Last year I double cannonballed with the second Inspector Gamache book, A Fatal Grace. It grew naturally from its predecessor, Still Life, and expanded the universe of the Sûreté du Québec and the various residents of Three Pines and its surrounding area in the Eastern Townships. Having decided that I enjoy consuming these books in the time of year in which they are set, I knew that I would be listening to The Cruelest Month this April. I can happily report I’m as happy with this series as ever.
In an effort not to spoil the book (which is difficult in the case of Louise Penny’s books as everything is carefully interconnected) I’ll proceed with a quick summary, and then talk about a couple of topics related to the book and call this review done. 🙂
The Cruelest Month takes place surrounding the Easter holiday. A group of friends and neighbors (including some favorites from previous books) holds a séance at the old Hadley house, hoping to rid it of the evil spirits that have haunted it, and the village, for decades. One of them ends up dead, apparently of fright. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team from the Sûreté du Québec investigate the old house and the villagers of Three Pines to track the identity of the murderer and the manner of the death. Simultaneous to that, Armand Gamache’s leadership of the investigation of this case forces him to face his personal ghosts of the terrible case which derailed his career and cost him friendships.
Louise Penny’s writing, as delivered by the inestimable Ralph Cosham, is simply sublime. Penny weaves in meditations on life, love, friendship, and hope – all while her characters most base inner motivations are on display. As we are offered view into everyone’s darkest side we are left to wonder at whodunit. I find myself more and more interested in Penny’s writing on the life of the people while the mystery takes a back seat. But that doesn’t mean the Penny writes a poor mystery, the very opposite is true.
The Inspector Gamache books are prime examples of the whodunit detective genre. These books, particularly of the British variety, include murders by unconventional means, bucolic villages, large casts of suspects, red herrings, and a dramatic disclosure of the murderer in the last few pages of the book: checks all around for The Cruelest Month. It also allows the reader time to think through the logic, or lack thereof, of various possibilities and deduce their own conclusions – and in the case of this book we have both the murder in Three Pines, and the growing tension for Gamache surrounding the Arnot case. With all these moving parts coming together Louise Penny delivers a book well worth your time. It is imperative, however, that you start with book one.