This is the fourth Inspector Gamache book, set in the week leading up to Canada Day (July 1), and the Gamaches’ wedding anniversary. I’m glad I remembered when this one was set, because visiting with Gamache always tends to improve the spirits, and its ben HOT here and driving around in the car listening to Ralph Cosham while the AC did its job was a wonderful way to break up the day.
Unfortunately, I felt like this was the weakest thus far of the Inspector Gamache books. Let’s go Pro/Con style as to why I landed on 3 stars for this book.
- Characterization. It continues to be refreshing to read about a detective who is also a family man and a good person. So many detective stories feature scarred men (or occasionally women). But not here. Inspector Gamache is a lovely man who is celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife whom he still loves deeply. The other characters are intricately drawn, even if they don’t always land.
- How. When an author writes a seemingly impossible murder they have to make sure they have a plausible and interesting explanation. Penny nails it.
- Dialogues and conversations. Penny has an ear for how people speak to each other and inner monologue (even if some of her characters are incredibly well spoken).
- Historical Details. Penny highlights the tensions between Francophone and Anglophone Canadians focusing on the “Quiet Revolution” of the 1960s when English-speaking residents of Montreal felt alienated and many left the province which had become officially French-speaking. Penny also highlights the class divisions that the two languages demarcated at the time, and the lingering classism. We learn about Gamache’s personal history and his father’s involvement in protests to World War II. But perhaps the favorite for me was Gamache’s lessons on Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais”.
- Setting. We weren’t actually at Three Pines, where I want to be when I pick up an Inspector Gamache book, because the cast of characters there are so enjoyable. At times during the bookI wished that I was with Reine-Marie at the practices for Clogging Competition instead of being at the Manoir Bellechasse with the irredeemably awful Finney/Morrow clan. The interactions between Beauvoir and the Chef, or Elliot and the Maître d’Hotel left me cold and confused, and made me miss Gabri and all the rest even more.
- Plot. It’s basically a locked room mystery, which isn’t always my favorite, and is harmed by the following two points.
- Pace. What bothered me is that the killer is among them and yet no one is in a hurry to catch the killer. There is no sense of urgency, until the very end. Like the other books in the series, about half of the book has absolutely nothing to do with the murder. In the previous books the time away from the murder filled out the world surrounding Three Pines, the Sûreté du Quebec, or the Arnot case. This time… not really.
- Reason for Murder. While the how worked for me, the why was a big mystery. I was baffled by the motive for the murder. The murderer’s reason did not convince me: was it a crime of passion? But the incident that triggered the murder was a long time ago and the victim didn’t have anything to do with it. Was it then a crime of opportunity? Or premeditated, because the manner of death took planning? There is no satisfying answer to these questions.
With all of that, I’m still happy with the series and will be picking up the fifth book in the series, The Brutal Telling in the autumn.