Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Book Review: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

This is the third book in Louise Penny’s excellent series featuring Sûreté du Québec Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team. Gamache is called back to the small village of Three Pines when a woman dies of fright at a seance attended by several of the local villagers. The medical examiner rules the death a murder because ephedra, a banned diet drug known to cause heart attacks, is found in the dead woman’s system. Gamache does not lack for suspects who had both the motive and means to slip the dead woman the drug.

Not only must Gamache deal with the murder, but a series of stories appear in the Montreal newspapers accusing him of being in cahoots with Superintendent Arnot, a Sûreté officer Gamache arrested for murder. Gamache took action against the dirty officer knowing he would no longer be part of the inner circle of the Sûreté du Québec and his career would be stalled. His fellow officers either loved or hated his actions, but now someone has started a hate campaign in the newspapers against him. Gamache does not respond knowing that any response will only add fuel to his detractors. However, when the instigator goes after Gamache’s grown son and daughter, he goes toe to toe with the man he believes is behind the attacks only to find out he was wrong, very wrong.

Once again, Penny has written a wonderfully rich and detailed procedural set in a village whose residents are quirkily unique, like the renowned poet Ruth Zardo who, in this outing, has bonded with a pair of ducklings. Each time Penny returns Gamache to Three Pines, readers learn a little more about the residents and by this outing, it is as if the reader is catching up with old friends.

Penny’s writing is fluid and resonant. In every book, the reader will find sentences that compel her/him to write them down. For instance, in this book, Penny says “. . . Three Pines smelled of fresh earth and promise. And maybe a worm or two.” Added to the wonderful way with words that Penny possesses are the images she creates of her characters. Here, she has Gamache, who is a large man, tiptoeing down the village street after a rain storm trying to avoid stepping on the worms that litter the road.

This is a series that needs to be read in the order Penny wrote them starting with “A Still Life.” Reading the series in order allows the reader to get to know Gamache, his team and the residents of Three Pines. Penny is not stingy with the details of her characters’ lives, but in each book she manages to add another layer to each character so we understand them better, like them more, and even be surprised by some of them.

If you are a fan of P.D. James, Charles Todd, and Laurie R. King, you will be happy to discover this series.

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