Reine-Marie and others are gathered in another of the village’s homes, where an old map has been found, one that lists Three Pines clearly, a sure anomaly. What could it all mean? As Commander Gamache makes his mark at the Academy, he hires a few former colleagues to work alongside him, many of whom have a great deal of experience in the world of policing. After Gamache takes a number of the new cadets under his wing, having them open their own investigation into this mysterious map, they come to find themselves in Three Pines, where they discover the wonders of this community in the Eastern Townships, while also connecting with some of its unique inhabitants. Back at the Academy, one of the professors, Serge Leduc, is found murdered, shot in the head. Who could have killed this man, whose list of enemies is quite long? While Commander Gamache is present and happy to use the intelligence that he has at his disposal, he must cede some control to Chief Inspector Isabelle Lacoste and her team, as well as an independent outsider in the form of a senior official of the RCMP. The more the map is discussed, the greater the mystery. Could the symbols found on its page be tied to similar images seen in stained glass at the local church? Might this map be a motive to kill Leduc, who had a copy in his room? While the killer lurks in plain sight, Gamache will stop at nothing to solve this case and clean-up the Sûreté, if it’s the last thing he ever does! Penny keeps the story fresh and pulls the curious reader in with a new angle. After a little growing pains with trying to reshape Armand Gamache, I can highly recommend this book to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. Readers new to Penny’s series ought to begin where the stories began and progress accordingly.

It is always difficult to write long fiction series, I would surmise. With characters advancing throughout the narratives, they can either age out of their profession or become stale doing the same job each time. Penny has tackled this after a tumultuous end to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache’s career as Head of Homicide within the Sûreté. Penny dabbled around with putting her protagonist into a state of retirement, bringing Reine-Marie along for the ride. There is just too much spunk in the man to keep him idle, as Penny soon came to discover with complex narratives evolving around him. Having been put in charge of the Sûreté Academy, Gamache has new life, as Penny shows throughout the piece. She breathes passion into his actions and vigour into all he does, while not shelving him from being a key player in investigations. It would seem ideal for Gamache to pass along his passion for policing to the next generation, while still carrying that large broom as he cleans-up the Sûreté from within its hallowed halls. Gamache continues to grow on me and I can see a great deal of success coming from this new posting, though I await Penny’s masterful style of how to keep his involved in both investigations and balancing out a zany collection of residents inside Three Pines. Other characters make appearances throughout, including the aforementioned Three Pines folk. One cannot miss that Penny has given a new set of characters the potential for being included in future stories, as she pushes a handful of cadets into the limelight of this piece, particularly Amelia Choquet. I have a few that I think would work well, particularly if the bantering continues. The story stays fresh and exciting in this piece, pulling Three Pines into the middle of discussions, while also looking for a killer at the Sûreté Academy. Penny uses her trademark description to bring the story alive and keeps the reader from getting too bogged down with some sharp wit and wonderful dialogue, sure to bring forth laughter from the reader on many occasions. I especially found the extensive building of a backstory surrounding this town that does not appear on any maps to be brilliantly woven into the larger narrative. It is surely a gift for series fans, who have been amassing information for so long and wondering why there is no topographical imprint. I cannot say enough about this series, as I continue bingeing. I need to get my hands on the last few novels—one of which is out soon—to complete the collection. Bring them on!

Kudos, Madam Penny, for never letting me feel cheated by your novels. Some may have left, but I am firmly committed to this series and all its nuances.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Nature of the Beast (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #11), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny carves new pathways towards success in her well-established Canadian police procedural series, taking the reader in directions previously unimagined. The town of Three Pines is gearing up for its next theatrical production, set to open in a few short weeks. Armand Gamache is interested in seeing the production, but all that sours when he learns who’s penned this play, discovering a truth its director had hoped to keep under wraps. When a young boy rushes into the Bistro to tell of a ‘monster gun’ in the woods, he’s dismissed for his verbal flights of fancy. However, all this changes when the boy is discovered days later, dead after an apparent bicycle accident that does not add up. Gamache leads the townsfolk on a search of the area for a key piece of evidence that he is sure will point towards foul play. What he finds, hidden under some camouflage netting is much more confusing, a massive gun that could only have been used to launch some form of missile. After some poor treatment at the hands of new Sûreté du Québec graduates, Gamache seeks to have members of his former Homicide team take over the investigation. With Interim Chief Inspector Isabelle Lacoste taking the lead, she and Inspector Beauvoir begin to untangle some of the keys related to this mysterious gun. It would seem that a retired professor has at least some of the answers, though he remains somewhat coy about the specifics. He speaks of an arms dealer, Gerald Bull, who sought to peddle his wares to anyone with enough money, making this ancient looking machine a weapon of the future. Before long, two bumbling members of CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, are crawling around Three Pines, trying to learn a little more about the recent find. While Gamache is keen to learn all there is to know about this weapon, he is completely baffled as to why someone chose rural Quebec to develop and hide it. When a second body is found, all eyes turn to someone wanting to keep the weapon a secret, but whom. It is then that talk of ‘Project Babylon’ enters the discussion, an End of Days idea based on use of this weapon to bring the world to the brink. Gamache cannot help but wonder how high the secrets go and if Three Pines might be forever transformed by all that is revealed. With a murdering somewhere in Three Pines and the plans to bring this gun to life out there, all eyes turn to a serial killer who has been isolated for years. Might he hold the answers everyone needs? Penny does a great job adding new angles and perspectives to her series with this novel, which takes readers well outside the box. Highly recommended to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. I hold firm in my suggestion that new readers begin where the series began and progress accordingly.

On this major Louise Penny binge, I have come to see a great deal of development in the series. Some are critical of such a major undertaking, reading/breathing nothing but Armand Gamache for a long time, but I prefer it. I can see some of the nuances in the series that are lost when a reader only gets annual instalments of the progress all characters make. Armand Gamache has surely grown throughout the series, as the attentive reader will see. Gamache has changed significantly over the past few novels, having taken a step back into private life, through there are remnants of his masterful sleuthing seen throughout the pages of this book. Penny has surely helped create a great contrast from much of the earlier books when it comes to the retired Chief Inspector’s character, which attentive (and binge) readers will notice as the series progresses. I am still trying to get a feel for post-Gamache character development when it comes to Jean Guy Beauvoir and Isabelle Lacoste, both of whom have been present, but not as ‘present’ in the past few novels. One can hope that these two will appear and offer more of themselves, though I cannot help but wonder if Beauvoir’s spiral in the middle of the series might have been Penny’s way of pushing him out of the limelight. There are a number of interesting secondary characters introduced for this novel and while they won’t stick around long-term, their presence enriched the story and left me quite curious. Penny has pulled some interesting angles of the Canadian legal/political system in with this novel, something that adds to the story rather than detracting. She does so in her own way, so as not to make it look like a carbon copy of the US or UK systems, thereby further individualising her work. The story was intriguing and went in some especially interesting directions, particularly looking at when it was written. It leaves me to wonder a little more about Canadian and international military projects, as well as the future of armed conflict. I can see where some might be turned off by the series as it looks deeper than trying to solve a murder, but I found this piece to be quite interesting, looking at things from within the Canadian perspective.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for always keeping me entertained, no matter the mystery. I will push through these next few novels before queuing up alongside your other fans for the next novel’s release.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #10), by Louise Penny

Seven stars

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

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Gamache #9), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny impresses as she pulls on a major event in Quebec history, weaving it effectively into the premise of this next novel in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. Major changes have begun with the Homicide squad of the Sûreté du Québec, including the removal of Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir. It would seem that the fallout from their case at a rural priory created more ripples than anyone could expect, with Chief Superintendent Francoeur still sharpening his knives with hateful eyes focussed on Gamache. Newly promoted Inspector Isabelle Lacoste accompanies Gamache on a pre-Christmas jaunt to Three Pines, where they respond to a call from Myrna Landers, the local bookshop owner. It would seem that Constance Pineault was expected the day before at lunch with Myrna and has yet to show up. While this may not seem like much, Constance has not made contact and his known for her punctuality. Gamache agrees to make some inquiries back in Montreal, where he discovers that Pineault has been found slain in her home. After agreeing to take the case for himself, Gamache returns to Three Pines, where he discovers that Pineault is not who she appears to be. It would seem that locals know her secret, that she is actually Constance Ouellet, one of the Ouellet quintuplets that made headlines in the middle of the Depression. Gamache sifts through much of the information available, as well as scores of documents long sealed, to learn more about the Ouellet quints and how they were ‘sold’ to the Quebec Government, thereby turning them into a public spectacle. Surely, Constance wanted nothing more than to live outside of the limelight as soon as she could, though someone must have wanted to extinguish that light for some unknown reason. Meanwhile, the story arc surrounding that bloody raid gone wrong has reached its zenith, with Gamache using covert means to finger the individual who leaked the video of the event. Gamache learns snippets of Inspector Beauvoir’s new cases, all of which include dangerous raids that could easily neutralise his former second-in-command. Might Gamache have to make the ultimate move and how does this all link to the Arnot case, which filled the pages of early novels in the series? Penny continues to dazzle with layered narratives that keep the reader gasping for breath as much comes to a head in the intense closing chapters of this novel. Highly recommended to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. I hold firm in my suggestion that new readers begin where the series began and progress accordingly.

This series keeps finding new ways to impress me, particularly with this exploration of one of Quebec’s black marks of the mid-20th century. Penny touches on some of the events that occurred with these quints, likely mixing fact with fiction to keep the story moving forward. As always, Chief Inspector Gamache plays a central role in the novel and one can see the intensity surrounding the two major events that have overshadowed his investigations finally coming to a head. Gamache doesn’t let anything derail his concentration, though there is a strong sense that he wants these monkeys off his back, however that might be possible. His determination with a new and severely pared-down team shows his determination to find a killer without letting the politics deter him. Using his sharp skills, Gamache exemplifies his superior skills, even as those around him begin to lose faith in his work. The handful of others around him remain questionable characters, including Inspector Lacoste and former black sheep Agent Yvette Nichol. Both these women hold integral parts in the novel, though readers should not expect smooth sailing or strong support for their superior. The Three Pines residents retain their unique personalities, though there is little that surprises in this piece. Some development and character movement is apparent during the one novel hiatus, something that the attentive reader will notice early in this piece. The story has two significant narratives that run in parallel, complementing one another. Penny balances them, though neither can be seen as taken a backseat to the other. Readers should expect a bumpy ride as the novel pushes forward and takes little time for those who need time to process, while also inundating the attentive reader with much Quebec history and shaming society all these years later. Far from derailed or rogue, as some would have me believe, this series gets better as it progresses.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for another stellar novel. Chief Inspector Gamache and Three Pines are in great hands and I cannot stop wanting more, particularly with that cliffhanger. Thankfully, there are still a handful of novels left in my binge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #8), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny has taken another gamble with this unique novel in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. When a monk is found at a remote priory in the Quebec woods, Gamache and Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir make the difficult trek to investigate. Using this whittled down Homicide squad of the Sûreté du Québec, Gamache soon discovers that the priory is well-known for its chanting monks, who were headed by music director Frère Mathieu, the victim of a significant blow to the head that cost him his life. What could have happened at this idyllic priory and who among these monks could hold such disdain as to have killed one of their own? As they investigate, Gamache and Beauvoir also spend time alone, contemplating their lives. The tranquility is broken when Chief Superintendent Francoeur arrives, citing that he has the forensic reports for their perusal. While some might welcome a superior, Gamache has a hard time holding his animosity in check, sure that this is the man responsible for leaking videos of that horrible terror attack to the public, thereby branding Gamache in a light he wished he could avoid. While Gamache discovers personal clashes amongst the monks, he comes to see that many have reason to want Frère Mathieu out of the way. With a killer in their midst and another wolf in sheep’s clothing poking around, Gamache cannot afford to make a mistake. All the while, his second-in-command is tested by holding back a significant secret from Gamache, one that could change the team’s dynamic forever. Penny may have kept Three Pines out of this story, but readers can still count on significant development in this mystery. Highly recommended to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. At this point, I would strongly suggest new readers begin where the series began and progress accordingly.

Louise Penny has never let the series turn into formulaic writing, always happy to offer up new twists and perspectives to her dedicated readers. Leaving the antics of Three Pines behind, Penny injects a new set of ‘villagers’ into this piece, as she isolated the Chief Inspector from the outside world. Gamache continues to wrestle with personal issues throughout the novel, partially related to the fallout of the aforementioned raid that cost many officers their lives. There is also a degree of introspection when it comes to personal faith and trust, though not of the religious type. Gamache has proven himself to be a well-grounded individual, but even his calm exterior cannot hide the fury and fear that rests below the surface. This contrasts nicely with revelations the reader discovers about Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir, who struggles not only with his attempts to understand why anyone would want to choose a life in a priory, but also with a deep secret he is keeping from Gamache. Both sentiments eat away at him, creating some interesting character development and backstory for the reader to enjoy, chasing away the statuesque past this man has exhibited throughout the series. The handful of monks fill the gap left by the Three Pines residents, though one cannot completely replace the zany characteristics of the villagers. These men may have dedicated their lives to God and music, but their personal foibles cannot be entirely removed and find their way on the written page. Penny successfully paints them with their own unique attributes and keeps the story flowing well with their inclusion in the narrative. Penny uses strong themes of dedication, loss, and cohesiveness throughout to shape a narrative that keep the story’s momentum. Some bemoan that the series has gone stale or rogue, though I highly appreciate the twists Penny has utilised to keep the stories fresh and evolving. I am pleased to have found this series and continue to feel pleased with my choice to binge through the novels until I am caught up with many who have been praising this collection for a long time.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for another unique piece. I kick myself for waiting this long to join the other fans, but cannot say enough about these pieces.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons