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

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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

A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #7), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

After a great deal of self-exploration in the past novel, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is back in another police procedural penned by the fabulous Louise Penny. After a long career as an artist, Three Pines resident Clara Morrow has secured a solo exhibition of her work at a high-end gallery in Montreal. Many of the big names in the local and international art scene have flocked to see what is going on, including Gamache and his second in command, Jean Guy Beauvoir. Eager to see the reviews the following morning, Clara heads out to collect the newspaper, but comes face to face with a body in her garden; someone she knew well from her past. After summoning Gamache and the rest of the Homicide squad of the Sûreté du Québec, all eyes turn to the guests at an exclusive party after the gallery showing. Top of the list would have to be Clara, when it is revealed that the victim, Lillian Dyson, was best friends with the local artist until a falling out decades before. No one can be entirely sure how Lillian made it to the party, or how she might have gone unnoticed. Gamache begins digging into the victim’s background, seeking to discover her ties to both Clara and the art community. However, it is a piece of evidence found near the body that proves most useful in the investigation, taking things on a winding tour into a world that Gamache could not have expected. There, Gamache encounters those he knows, but admits this is a side to them he could not have fathomed. All the while, Inspector Beauvoir comes to his superior with an admission, tied to that bloody shootout months before and how he’s had an epiphany. This revelation could shock not only the Homicide squad, but Gamache to the core. With a killer out there, Gamache must try to focus, without letting Beuavoir’s news derail him at the most inopportune time. Penny does so well to pull the reader in with fresh ideas and new angles to murder, without letting things go stale or rogue. 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 rested on her laurels when writing novels in this series, as she seeks to find new and exciting ways to entertain her readers. She also has a wonderful way of not only coaxing out the changing seasons as a strong backdrop, but also hones the attention on a Three Pines resident and crafting a mystery around their life. Clara Morrow has never been a wallflower, though pushing the attention squarely on her works well in this novel, as the art world receives much of the attention throughout. From creation of art, distilling what works, and how reviews can make or break a budding artist, Penny pushes Clara to the centre of the spotlight and asks that she guide the reader through her own experiences. Morrow does well to explore her backstory as a young artist without getting too bogged down, though also showing how she and husband, Peter, have had to fight for recognition as individuals and a team. Gamache receives some wonderful attention here, though steps back to allow others their limelight. What is interesting is the ongoing exploration by the series protagonist to tap into who might be trying to bring him down—again—and how he can keep his Sûreté team in tact. Penny has Gamache wrestle with some personal issues throughout, though it does not distract from the story at any point, adding more flavour to the series progression, in my opinion. The handful of other characters continue to impress, adding some of their own nuances, including the somewhat stoic and statuesque Jean Guy Beauvoir. Series fans will likely enjoy what he brings to the table and how his revelations enrich an already complex character interaction. The story was well designed to provide the reader a look not only into the art world, but that of other areas where anonymity is crucial. Once the reader pushes through that barrier, they will discover something that Penny treats with much respect, though she injects humour at times, using Gamache as the test subject. With strong themes throughout and a narrative that keeps the story moving forward, Penny successfully tackles yet another mystery with much detail. 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 stellar piece. I cannot believe I waited 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

Th Hangman (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache # 6.5), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

A necessary re-read, now that I have completed the first six novels in Louise Penny’s stunning series. While I used this short story to test the waters, now that I have proper context, I chose to return and properly review the piece. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is back in Three Pines, bringing along with his the Homicide squad of the Sûreté du Québec (or ‘Quebec Provincial Police’, the first time Penny has anglicised the force) to investigate a man found hanging by a tree. The jogger who found him has been quite distant and uncooperative, leaving Gamache to wonder if he might be involved. After discovering the victim’s name, Arthur Ellis, the team finds that he’s been staying at the local bed and breakfast, formerly the Hadley House. Ellis left a fairly clear suicide note in his room, though Gamache is not entirely sold that this was how the act played out. While engaging with some of the locals, Gamache realises that the victim may have additional secrets that are only now coming to the surface. When the medical examiner notices odd ligature marks not attributable to a rope, it becomes apparent that there is a killer in Three Pines, but what motive might they have? Additionally, how could Ellis, a visitor himself, have pushed someone to kill him in such a public manner? Penny pulls the reader in with this stunning short story, easily finished in a single sitting. With nothing really spoiler-related within this piece, I suppose it could be enjoyed as a standalone, as I did the first time around. Fans of police procedurals and Canadian mysteries will also find something worthwhile.

I am happy to have found yet another Canadian author whose work falls within one of the genres I enjoy so much. Set in rural Quebec, the series is sure to have a lovely Canadian flavour, something that will enrich the reading experience and have it stand out in the genre. Penny provides the reader with some interesting exploration of Chief Inspector Gamache, though nothing new for the series reader. Gamache has a curious way about him, highly intelligent but also down to earth as he investigates the crime before him. He does not come across as condescending, but also gets to the root of the matter in short order and does not appear to suffer fools. Penny’s descriptive nature provides an interesting sampling of some other members of the Homicide team, though nothing sensational comes from the pages of this piece. The story moves quickly, as it must with its brevity, and the reader must follow the movements of both the characters and the plot. Penny keeps the reader in the middle of the investigation, dropping hints throughout as she pushes towards the reveal, which ties the entire experience together. With this ‘short case’ done, it is time to return to slower and more thorough plots in full-length novels. With a new novel set to come out later this autumn, I have no time to wait. Back to the binge!

Kudos, Madam Penny, for reminding me how a masterful storyteller hones her craft!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/…

Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #6), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache must wrestle with the core of his being in this next novel of Louise Penny’s ongoing series. The piece opens with Gamache in Quebec City, ready to enjoy a winter carnival. He’s on leave, as is the rest of his Sûreté du Québec Homicide squad, after a brutal terror attack left many dead. While taking the time to hone his knowledge of Quebec history, the murder of local amateur archeologist, Augustin Renaud, creates quite the buzz. Found at the Literary and Historical Society, Renaud was said to have been trying to unearth the body of Quebec’s founder, Samuel de Champlain. Eager to offer his assistance, Gamache gains access to the investigation and begins to poke around, while also using his mentor and long-time friend to discuss matters of policing and personal politics. Without needing his compatriots, Gamache sends Inspector Beauvoir back to Three Pines to covertly reexamine the case of local resident, Olivier Brulé, whom series readers will know was arrested and convicted of murder at the end of the previous novel. Could it be that Olivier is innocent after all, as his partner, Gabri, has been touting in daily letters to the Chief Inspector? While there, Beauvoir interacts with Three Pines residents, many of whom have nothing but disdain for this man who chose not to support their friend. Beauvoir recounts to the locals some of the happenings related to the aforementioned terror event, explaining the step-by-step process that had Gamache in the middle of trying to save one of his new agents without ceding complete control to a farmer with a mission. In the present case, Gamache is trying to wrestle with the idea of his connection to the Quebecois, something that parallels a nationalism many feel for their country. Penny explores this struggle throughout, pushing her protagonist into the middle as he tries to find not only the killer, but to examine how the Literary and Historical Society—an Anglophone organization in the heart of French Quebec—has survived this long and what take they have had on Champlain and his role in Quebec’s founding. With three criminal investigations on the go within the single narrative, there is much to discover and explore, but nothing will be clear-cut, nor will happy endings be bountiful. Penny has really pushed the reader to their limits with this one, seeking to juggle multiple crimes in a series of time periods. Recommended to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. At this point, I would suggest new readers begin where the series began and progress accordingly.

Louise Penny has taken a significant gamble at this point in the series and I can see where some might bemoan her decision, though I do not entirely agree with the criticism. This story straddles three cases, all of which reveal themselves in the narrative, though their timelines differ greatly. Additionally, Penny seeks to explore Quebec nationalism and paint her protagonist into a corner as he works in Quebec City. Let us first explore the characters who appear and evolve on the page, then tackle some of the narrative and other parts of this complicated novel. Gamache has grown so much over the past few novels that the series reader might not expect as much development as can be found in this sixth piece. Not only does the reader discover some of Gamache’s deeply held beliefs as a Quebecois, but also what drives him as a leader and a man. Penny does well to explore these most sensitive aspects of her protagonist, without pulling him from the job for which readers have come to love him. The other characters prove to be a mish-mash, receiving some minor development, but Jean Guy Beauvoir deserves a few lines here. His icy demeanour is one that series readers know well, so tossing him into the Three Pines community without the shield of Gamache was sure to prove entertaining. Beauvoir forged into the area, armed with trying to see if his own notions about the guilt of one resident could stand after exploring some evidence. This also forced him to engage with the locals, thereby testing his ability to work independently and stop the incessant judging of all things Anglophone. Penny does a decent job of coaxing out some development with this plot line. The story is actually three, as mentioned before. While I thoroughly enjoyed them all, I felt throughout that the ‘terror cell’ should have been its own story (novel or novella), as it kept things somewhat confusing. While series readers are an intelligent bunch and I am the last person to criticise an bestselling author, I felt things got too clouded throughout. Penny would have done well to explore the terror cell theme in a stand-alone piece (#5.5?) and allow oblique reference to it in this piece, rather than trying to juggle everything. Gamache still ends up in Quebec City for this novel, Beauvoir is still able to return to Three Pines on his own, but the reader has that intense storyline out of the way and free from constant flashbacks. A throughly enriching experience can be found in this novel, which taps not only into Canadiana, but plunges headlong into the depths of Canadian and Quebec politics on a level that is both complicated and much needed. I applaud the political dignity Penny utilises in this hot potato topic and hope she will not shy away from the Quebecois struggles within her protagonist as the series continues.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for keeping me enthralled. And now…your sole short story in the collection. Let’s have a look!

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