A World of Curiosities, Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Press, 2022.
Summary: The arrival in Three Pines of a sister and brother involved in a murder case that brought Armand and Jean Guy and the opening of a sealed room and the strange painting found within confront Gamache with two of his greatest fears.
Bricks. They are all over this story. The instrument of murder in a case that brought Armand and Jean Guy together. The means used 160 years ago to seal up a room filled with strange objects and a copy of a famous painting altered in sinister ways signifying to Gamache that an old nemesis is on the loose.
The murder case and the room summon two fears in the mind of Gamache. The murder was of a drug-addicted prostitute who prostituted her children. Jean Guy, languishing in the basement of the district detachment under a corrupt boss, is called on to assist Gamache. As the mother had deteriorated, the children took over, and then murdered the mother. With a brick. The older girl, Fiona Arsenault, confessed, but Gamache was never certain. There was a chilling something about her brother Sam, something deeply broken and disturbing. And while Sam bonded with Jean Guy, he hated Gamache for ending what he and his sister had.
Fiona, against Gamache’s wishes, went to prison. While there, he sponsored her when she discovered an aptitude for engineering. He and Reine Marie became mentors to her. Sam survived, first in a foster home, then in a variety of jobs, traveling about, becoming a strikingly handsome young man.
In the present, Myrna’s niece Harriet is graduating, as is Fiona and they are all present. Fiona, now out of prison is staying with the Gamaches. Only Sam shows up as well, staying at the B & B. The contempt for Gamache is still there, and all his fears and instincts are aroused, even as Sam wins Harriet’s heart. Myrna, in her previous life as a Montreal psychologist, had interviewed Sam. She shared Gamache’s concerns that he could be a sociopath, or worse. Jean Guy disagrees.
Converging with all this, a 160 year old letter to Billy Williams reveals the existence of a hidden room bricked up by Billy’s ancestor, a stone mason. It is connected to Myrna’s loft and could make a great extra room for Harriet. Yet the reasons for bricking up the room and why this came to Billy at this time raise suspicions. And indeed, what they find in the room is “a world of curiosities.” There is an old grimoire, a book of potions, of herbal remedies, and more, that could get a woman killed for witchcraft. There is a statue that had gone missing after a strange guest stayed at the B & B, covered with strange markings. And there is a painting, a copy of The Paston Treasure with menacing additions from the present. It is the additions that increasingly disturb Gamache, as he figures out they are meant for him.
They signal that a nemesis thought to be locked away is afoot. How did these contemporary objects get into a sealed room? Only a meticulous mind could do this, a master of disguise. But he is locked away in a high security prison. Or is he?
Two who hated Gamache. Two with access to Three Pines. Even the home of the Gamaches, endangering all he loved. They both seem to know everything about Gamache. Can he get into their heads as they have his? And can he go deeper, and walk into his fears? And will it be enough?
So much has turned on the kindness of Gamache, especially to Fiona. Early on, a mentor had cautioned him with the words of Matthew 10:36, “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” Yet the Gamaches make themselves vulnerable in their care for Fiona, their tendency to take in the needy. They’ve also done this for Amelia Chocquet, even as years ago, they did so with Jean Guy, who has tried to show kindness to Sam. So much turns in this story on whether this is weakness, foolishness, or strength.
We also see two ways and their fruit: the way of a deep bitterness and how this consumes, and the way of facing one’s brokenness, the admission of wrongs and the power of forgiveness. Armand is forced by the evil that threatens to look in and wrestle with these two ways in his own life.
All I will say about the ending of this book is that if you have a heart condition, you may want to seek your physician’s advice before reading it. This is Louise Penny at the top of her game.