The Brutal Telling is the fifth in Louise Penny’s excellent series featuring Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the Sûreté du Québec. In this outing, Gamache and his team return to the small town of Three Pines when the local bookstore owner reports seeing a body in the bistro. The body is that of an unidentified man whom none of the locals claim to know or to have seen. With nothing to go on other than where the victim was found, Gamache begins his search not only for a murderer, but for his identity as well.
It doesn’t take long for Gamache to know that he’s been lied to. What he doesn’t know is why. Finally, the team is told, by the bistro owner, Olivier, that the man was known only as the Hermit. Olivier is the only one who has seen him. They catch a lucky break when a local, riding a horse along a newly forged riding trail, spots a cabin deep in the woods on her property. She reports the find to Gamache who goes to the cabin and what he finds there stuns and fascinates him.
In the end, Gamache makes an arrest based on the evidence. Doubts as to the man’s innocence or guilt remain in the minds of the locals who know him. Penny subtly allows the reader to question the evidence as well and to wonder whether Gamache is convinced he’s arrested the right man.
As Gamache goes about his inquiry, Penny gives her readers an update on many of the locals whom we met in the first book in this series, Still Life. Ruth Zardo, the small town’s curmudgeon and a renown poet, is now dressing the foundling duckling she adopted in a previous book in a variety of clothing including a sweater and raincoat. Claire, whose paintings have been “discovered” by a Montreal art gallery owner, must decide whether to stand up for her principles and lose the opportunity to become well known or keep quiet. Peter, her already-well-known artist/husband, must come to grips with the knowledge that his wife may be more talented than he is. The old Hadley House has new owners and we meet them in this book.
Once again, Penny has written an outstanding story. She takes the reader through each step of the investigation, only occasionally withholding information that Gamache has found, which only adds to the tension. Penny does not rush to the end as some authors do. She meticulously allows the reader to chew on and savor each new bit of information.
In this book, it is fall with a touch of winter in the air. Once again, Penny allows us to see autumn and almost smell it as well. In following a clue, Gamache travels to the Queen Charlotte Islands and introduces non-Canadians to little known historical events that occurred there.
Award-winning Louise Penny deserves every accolade heaped on her for this series. She is in the company of P.D. James as one of the best procedural writers writing today.