This series is perfection. It’s pretty much made for curling up with in the middle of winter hibernation. The literary equivalent of comfort food.
I read the first six books in the series last year in my pre-CBR days, and am picking up at #7 in 2017.
I can’t recommend this series enough- engaging characters, vivid descriptions of French food (omg, the food) and small town living, intriguing murder mysteries, what’s not to love? I especially love that it’s set in Canada. It gives me a little thrill each time something uniquely Canadian is mentioned- because it’s like reading about home. I didn’t realize how much I would appreciate that until these references kept coming up…. when the small talk about ‘the game last night’ is referring to hockey, when they stop for a double-double at Timmy’s, and even (on a more serious note) the ongoing tension between French & English Canadians, or the importance of Canada’s Native population – all things that I recognize as part of my country’s narrative. Love it.
The biggest downfall, in my opinion, is the sheer number of murders that happen in and around the tiny village the books focus on. I live in a small town in Canada- it’s basically the safest place in the world. Sure, there might be an isolated incident every once in a while, but the number of dead bodies that keep popping up in this town is ridiculous. If everything else about this series wasn’t so perfectly fantastic, I’d roll my eyes about this a bit more.
Plot summaries in mystery novels are always challenging, because spoilers. I hesitate to give too much away here, especially because characters and plots are so intertwined and I know there are other Cannonballers working their way through them.
A Trick Of The Light (#7)
The sleepy village of Three Pines, Quebec has once again been shaken by a murder in their midst. Because of course.
One of the town’s favourite residents, Clara, has just been discovered as an emerging artist; at the party following her first big art show, a murdered body is found in her garden- someone from her past, with ties to her future in the art world. Inspector Gamache and his team arrive in town to uncover the truth and solve the murder.
Book #6 in this series (Bury Your Dead) was actually one of my favourites, and featured an intense plot that had some long lasting effects on the characters. I enjoy how the Penny has woven the fallout of the past stories into this one- her characters become more and more complex with each book, as their experiences keep building. The characters are growing and changing throughout, which is probably why I can’t put these down. I’m invested now- it’s as much about seeing these people grow and interact as it is about the murder at hand.
The Beautiful Mystery #8
This instalment in the series is unique in that it doesn’t visit the village of Three Pines or its inhabitants. Inspector Gamache and his second-in-command, Jean-Guy, are called to a remote monastery to investigate the murder of a monk. 99% of the book takes place there, focusing on the murder, and also the relationship between these two main characters. At this point in the series, the murders have become secondary; I’m way too invested in the lives of these beloved characters and their stories. To date, this has been my least favourite of the series, and I’m not 100% sure why…maybe because I missed all the other characters? Or that the murder plot itself seemed to drag a bit? I can’t really put my finger on it.
I’m keeping this review brief because the ending was so heartbreaking and I need to go start the next one immediately to see what happens.
How The Light Gets In #9
This is the book I’ve been waiting for. My favourite of the series so far. Inspector Gamache returns to the village of Three Pines to investigate the Montreal murder of a famous victim, who was last seen alive in the little town. That plot line was interesting, but somewhat easy to solve- as soon as we were introduced to the murderer, I knew who it was. But still, a clever little plot- a fictional representation of a historical story all Canadians are familiar with.
What sucked me in was the other plot line- a resolution of the ongoing mystery that has been a background story woven throughout all the previous books. The previous 8 novels had all been building to this moment, and it was worth the wait. My 9pm declaration of, “I’m just going to read a couple chapters and then go to bed early” became, “It’s 1am, just finished it, and I have no regrets”. This book actually ties up a lot of loose ends, and if I didn’t already know there were more books to come, I’d think this was the series finale. I’m glad it’s not!
The Long Way Home #10
With the tenth book in the series, I’m interested to see where the author takes this. Our main character, Inspector Gamache, has retired and is living in Three Pines. He’s called upon by a friend in the village to unofficially investigate a missing person, which already makes this book a bit different- it’s primarily a missing person case, not a murder (although – spoiler – there is a murder at one point, but is solved fairly quickly).
I enjoyed this instalment, and have mixed feelings about the sudden event that happens in the end.
The Nature of the Beast – #11
I found this episode of the series to be the darkest so far. Many of the murders in this series are more ‘tame’ (if you can ever call murder that?): crimes of passion between ‘normal’ adults who know each other… and while there is some of that here, we are also introduced to a real, truly, evil psychopath killer, and for the first time in these books, a child is killed….and it made for a definite change in the tone. Gamache is still retired, but by nature of living in Three Pines where the crime(s) take place, he is part of the investigation while adjusting to his new role of not being the one in charge.
A Great Reckoning – #12
This is the latest book in the series, released in 2016, which makes me sad- after binge reading the first 12 books, now I have to wait for the next one like the rest of the world.
In this book, Gamache has come out of retirement to run and reform the corrupt police academy. Naturally there is a murder on the campus, with ties to a mysterious map from Three Pines, and we’re off to the races from there. We’re introduced to several colourful new characters, including four cadets at the academy who were my favourites by the end.
Penny is master at character development over time; some we see in every book, some we are introduced to in the first few books and then they make a reappearance later. They grow over time, and have actual flaws. Brilliantly written.
While the ‘main’ mysteries in each these books can stand alone, there is so many connections between the novels that I would always recommend starting at the beginning and reading them in order.
A couple of the individual books I would maybe give 4 stars to, but the series as a whole gets 5 from me. Easy.