A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Gamache #12), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2016.
Summary: Gamache returns to the Sûreté as Commander of its Academy, and finds himself at the center of a murder investigation of one of its corrupt professors.
*Note: if you have not read previous books in this series, information in this review may include “spoilers” for previous books.
Armand Gamache has figured out his next work after his brief retirement in Three Pines. He has accepted the command of the Sûreté Academy, training future officers. The Academy was where the corruption of young officers began, and his determination was to bring it to an end.
Meanwhile, Reine-Marie has settled down in the village, helping archive its history. She agrees to help Ruth, Myrna, and Clara sort through old papers stuffed in the wall of the Bistro, perhaps a hundred years ago. Among these was an unusual map with a snowman and a pyramid, and a very young Three Pines.
One of Armand’s first duties is to review new candidate applications. He’s drawn to one repeatedly rejected. Amelia Choquet. With her piercings, tattoos, troubled background and poor marks, it seems that it would not be a hard decision. And yet…. In the end, Armand accepts her.
He also makes two unusual decisions. He keeps on the former assistant director at the Academy, Serge LeDuc, as a professor, explaining he knows he is a source of corruption but did not have evidence. He also brings his estranged childhood friend and former superior Michel Brebeuf, who had given way to the corruption of the Sûreté. He also assigns the four students LeDuc is grooming, who “serve” LeDuc (Amelia Choquet, Nathaniel Smythe, Huifen Cloutier, and Jacques Laurin) to figure out the mystery of the map in the wall
Then one of the four student “servants” of LeDuc, Nathaniel Smythe finds him dead of a gunshot to the temple, only the gun is found on the opposite side of his body. The revolver was LeDuc’s and had partial prints of several, including Amelia and Gamache, who claims he never handled the gun, which he would have banned. In a bedside table, a copy of the map of Three Pines is found, and Amelia’s is missing.
With Isabel Lacoste’s permission, Gamache spirits the four students to Three Pines. Is he protecting a murderer? Or is he protecting them from a murderer? Or more sinister yet, is Gamache the murderer? Secrets uncovered by an RCMP observer leads him to suspect Gamache, secrets that involve Amelia Cloquet, secrets Gamache has not spoken of to Reine-Marie.
Lacoste and Jean Guy Beauvoir don’t want to believe it. Meanwhile, the students are learning investigative skills and trying to decide whether Gamache is a weak, perhaps corrupt has-been, or a kind and strong leader, in contrast to the brutal and power hungry LeDuc, who especially has influenced Jacques. All this while chasing down a century old mystery involving one of Quebec’s foremost map makers.
A powerful influence in cleansing the cadets of corruption turn out to be the villagers. It is the power of ordinary goodness, even the FINE goodness of Ruth, who helps Nathaniel and speaks in poetry to Amelia or Olivier and Gabri, who put them to work in the kitchen. With Gamache, the goodness goes deeper. Even as trouble swirls about him, he acts with deliberation, even consideration for the RCMP observer who is preparing to arrest him, and for his childhood friend, Brebeuf. His strength comes from knowing where he is broken, and having grown from it. It comes from knowing that there is a power in kindness and integrity before which brute, corrupt power fails in the end.
On a side note, I find myself noticing more and more the delightful meals interspersed in the action. I suspect Louise Penny loves lingering over good and healthy food. At least her characters do, which seems another kind of goodness that shines through these books, the rich fellowship of the table, where both good food and good friends are savored. These meals punctuate the darkness of murders and corruptions with reminders of the goodness that is greater. And they make the reader hungry!