A Louise Penny mystery is a strange thing, where the mystery itself usually takes a backseat to other plotlines and character development. The murders are clean, not gory, and the characters are well-rounded people with rich inner lives and motivations that make sense. It’s so refreshing.
The Cruelest Month, the third in the Inspector Armand Gamache series, takes place in the small town of Three Pines, same as the first two books do. Inspector Gamache and his homicide team are called in after town residents held a seance in the local haunted house, and one of them “died of fright.” There’s the usual locals who have appeared in each book: Clara and Peter, the married artists; Olivier and Gabri, who own the local B and B; Myrna, bookstore owner; and Ruth, local poet-in-residence and crank. Ruth Zardo is one of my favorite characters in any mystery series, by the way. Her role in The Cruelest Month is smaller than in the first two books, but she’s always a standout. In addition to the regulars, each Penny book introduces a few other town residents who have some connection to the murder. In this book, the regulars and the new additions have a much smaller role, as so much of the story is devoted to Inspector Gamache’s backstory.
Being a mystery and all, I don’t want to give anything away–but I found the end of this one to be the most satisfying thus far. The mystery and murder itself were just okay, but the B-plot (which really gets as much or more attention than the the murder itself) focusing on Inspector Gamache was great and I loved the way it ended here (although I’m guessing it will continue in future books). As always with Louise Penny, I can recommend this highly–and now I sit another three months on the waitlist at my library for book 4.