The best thing about the Inspector Gamache mysteries is that the mysteries are secondary. There are two stars in these books: Inspector Gamache, and the town of Three Pines.
Louise Penny has created a town that is almost magical in its perfection. This tiny town, situated around a lake, with three giant pines at one end, is picturesque, peaceful, and beguiling to read about. The description of the town bookstore made me seriously consider quitting my job and taking out a small business loan so that I, too, could own a bookstore inside a log cabin, with a woodburning stove in the middle and rocking chairs all over the place. Louise Penny clearly loves Three Pines and its inhabitants, and that makes it an absolute joy to read about. I know that as the locale for a series of murder mysteries, the crime rate is abnormally high for a town of 500 people, but I still want to live here.
And speaking of magical perfection, Inspector Armand Gamache is basically the best person alive. He’s patient, caring, gentle, kind, principled, and devoted to his family and his job. He’s not afraid to look silly, he gives people second chances, he loves children and dogs. He literally saves a woman from a burning building in this book. Normally my shriveled, blackened little heart can’t stand such perfection, but above all else Gamache is extremely likable. I enjoy spending time with him.
The mystery involves the murder of a universally disliked lifestyle guru, CC de Poitiers. It’s not hard to solve, but that’s not really the point of these books. In this case I think I had an advantage in solving the mystery quickly, because two important clues involved things I happen to know quite a lot about: my first name, and Eleanor of Aquitaine, my childhood hero (bonus points to any book that references this nasty woman who was warned, given an explanation, and nevertheless persisted). The enjoyment lies not in the mystery but in getting to know the characters and getting to spend time in a truly sublime setting.