Review: Final Curtain

Final Curtain (Inspector Alleyn #14), Ngaio Marsh. New York, Felony & Mayhem Press, 2014 (originally published in 1947.

Summary: While Inspector Alleyn is returning from wartime service in New Zealand, Troy Alleyn, his artist wife is commissioned on short notice to paint a portrait of Sir Henry Ancred, a noteworthy stage actor, meeting his dramatic family, encountering a number of practical jokes including one that infuriates Sir Henry at his birthday dinner, after which he is found dead the next morning. Inspector Alleyn arrives home to investigate a possible murder in which his wife is an interested party.

Troy Alleyn is eagerly awaiting the return of her husband, Inspector Roderick Alleyn, after a lengthy assignment in New Zealand during the war. She is an artist of some repute and receives a commission from Sir Henry Ancred, a noted stage actor, to paint his portrait at Ancreton Manor, the ancestral home of the family. She quickly discovers that she will have to contend with far more than Sir Henry, who is a striking subject. She has to reside with a theatrical family whose daily interactions are high drama. We are introduced to everyone from the responsible Paul, Sir Henry’s son to the flippant Cedric, Fenella, a granddaughter and Paul, a cousin, who are engaged despite Sir Henry’s opposition, Millament, the dutiful widowed daughter-in-law, Pauline, engrossed in her son Paul’s affairs, and Jennetta and Desdemona. Finally, there the young and willful Patricia, or as she is known, Panty–known for her practical jokes.

Troy’s arrival coincides with an outbreak of practical jokes–paint on the bannister to her room, a greasepaint message on Sir Henry’s mirror, and painting over Alleyn’s portrait of Sir Henry–humorous and easily removed. The family all thinks it points back to Panty–except for Troy who has become friends with the young child.

The family drama is heightened by another guest, Sonia Orrincourt, who is Sir Henry’s love interest. Given Sir Henry’s increasingly fragile health and his propensity to constantly change his will, which currently favors Panty, there is all kind of apprehension, gossip, and attempts to manipulate Sir Henry’s outlook. All this comes to a climax at Sir Henry’s Birthday dinner as he announces his new will and his engagement to Sonia. This is followed by the unveiling of Alleyn’s portrait of Sir Henry, once again marred by a cow, like those Panty likes to paint, flying over Sir Henry’s head. While the damage to the painting is easily undone, Sir Henry goes to bed upset in stomach from dinner and emotionally wrought out. Next morning, Barker, the butler, finds him dead.

Troy is present during all of this, which takes up nearly half the book, departing as the undertaker arrives to go and meet her husband. She recounts the story, which he enjoys, even as they get reacquainted. Then, back at Ancreton, things get more interesting. Someone sends the whole family a note written on school paper alleging that Sir Henry was murdered. Sir Henry had been interested in an ancestral embalming method involving arsenic, a book about which was in his library and several had consulted. A tin of rat poison is missing. Inspector Alleyn and his team are asked to make inquiries. Increasingly, he becomes convinced that Sir Henry was murdered.

The story turns on wills and family attachments and the unhealthy loves people can have for those around them. The unusual situation of Troy being an interested party brings her into the investigation. Her memory for detail is invaluable and it turns out that she gives Alleyn the decisive clue.

I have to admit that I had kind of hoped that most of those at Ancreton Manor apart from the butler and Panty would be found guilty. Marsh creates a family full of unlikable people as well as portraying the Inspector’s wife as a capable professional (and detective) in her own right. I hope I encounter more of Troy in future novels! It will be interesting to see if Marsh brings them together on a case again.

Review: The Beautiful Mystery

The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #8), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2013.

Summary: While solving a case involving the murder of a prior in a remote monastery, Gamache must confront his arch-nemesis Chief Superintendent Sylvain Françoeur.

Things must be quiet in Three Pines. No murders there to solve. Instead, Gamache and Beauvoir are sent to a remote monastery, Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, of an order, The Gilbertines, thought to have died out. St. Gilbert’s distinction was his loyalty for Thomas à Becket. In consequence, the Gilbertines were chased across Europe, and a group, disguised as workers, find their way to a remote part of Canada, surviving for four centuries.

Two dozen monks led by an Abbot and a Prior who is also their choir director maintain a self-sustaining community and come together to sing the most beautiful Gregorian chant heard anywhere in the world. Gamache knows. He has heard the one recording of their chants that took the world by storm.

And now the Prior is dead, murdered by blows to the head, curled in a ball by the wall of the Abbot’s garden. It can be accessed only through a bookcase in the Abbot’s office. The only ones who typically do so are the Abbot, the Prior, and the Abbot’s secretary, Brother Simon, who had found the Prior.

Concealed in the Prior’s sleeves was a piece of parchment with musical notation in the character of chant, but unlike any chant, and with non-sensical words. What did all this mean? And how was it connected to the Prior’s death. And who of the other twenty-three brothers, seemingly one in song and community, did this? And what is the source of the particular beauty of the singing of these brothers, the beautiful mystery?

Gamache and Beauvoir set out to unravel all this in their patient, methodical fashion. They discover a deeply divided community, reflecting a divide between the Abbot and Prior, once the deepest of friends. The Prior wants to make another recording, and for the monks to be permitted to break their vow of silence to tour. The Abbot refuses even though a number of the monks oppose him. Even though one of them has shown him that the foundations of the monastery are crumbling and may not last another ten years. Another recording could save the building. But the Abbot fears it could destroy the order.

Amid the efforts to solve the murder, the Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté, Sylvain Françoeur, arrives, ostensibly to take over the investigation. He has it in for Gamache, and has come to attack Gamache and Beauvoir at the points of their vulnerabilities. In Françoeur, Penny has created a formidable and subtle villain, one we love to hate.

Some of the promotional copy speaks of “the divine, the human, and the cracks in between” and this is indeed a theme running through this mystery. The transcendent beauty of the chants, even with a killer among them, captivates Gamache. These monks believe what they sing, have come to this place to sing what they believe. Yet they are human. Twenty-three distinct men. The cracks between have riven their community, in as great a danger as the walls of their monastery. But amid the noble work of the Sûreté to execute justice, there are cracks as well. Obviously between Gamache and Françoeur, but also between Gamache and Beauvoir, stemming from the ambush attack and the traumas that have never healed. There are the cracks within as well.

There is also a crack between faith and secularity. The tension between faithfulness to God and the vows of the order and the pull of secular fame and the money it could bring is one crack. There is also a contrast between the faith of the monks and the officers of the Sûreté who all have walked away from the church. The tension is greatest in Gamache, who prayed the last rites over his fallen officers amid a gun battle, who is captivated by the chants, and yet…. In the last words of dialogue, Gamache is asked, “Would you like me to hear your confession?” to which he replies, “Not just yet, I think, mon pere.” I’m intrigued with what Penny will do with this.

Review: Death in Ecstasy

Death in Ecstasy (Roderick Alleyn #4), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem, 2012 (originally published in 1936).

Summary: Nigel Bathgate happens upon the strange religious rites at the House of the Sacred Flame just in time to witness the death of Cara Quayne, the Chosen Vessel, when she imbibes a chalice of wine laced with cyanide.

Felony & Mayhem Press has been re-printing the Roderick Alleyn mysteries by legendary mystery writer, Ngaio Marsh, one of the “Queens of Crime,” along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Margery Allingham. Her main character was Inspector Roderick Alleyn, a gentlemanly and understated detective whose “Watson” is a newspaperman, Nigel Bathgate. His crime investigation team includes Detective-Inspector Fox and his fingerprint expert Detective-Sergeant Bailey.

This story begins when Bathgate, bored on a rainy night, slips into the services of the House of the Sacred Flame, down the street from his flat. Fascination with the pantheon of statues, the worshipers and the mystical rite with Initiates who each identify with a god turns to horror at the culmination of the ceremony. The Chosen Vessel, a single woman of some means accepts a chalice of wine from Jasper Garnette, the Officiating Priest. drinks deeply anticipating spiritual ecstasy. Instead she gasps, her face contorted and collapses. An onlooking physician, Dr. Kasbek smells the scent of potassium cyanide, and Alleyn and his team are called in.

The lead suspects are Garnette and the other Initiates, each of who drank of the chalice. Samuel Ogden, the warden was a businessman ostensibly from America. Raoul de Ravigne, another warden had been enamored with the victim, who was fond of him as a friend, to the point of leaving him her house in her will. Maurice Pringle is an excitable young man who is suffering an addiction to opioids. His fiance, and the youngest initiative is Janey Jenkins, sweet and loving. Ernestine Wade was the oldest while Dagmar Candour was jealous of Cara’s affections toward Raoul, and her being favored as the Chosen Vessel.

Much of the action hinges around a book found hidden in Garnette’s bookcase that falls open to a recipe for homemade cyanide. It came from Mr. Ogden’s books, attracted attention at a party at Ogden’s, then disappeared about the time Claude Wheatley, one of two acolytes, picks up some books for Garnette. Then there are the missing bonds from Garnette’s safe–bonds given for a new building by Cara Quane–and the visit by Cara to his office the afternoon of her death and the will she changed that same afternoon.

What I liked about this story was the relationship of Alleyn and Bathgate–delightful repartee between them as they sort out the evidence of the case. Alleyn is also fascinating in his instincts as to how to interview each suspect. Particularly intriguing is his toughness with the addict, Maurice Pringle, that turns out to be tough love. We see in Alleyn a combination of someone who can be dogged in pursuit of a murderer who has concealed his or her identity well, as well as genuine compassion for lives unraveled by those who have betrayed their trust. Marsh offers just enough twists to keep it interesting, a likable recurring ensemble, and a timely and satisfying denouement.

Review: A Trick of the Light

A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Gamache #7), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2012.

Summary: The vernissage for Clara’s art show is a stunning success with glowing reviews only to be spoiled when the body of her estranged childhood friend is found in her flowerbed.

This was Clara Morrow’s night, the vernissage (a private preview of an art show) for her solo show at the Musee d’Art. A night for her friends, for art critics, and art dealers. The reactions suggest a stunning success. Gamache is there studying a painting of Ruth as an aged Virgin Mary, bitter with a hint of light in her eye. What does it mean? He discusses it with Quebec’s most distinguished art dealer, utterly taken by the picture. Later that night, an equally celebratory party takes place at the Morrows, attended even by Fortin, the art dealer who snubbed her after she challenged his homophobic slurs.

She wakens to savor the triumph on her terrace the next morning when some approaching friends suddenly stop. There is something in her Clara’s flower bed. Or rather someone in a bright red dress. Someone Clara knows. Lying dead with a broken neck. The childhood friend who took her under her wing, and later manipulatively controlled her. Both were art students. When Clara asserted her art instincts against her friend’s advice, the relationship was breached, later irreparably broken with a vicious review from her former friend, Lillian Dyson.

Vicious, career-ending reviews became Lillian’s specialty. Then she disappeared for many years in New York. Years of descent into alcoholism until a recent return to Quebec. One of the critical questions revolving around her is, can a person truly change for the better?

The list of suspects connected with her only begins with Clara. Other artists whose careers were shattered. A chief justice and an AA sponsor. Art dealers. Nearly everyone at the party at Clara’s. Gamache’s team of Beauvoir and LaCoste must unravel not only who killed Lillian but how she even found Three Pines and Clara’s party.

Like other mysteries in this series, there are multiple layers to the plot connected to the murder of the hermit in book five and the ambush of Gamache’s team and the near deaths of Beauvoir and Gamache in book six. The video of the ambush that had been leaked continues to cause trouble. Gamache wonders who really leaked it, not accepting that a hacker did it. Beauvoir seems in deeper trouble, divorced, using painkillers, sleeping poorly, watching the video repeatedly, and wrestling with demons and tempted to an affair that could destroy his relationship with Gamache. Gamache knows Beauvoir is in trouble. He doesn’t realize that it is his trouble, too.

The story explores the secrets characters keep, the ways they can fester, and how lies conceal when liberation beckons in telling the truth. Secrets that threaten Peter and Clara. Secrets that threaten Beauvoir and Gamache. Then there are those clear-eyed enough to see through the lies–Myrna the bookseller and Ruth, who never fails to amaze.

Penny also explores the question of forgiveness. When is it right to seek forgiveness? Can we truly forgive? Will we forgive? Several characters, including those wounded by Lillian’s reviews face these questions.

Then there is that dot of light in the painting of Ruth. Is it the light of hope or a mere trick of the light? What is it in hard-bitten old Ruth that she sits on a bench feeding the birds and gazing up at the sky looking for Rosa the duck to return?

Louise Penny seems to grow in each book in her ability to weave these profound elements into a complicated, multi-layered plot with evolving characters, centered around Gamache, so insightful yet also vulnerable to what he does not see, so able to command love and loyalty, as well as deep jealousies and resentments. Already has me looking forward to book eight and those to follow!

Review: Bury Your Dead

Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Gamache #6), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2010.

Summary: Gamache and Beauvoir are on leave after an attempt to rescue an agent goes terribly wrong. As each faces their own traumas they get caught up in murder investigations in Quebec City and Three Pines.

Armand Gamache and Jean Guy Beauvoir are wounded and desperately in need of healing in both body and mind. Young Agent Paul Morin, who we met in the previous novel, had been kidnapped while his partner was killed. The kidnapper, on an untraceable phone, tells Gamache that Morin is strapped to a bomb which will detonate in 24 hours, or if he and Gamache stop talking to each other. While Gamache talks, the team, with a critical contribution by Yvette Nichol, discovers both Morin’s location, and a much bigger plot in which this is a diversion. Gamache leads the raid to rescue Morin, which turns out to be an ambush. Agents die, and Beauvoir is wounded as is Gamache, nearly fatally, as he rescues a downed agent. He recovers enough to lead the cortege, but their wounds, their memories of the ambush and the loss of fellow officers remain to be healed. These are among the dead to be grieved and buried and the tale of the kidnapping, desperate investigation, and fatal raid are gradually unfolded over the course of the novel as each remembers fragments and re-tells them.

Gamache has gone to stay in Quebec City with his old Chief, Emile, who had mentored him. It is the time of the Winter Carnival. To distract himself, Gamache and his German shepherd Henri go to the Literary and Historical Library, an archive maintained by the English community amid a sea of French-speaking Quebecois. He spends time investigating a historical battle until–you guessed it–a murder happens in the basement of the library. Augustin Renaud, considered by many an old crank seeking the burial place of Champlain, Quebec’s founder, had asked to speak to the Lit and His (as it was called) board and was refused. The next morning, the phones were out of order, and the repairman found the cause. A dead Renaud had been buried in the basement, cutting the phone line. The local inspector asks Gamache to assist, with the board as prime suspects, and a growing trail of evidence that pointed toward the possible burial place of Champlain. Meanwhile, dead of night walks with Henri and conversations with Emile don’t, of themselves heal Gamache but create the space where he can.

Meanwhile, Beauvoir has returned to Three Pines. He and Gamache had arrested the murderer of a hermit hidden deep in a forest near Three Pines, as told in the previous novel. Yet persistent letters to Gamache of a villager with one question, lead him to ask Beauvoir, ostensibly there to recover, to make sure they had arrested and convicted the right suspect. Beauvoir, initially convinced that they had the right person in custody, begins to uncover evidence and question assumptions, leading to doubts of his own, and the disturbing possibility that the murderer is still in Three Pines. Meanwhile, the most unlikely relationship between him and Ruth Zardo, continues to unfold as Beauvoir processes his own trauma.

Penny masterfully weaves narratives of the search and rescue attempt that went so horribly wrong with the “informal” investigations in Quebec City and Three Pines. Will Gamache find the murderer of the buried Renaud? Will he unravel the mystery that has stumped so many of the burial place of Champlain, and what does the Lit and His have to do with it? Will Beauvoir satisfy the doubts he and Gamache have, or find the real murderer of the hermit? And will any of this help the two of them heal and let the dead lay buried?

One glimpses in Penny’s account what post-traumatic stress can be like for peace officers when their worst nightmare comes true. Penny portrays the wisdom of friends (or whatever you might call it with Ruth) who create the safety where trauma can be faced without trying to pry it open. And we glimpse two men struggling and willing to face the possibility that they had subjected the wrong person to the pain of arrest, trial, and imprisonment. Having survived an ordeal that went terribly wrong, we see a remarkable quality in these two men, the facing of mistakes and the growing and learning from them.

Review: Maigret and the Old People

Maigret and the Old People, Georges Simenon. New York: Penguin Books, 2019 (originally published in 1960).

Summary: Maigret investigates the shooting death of a retired diplomat, struggling to figure out who among all the old people in his circle would have the motive and opportunity to kill him.

Maigret is called upon to investigate the murder of a distinguished retired diplomat, Armand de Saint-Hilaire. His dedicated housekeeper of fifty years, Mademoiselle Larrieu found him dead from a gunshot wound to the head and three to the body. She was the only one locked into the house with him, she in a bedroom at the opposite end of the flat.

The circle of possible suspects seems small. There is the devoted housekeeper. A nephew who will inherit the home, an antiques dealer, relatively unsuccessful and unpleasant, who Hillaire had helped from time to time with no unpleasantries. And then Maigret discovered the letters–bundled stacks of letters all from one person–Princess Isabelle of V–.

Hillaire and Isabelle, “Isi,” had loved each other for fifty years. He was below her station when he was young and so he married the Prince of V–. The love of Isi and Hillaire was never consummated. But the two exchanged letters for fifty years, every day. All those around them, including Isi’s husband and Mademoiselle Larrieu knew about the love. Yet not a hint of scandal. If Isi survived her husband, they planned after a suitable time of mourning, to marry. Days before Hillaire’s death, Prince of V– died following an accident. Who would not want to see them marry? Prince V’s inheritance would pass to his son. Housekeeper and nephew were both provided for in Hillaire’s will.

Maigret finds himself amid a circle of refined old people who seem resolved to withhold as much as they can. Maigret feels himself a youth in short pants even though he is an experienced investigator. That is until he realizes that he is closer in age to the old people than the boy. As he comes to new realizations about his season in life, he wrestles to see what he is missing that will explain the unmistakable truth of the death of Armand de Saint-Hilaire, a distinguished and gracious old man without enemies.

Reading Simenon is delightful. He spins an intriguing mystery with an economy of words, refusing to draw it out longer than needed. Just long enough for a satisfying read.

Review: The Brutal Telling

The Brutal Telling (Chief Inspector Gamache #5), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2009.

Summary: The body of an unknown man is found in the bistro of Gabri and Olivier, and Olivier is the chief suspect!

Olivier has been secretly visiting the cabin of a hermit living in a self-built cabin hidden in the woods near Three Pines. He brings groceries, shares stories, and is repaid with carvings and other items in the hermit’s possessions. The night after his last visit, the hermit’s body appears in the bistro jointly run by Gabri and Olivier, found by neighboring bookstore owner Myrna. The hermit has been brutally murdered with a skull-shattering blow to the back of the The hermit is unknown to anyone else in the village and when questioned, Olivier denies knowledge of him as well.

But how did the body get to the bistro? Who was the man? Why was he killed? And why is Olivier lying? These are questions Inspector Gamache and his team, joined by a young local officer eager to learn from Gamache, Paul Morin. It turns out that the body was placed in the bistro by the new owner of the Hadley house, Marc Gilbert. The Gilberts are turning it into a spa that will compete with Gabri and Olivier’s bistro and B & B. But Gilbert doesn’t appear to be the killer. He found the body in his foyer and moved it to the bistro. But who deposited the body at their doorway?

There are other suspects. Roar and Havoc Parras are part of a Czech community. It is revealed that the hermit had Czech connections. Roar has been cutting a trail for the Gilberts getting closer and closer to the hermit’s cabin. Havoc is an intelligent young man, seemingly content with working in the bistro, far below is potential. Gilbert’s father Vincent, a seemingly saintly figure who has worked with the mentally disabled, yet emotionally manipulative, just happens to show up, literally out of the woods.

Still, as clues emerge and the cabin is discovered as the murder scene, Olivier emerges as the lead suspect, even as his answers continue to be evasive. Gamache learns of his estranged relationship with his father and the extent of his wealth. He owns much of Three Pines. Where did that money come from?

Gamache’s inquiries focus around a set of valuable carvings made from a redwood from an island off of British Columbia. He even goes there and comes back knowing who the murderer is.

Meanwhile Penny continues to develop Peter and Clara Morrow. As Clara prepares for a debut show with Dennis Fortin, he drops a homophobic remark. She debates whether to say something and risk her future. Moral dilemmas result for both Clara and Peter. Clara know Fortin could cancel her show. Peter is conflicted as he sees her success eclipsing his own. What does integrity, loyalty, and a marital bond require?

The story explores the relationships of fathers and children. Some of these had shattering “brutal tellings.” Penny explores the shaping influences of fathers on children and the dangers of festering anger and how murder begins long before the act.

It seems each of these get better than the ones before, and this has a number of “unfinished” elements that leave one wondering “what’s next?” I look forward to how Penny will unfold this tale!

Review: A Rule Against Murder

A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache #4), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2008.

Summary: The Gamache’s getaway to a peaceful lodge is interrupted, first by an unloving family reunion, and then by the death of one of the family, crushed under a statue. Meanwhile, the naming of a child forces Gamache to face his own family history.

Manoir Bellechasse is one of the most exclusive and peaceful getaways in Quebec, and just a stone’s throw from Three Pines. Armand and Reine Marie Gamache have come here for anniversaries for many years, reveling in the hospitality of Madame Dubois. Displaced by a family reunion of a demanding and unhappy family, they are once again in the smaller back room where they had spent their first visit to the auberge. They are treated by the family as “shopkeepers” who didn’t belong. They observe and befriend the strange child, Bean, whose gender is unknown. S/he is Mariannas’s child, a quirky single mom. There is Thomas, the seeming business success, Julia, perfect it seems in every way, but recovering from divorcing her husband, in prison for securities fraud. They talk disparagingly of “Spot and Clare” called the greediest of all. Given this, imagine the surprise of the Gamaches when they discover that Spot and Clare are Peter and Clara Morrow, artists from Three Pines who have become good friends. The family is together for their mother Irene, and their barely tolerated step-father, Bert Finney. The father, Charles Morrow had died some years earlier and would be remembered by the unveiling of a statue that Manoir Bellechasse agreed to give a home in exchange for a substantial gift.

The place to which they have come offers peace, attentive hospitality, and safety, away from the world’s troubles. Madame Dubois and her deceased husband turned an old hunting lodge into a premiere getaway. She remembers her husband in every corner of the inn. Pierre Patenaude is the maitre d’ and along with Chef Veronique are the two permanent residents, alongside Madame Dubois. Pierre oversees the wait staff, young people from all over English-speaking Canada to learn French, and the skills of serving and attending to the needs of guests. Most are trying to “find” themselves. One, Elliot from Vancouver, the same city as Julia, is the exception to the rest who are grateful for Pierre and Veronique’s attentions. He is determined to defy Pierre.

The statue of Charles is unveiled, surprising all with its expression of sadness. That night, the family’s ugliness unfolds in front of the Gamache’s. Julie throws a cup to the floor, crying out “Stop it, I’ve had enough.” and proceeds to eviscerate each of her siblings, including Peter, who she calls cruel and greedy. She concludes by looking around at all of them, and says “I know Daddy’s secret.” Overnight, a terrible storm hits. The next morning, Gamache is aroused from his breakfast reveries by screams, coming from the gardener, Colleen, who has found Julia crushed beneath the statue of her father, arms out as in an embrace.

The question is not only who could have done this but how. The heavy statue would be impossible to push off the pedestal. Furthermore, there were no marks on the pedestal. Even the sculptor has no explanation for this. Gamache, de Beauvoir, and LaCoste gather, and patiently unravel the stories of the family, and those who work at the inn. But “how” eludes them.

Meanwhile Gamache wrestles with his own family’s past, thrown in his face both by his son Daniel, and by the Finney family. His father had been a pacifist, and had been accused of lack of courage. This is brought up by the family in their anger and grief. But his son has gotten their first. The son wants to name their first child, if he is a boy, Honore’, Gamache’s father’s name. Because of the disgrace with which his father was regarded, Armand opposes this, at the risk of estranging his son.

Penny continues to develop Gamache, exploring the ways his father’s life, who he lost at eleven, shaped who he is. We also discover that Peter Morrow may be a more complicated character than we thought, the one other character in a previous murder that Gamache thought capable of becoming a murderer. The conversations between him and Gamache offer Peter the chance to expose the complications of his story.

After the intricate plot and tense climax involving Bean, Gamache sits with Bert Finney on the dock by the lake. Throughout the book, it was thought that Bert, an accountant was doing his sums. It turns out that he was, counting his blessings. He leaves us with a stunning piece of wisdom:

We’re all blessed and we’re all blighted, Chief Inspector,” said Finney. “Every day each of us does our sums. The question is, what do we count?”

Review: The Cruelest Month

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)!

Review: All I Did Was Shoot My Man

All I Did Was Shoot My Man (A Leonid McGill Mystery #4), Walter Mosley. New York, Riverhead Press, 2012.

Summary: The release from prison of a woman framed in an insurance heist sets loose a string of murders, including an attempt on McGill’s life, even while he tries to find out who is behind the heist and the murders.

Eight years ago Leonid McGill was hired as a fixer to plant evidence in the storage locker of a woman, Zella Grisham, already arrested for wounding her boyfriend, who she caught with another woman. The evidence connected her with a heist of $58 million involving an insurance company. Now working as a New York private investigator, he works to get her released early and started in a new life. She doesn’t know he set her up.

Then people connected with the heist start getting murdered. He hides Zella away with a friend who owes him. Two foreign hired guns break in on McGill and his wife while he is sleeping. Impressively, the foreign guns end up dead. All this fuels McGill’s passion, or desire to atone for his wrong. Zella deserves better. Despite a warning from a detective in the NYPD, he pursues the case to find out who is masterminding the killings, and perhaps the heist.

McGill’s efforts to atone are not limited to his cases. His wife struggles with depression and drinking. Toward the end of the novel, his absentee, Marxist-revolutionary father gets in touch (there is significance to the name Leonid). His blood son’s lover is an ex-hooker from Belarus. He is trying to save his Katrina’s son Twill from pursuing a life of crime by training him as an investigator. Turns out he is good. Sent to investigate a rich family’s wayward son, he discovers there is far more to it than a case of falling in with the wrong people.

Walter Mosley is considered the dean of Black crime fiction writers. This might be described as New York noir, by turns gritty and sophisticated, moving from the streets to high powered corporate offices. There is quite a bit going on in this book, and a twisty primary plot. I’ve seen criticism of the one-dimensional female figures, and apart from troubled Katrina, this seems true–the men, even the bit players seem more interesting. For me, the most interesting part is McGill’s misdeeds (and current appetites), his sense of the wrongs he’s done, what can’t be undone and what he must try to do, if he can live long to do it.

This is my first Mosley read. Some like his Easy Rawlins stories better. With my limited exposure, I have to say interesting, but not at the top of my list of crime fiction writers, but the jury is not in.