Review: The Long Way Home

The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Gamache #10), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2015.

Summary: Gamache’s peaceful retirement is interrupted when Peter Morrow fails to return as agreed a year after his separation from Clara and they embark on a search taking them to a desolate corner of Quebec.

[Note: This review assumes readers who have read previous books in the series. While I try hard to avoid spoilers for the current book, some information here might “spoil” reading of previous books.]

Armand and Reine Marie have settled into what is hoped to be a peaceful and joyous retirement in Three Pines. Each morning, Gamache goes, sits on a bench above the village, pulls out a slim book, reads only as far as a bookmark, and gazes on the village. Clara Morrow has begun joining him and it is clear there is something on her mind. Finally she asks, and she dares to break into his peace, telling him that Peter had not come home. A year before, when it was clear he was deeply jealous of Clara’s growing success that was eclipsing his, she asked him to leave. For a year. When he returned, they would decide where the marriage went. On the day he was supposed to return, he did not come. No letter or contact. Days turned into weeks. No Peter and no word. Not like Peter.

Armand agrees to help, joined by his son-in-law, Jean Guy Beauvoir, and Myrna, the bookstore owner who has become his counselor. Slowly a picture emerges, in fact, a number, sent to Bean, who we met in an earlier novel. They are a veritable “dog’s mess,” painted by Peter, but unlike anything he’s ever painted. They reflect a long journey through Europe to a strange garden in Dumfries, Scotland, and a remote location outside of Baie St Paul in the Charlevoix region. Between those two locations, he had visited charming old professor Massey in Toronto, withdrew money from his bank in Montreal and disappeared.

How to understand the paintings and to make sense of Peter’s journey occupies much of the book. It seems that a controversial professor recruited and later dismissed by Massey, Norman or “No Man,” had created an artist commune or cult in Baie St. Paul some years back around the idea of the “tenth muse,” which was believed to be the muse of artists. Was Peter, whose career was eclipsed seeking the muse in some kind of crazed effort to regain eminence over Clara.

The foursome embark on a journey, led by Clara, not Gamache, at her insistence. They do not find Peter, or No Man, but find clues that take them to Tabaquen, a remote and desolate village along the St. Lawrence in the far eastern reaches of Quebec . The question is what will they find when they get there?

Throughout the book two themes recur: the balm of Gilead that heals the sin-sick soul and the idea of “a brave man in a brave country.” Will they find a sin-sick soul, corrupted by jealousy? Will they find one who has found balm, and become a brave man in a brave country? Will Peter find that what he has sought to the ends of Canada was something that was already his in the love and creativity of Clara? Or will he be a different man, maddened with jealousy, driven by a quest for a mythical muse to bring a fresh spark of creativity to his art?

The story turns on jealousy, the mystery of artistic creativity, and perspective, centered around both a painting that reveals different things depending on how it is turned and the identity of a mad figure in a yearbook drawing from the art school. Perspective will also figure in the emerging picture of what they will find in Tabaquen.

Unlike other books thus far, this has no side plots. From a peaceful beginning, it develops methodically, but not without its humorous moments, to an edge-of-the-seat ending. Savor every moment. They all matter.

Review: Hand in Glove

Hand in Glove (Roderick Alleyn #22), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2015 (originally published in 1962).

Summary: An April Fool’s scavenger hunt organized by Lady Bantling ends badly when a body is found under a drainage pipe in a ditch.

It all started at lunch. Nicola Maitland-Mayne had been escorted by Andrew Bantling, with whom she is quickly taken, to the home of Mr. Percival Pyke Period. She is employed to take dictation on Pyke Period’s book on etiquette. Mr. Pyke Period invites her to what ends up a disastrous lunch. Andrew has departed to Lady Bantling’s after an angry interview with Harold Cartell, his guardian who refuses to make over Andrew’s inheritance to him so he can pursue a career as an artist. He opposed Andrew’s decision to leave the Guards to pursue his art. Harold Cartell seems generally disagreeable, a lawyer who has moved in with Pyke Period to conserve costs. He makes a disagreeable allusion to Pyke Period’s ancestry. He also has a truly annoying dog, Pixie, which is always getting loose and bites. Also at the lunch is sad Connie Cartell, Harold’s spinster sister has taken a 20 year old orphan, “Moppet,” under her wing. Moppet is accompanied by Leonard Leiss, a flashy dresser with a criminal background. Harold Cartell has insisted Connie end her relationship with these ne’er-do-wells. The lunch ends with Leiss looking at a cigarette case owned by Pyke Period which subsequently goes missing.

The scene shifts to Lady Bantling’s, Harold Cartell’s former wife, now married to Bimbo Dodds, who it turns out has club connections with Leiss. She’s organizing one of her legendary parties for April Fool’s, a scavenger hunt. Leiss and the Moppet wrangle an invitation and Andrew invites Nicola to join the fun. Everyone is out at one point or another in the evening. The next morning, Harold Cartell is found in a drainage ditch being dug for Mr. Pyke Period, underneath a length of drain pipe that has shattered his skull. It seems someone moved boards over the ditch everyone used so that the board upturned, knocking Cartell into the ditch, along with a lantern. Also, Mr. Pyke Period’s cigarette case is lying nearby in the ditch.

Nicola’s friend, Roderick Alleyn and his assistant, Inspector Fox are called in. Now she is a front row witness. Nearly everyone mentioned here are possible suspects. Cartell was not a beloved man. It all comes down to some missing gloves, and the hands that had been in them, moving the plank and levering the pipe into the ditch, as well as a mix up in correspondence from Pyke Period.

The upper crust folk come off pretty unlikeable, although Lady Bantling is a character. Andrew and Nicola stand out. While Andrew had a motive, he’d sat with Nicola in the car and then returned with her to Lady Bantling’s at the end of the scavenger hunt. They also stand out as the two people who are actually working to make a living; he in his art, she in her secretarial work. Eventually, even Troy affirms his art. The others seem to live vacuous lives, as do most of the wealthy in the other of Marsh’s novels I’ve read. One can’t help but to see thinly-veiled social commentary in these depictions.

While all of Marsh’s books are decent reads, this felt more workmanlike than some when it came to solving the actual murder (and another murder attempt). The eccentric but somewhat one-dimensional characters seemed to dominate the plot more than the twists and turns of unraveling the murder. I do hope, however, that we haven’t seen the last of Andrew and Nicola.

Review: How the Light Gets In

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Gamache #9), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Press, 2013.

Summary: The murder of the last Ouellet quintuplet, a former client and friend of Myrna’s brings Gamache back to Three Pines which serves as a hidden base of operations as Sylvain Francoeur’s efforts to destroy Gamache comes to a head.

Chief Superintendent Sylvain Francoeur as taken away Gamache’s right hand man, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, transferred out his department’s best agents, filling their slots with the indifferent or corrupt. Is it simply the fact that Gamache had arrested former Chief Superintendent Arnot? Or is there, as Gamache suspects, something more going on?

Amid the increasing pressure on Gamache, he continues to do his job. And that job takes him back to Three Pines. A former client who had become a friend of Myrna Landers was supposed to come for a Christmas visit but fails to turn up. Gamache investigates and finds her dead in her home, killed by a head blow from a lamp as she was packing. One of the most startling discoveries was that she was Constance Ouellet, the last of the Ouellet quintuplets, considered a true miracle at their birth, exploited by a doctor who had not even been at the delivery, and used by the government to create a fairy-tale story. Who would have a motive to kill her? It turns out that Constance has left clues, unrecognized by those around her.

The murder allows Gamache, through a combination of misdirection and shrewd preparation, to turn Three Pines into a base of operations to ferret out what Francoeur is trying to do, along with Yvette Nichol, who has been spending years in the basement of the Surete learning to listen, and Jerome and Assistant Superintendent Therese Brunel. Jerome has been covertly infiltrating the Surete’s systems until he found a name that scared him. It’s time for the Brunels to flee, ostensibly to Vancouver, but actually to Three Pines.

One problem. When they find what they are looking for, they will be found, jeopardizing the whole village. It comes down to who will outmaneuver who? And the wild card is Beauvoir, who knows Gamache and in his drug addiction is tied to Francoeur.

One other piece. A woman in the Transportation Ministry, Audrey Villeneuve was found dead at the base of the most heavily-traveled bridge in Montreal. Her car was on the bridge and her death was ruled as a suicide. The book opens with her distraught drive onto the bridge. Let’s just say it’s not irrelevant.

The story line leaves us wondering at times if Gamache is paranoid, seeing conspiracies where there are none and becoming unhinged. Does he love and then leave as Beauvoir believes, or is there love that persists even when denied? And was inviting Nichol a good idea? Is this an one of Gamache’s redemption efforts that will put them all at risk? Penny quotes a poem, “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen, with these words “There’s a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” In this novel, we see in Gamache who believes in the foolish wisdom that to risk loving and trusting is the crack that lets the light in. The question is whether this will prevail over the earthly wisdom of power. Many lives and a hidden village hang in the balance.

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!