The Cruelest Month (Chief Inspector Gamache #3), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2007.
Summary: Gamache returns to Three Pines to solve a murder during a seance at the old Hadley House while forces within the Surete’ (and on his team) plot his downfall to avenge the Arnot case.
It’s April and Three Pines is coming to life. It seems that the greatest danger is getting between a mother bear and her cubs in the nearby woods. Then Jeanne Chauvet arrives at Gabri and Olivier’s bed and breakfast. She is a Wiccan and Gabri and Olivier convince her to hold a séance on Good Friday evening. Not much happens except that Monsieur Beliveau, the grocer, proposes doing a second séance at the old Hadley House, empty since the last murder associated with the house. Among those present are Odile Montmagny, Gilles Sandon, Monsieur Beliveau, Jeanne Chauvet, Hazel Smythe and her daughter Sophie, and Madeleine Favreau. Madeleine has only lived in Three Pines a few years, coming to stay with her schoolmate Hazel who always adored her after a divorce and a cancer diagnosis. Really, just about everyone seemed to adore her, save Odile who is jealous of her husband’s attraction to her. During the séance, there is a sudden thump, and when the light go on, Madeleine is dead with a look of terror on her face. Apparently not everyone adored Madeleine. Subsequent tests find a lethal dose of ephedra in her bloodstream. And gradually as the case unfolds, it emerges that all the above named had motive to wish her dead.
Gamache and his team are assigned the case. And despite her attitudes and suspicion that she is part of the conspiracy to bring down Gamache, he takes her on his team. Before his departure is good friend Michel Brebeuf warns him of the growing storm of the allies of Inspector Arnot, who Gamache pursued because of his corruption, violating the codes of loyalty in the Sûreté. About the time of a late winter storm in Three Pines, the storm breaks in the form of a series of news articles casting suspicions on Gamache and his children. In one of the more exciting finishes of a mystery, the two plots collide at the old Hadley House as Gamache’s revelation of Madeleine’s murderer is interrupted with the revelation of those conspiring against Gamache.
Penny continues to develop Peter and Clara Morrow and Ruth Zardo. Clara is absorbed in her painting, preparing for the visit of an art dealer. Peter, also an artist, helps her break through a “block” and the result is so stunning that he realizes that she has surpasses him, sowing a seed of jealousy. It will be interesting to see where Penny takes this. Zardo features principally as the guardian of two goslings, one she helped hatch, only to discover that she sealed its death by not allowing it to struggle out of its shell, a parable of loving too well.
Gamache’s self-possession (except for when his children are attacked), his lack of overweening ambition, and the affection he has not only for his wife but his team make him a study in leadership. Penny’s ability to continue to develop her characters and maintain a sense of suspense, even while continuing to unfold the beauties of Three Pines evidences her skill as a writer. I only wonder why they don’t tear down the old Hadley house. All this leaves me looking forward to the next…and the next. What a delightful thought to realize I have thirteen to go (and Louise Penny might right some more before I get there)!