Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec is not your typical literary detective. He’s functional. He’s kind. He loves and respects his wife, with whom he has a long and trusting relationship. He is still surprised by the violent crimes it’s his job to investigate. He has no tragic backstory or substance abuse issues. He isn’t a genius. And yet he is still good at his job! (I say all this tongue in cheek; I love all those tropes when they are deployed with skill.)
It’s all very normal, and still, compelling.
This first book has Gamache and team investigating the death of a seventy-six year old retired school teacher named Jane, whom everyone seemed to love. At first, her death is attributed to a hunting accident, but soon it becomes clear that it might actually have been a murder. There’s also the coincidence that Jane, an extremely private artist who until now had refused to show anyone at all her work, had finally decided to do so, and had just had a painting (that flummoxes a great many people) accepted into a local art show.
I was immediately charmed by Penny’s language. She paints a vivid picture of life in Three Pines, and she has a knack with her characters, where only a few scenes makes them come to life in your mind. She also doesn’t contain the narrative to Gamache’s POV. She jumps around from character to character, sometimes within the same scene. This was actually one of my only complaints, and I think it might be audiobook specific. I’m sure in the book there are line breaks in between POV changes, but in the audio, there is no space at all. One second, the narrator is speaking for Gamache, the next for Clara Morrow, the next for another character, etc. I hope in future audiobooks, the audio producers include that pause in between POV changes.
I almost want to call this Tana French-lite in the way that it evokes similar feelings for me about character and the depths of human emotion needed to commit terrible acts, but I think that is doing a disservice to both authors, who write in the same genre, but both have their own styles and obsessions. It’s also pretty clear to me that we will be following these characters for the course of the series, and unfortunately that also includes Agent Yvette Nichol, who is a real piece of work. Penny also turns another character trope on its head with her. So often in these books you have the trainee who is eager to learn and be helpful and is there to learn lessons, but in Nichol, we have a seriously unpleasant, arrogant, almost incompetent character with one of the worst attitude problems I’ve ever seen. She commits error after error, insults people, and refuses to work as a team, and when Gamache points out her mistakes, she doesn’t listen at all. Why don’t they just fire her? How does she still have a job? If I were her boss, she would definitely not have a job anymore. I guess I’ll hold out to see where her character is going . . .
It was faintingviolet who pointed me in the direction of these books, and I was totally copying her strategy of trying to read each book in the season they take place, but I will admit it was completely by accident that I started this book on Thanksgiving Sunday, and it opens on Thanksgiving Sunday (albeit Canadian, but still!). I now feel a terrible compulsion to match dates on the rest of the books as well, and I can foresee this being a problem for me, so somebody stop me, please. Save me from myself