Louise Penny and A Great Reckoning

Have you heard of Louise Penny, the Canadian  author of the Armand Gamache mysteries set in Québec? If not, great-reckoning-jacketthen you probably didn’t spend up to an hour standing in a line that wrapped around the block waiting to see her talk about her brand-new book, A Great Reckoning. That was the scene recently in Naperville, when seven or eight hundred fans (including my sister and me) paid and waited to get a signed copy of her 12th book. The author event was great, including an interview of Louise Penny by mystery author Charles Finch, who writes Victorian era mysteries, and plenty of time for questions from the audience. There was much laughter at some answers, and a fascinating look at how hard it is to write a second novel when the first one took you five years or more. It’s truly remarkable that Louise Penny has kept up the excellent quality of her writing for twelve books in a series, including intricate plotting and characters who seem absolutely real.

The first book in the series is Still Life, if you need an introduction to this award-winning series. Three Pines is a tiny village in Québec, near the Vermont border. Only dial-up internet is available, and the town is missing from maps of Québec. In A Great Reckoning,  Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie have recently moved to Three Pines, where several of his former cases have led. Now Gamache is the Commander of Québec’s Sûreté Academy, training police officers. The previous administration was corrupt and recent graduates have shown tendencies of cruelty. With a combination of new and current teachers, Gamache tries to reform the Academy. When there is a murder, no one mourns for the victim, but Gamache takes four cadets close to the victim back to Three Pines for safety and to continue investigating a map found in the walls of the local bistro. With links to World War I and plenty of scenes with the unforgettably unique villagers (including a possibly mad poet and her pet duck), this is a very satisfying yet suspenseful mystery that Louise Penny fans will savor. I’m not sharing many plot details, lest I spoil your reading experience. My sister wouldn’t tell me anything about the book until I’d read it, but thankfully she finished our shared copy in only two days. Already finished the series and hungry for more about Three Pines? Recipes based on the books can be found here. And as a follow-up treat, my Tuesday Evening Book Group will be discussing Charles Finch’s first mystery, A Beautiful Blue Death, in November. Happy reading, or bon appétit!

Brenda


As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

chimney jacketAs Chimney Sweepers Comes to Dust by Alan Bradley

Only Flavia de Luce, amateur detective and chemist, would be happy to have a long dead body fall out of the chimney in her bedroom. Flavia has reluctantly left England to attend boarding school in Toronto, and it’s clear that her sleuthing skills will be needed. Three girls have reportedly gone missing in the last few years, and everyone seems to be keeping secrets. I would have liked more classroom and dining room scenes, and more news from her home in England, but Flavia is as curious and clever as ever. Flavia’s late mother attended Miss Bodycote’s Academy. The teachers remember her mother, and may even induct Flavia into the Nide. a secret society. New to Flavia’s award-winning mysteries? Start with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, set in 1950 at Bishop’s Lacey, England. Read all seven books and can’t wait for the final three books to be published? Visit Media on Demand to read the digital short story The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse.
Brenda


How The Light Gets In

how the light jacketHow the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

In wintry Three Pines, bookseller and retired psychologist Myrna is worried when her friend Constance doesn’t arrive for a Christmas visit. She reaches out to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec for help. Gamache and Inspector Isabelle Lacoste find that Constance Pineault, 79, has been killed at her home in Montréal. When Myrna reveals Constance’s true identity as the last of the Ouellet Quintuplets, the mystery is only beginning. At the Sûreté, things are not well. Most of Gamache’s homicide department has been reassigned, and he’s thinking of announcing his retirement. Jean Guy, his assistant, is desperately unhappy and is working for Gamache’s nemesis, Superintendent Francoeur, who may be involved in a dangerous conspiracy. As Gamache and Lacoste race to solve one mystery, other friends are looking for information on what Francoeur is plotting, and retreat to Three Pines for safety, possibly jeopardizing everyone in the small village. Gamache knows that the danger could come from young Agent Yvette Nichol, needed for her computer skills. Eccentric poet Ruth Zardo plays a larger role than usual, along with her pet duck, Rosa. The story of the quintuplets and their parents is fascinating, and a nice contrast to the tension of the unfolding conspiracy. I listened to the audiobook, recorded by Ralph Cosham, and both couldn’t wait to find out what happened and hoped the book would never end, and with it, another treasured visit to Three Pines. This may be the best book yet in the award-winning series that begins with Still Life.

Brenda


Canada

Canada by Richard Ford

This novel is as bleak, austere, and desolate as the featureless plains that stretch between Great Falls, Montana and Port Royal, Saskatchewan, Canada, where most of the events in the book take place. The main character is Dell Parsons, a fifteen year old boy, an army brat who has moved all over America with his father, Bev Parsons, his mother Geneva, and his twin sister Berner. At the beginning we encounter Dell and family living in Great Falls, Montana where Bev is enlisted in the Air Force and works at the nearby air base. His mother Geneva (called Neeva) is a substitute teacher at a local school district.

Things really aren’t going very well for this family.  It was a shotgun wedding for the parents, and they don’t get along.  Dell tries to keep his wits while around him the family is disintegrating.  Bev, the father gets involved in some illegal activities with the local Indians, and from there events take a turn for the worse. The parents are involved in a botched robbery attempt and Dell and his sister find themselves cast out into a hostile world.  They separate and go to their quite different fates. With the parents in prison Dell is sent by family to live with a distant relative in Fort Royal, Saskatchewan.  This move is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. In Fort Royal, he meets Arthur Remlinger, a dark, foreboding, and slightly sinister hotel owner and raconteur.  Arthur has a lot of secrets that he wants to keep secret.  He takes a liking to Dell if only for sinister purposes.

The novel is written from the point of view of Dell after fifty years have passed, and the events in the story have faded into the haze of history.  As he puts it “what I know is, you have a better chance in life, –of surviving it—if you tolerate loss well; manage not to be cynical through it all, to subordinate as Ruskin implied, to keep proportion, to connect the unequal things into a whole that preserves the good, even if admittedly good is often not simple to find.  We try, as my sister said.  We try. All of us. We try.”

I tried this book because the setting reminded me of books by Larry Watson, author of Montana 1948, which I had enjoyed. I actually finished this book which is a good sign, but it was a real downer. I agree with one of the reviewers on Amazon who stated: “While the basic story is very interesting, too much of the book is taken up with descriptions and un-necessary details.”

Joel