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: