I read Still Life, Louise Penny’s first Inspector Gamache book, many many years ago, and while I didn’t gobble up the next several Three Pines mysteries, I have read most of them over the intervening years. The series, to me, is delightful but not essential, so I am always satisfied with what I read, but never crave more immediately. A Great Reckoning, to me, was quite different. Setting much of the action in the Surete Training School where he is the newly appointed Commander allows the narrative to move beyond the delightful residents of Three Pines – although, never fear, much of the mystery involves Three Pines intimately. Commander Gamache has been brought in to clean up the Surete Training School, because under the previous administration, it became a corrupt, corrupting influence. Gamache concerns himself with the moral and physical development and safety of the cadets under his supervision, which parallels the story in Three Pines of a hidden map and young soldiers in World War I. By situating this book, primarily, in the academy, Penny can examine hierarchy and tradition in a different way than she has in the past.
While all Inspector Gamache books have an emotional resonance, this one seems especially poignant. The themes of aging, often present, are more beautifully examined. The relationship and responsibilities of elders to youth are also important to the plot. There are some charming, witty inter-generational encounters that underscore the fact that most of the characters in Three Pines that we have come to enjoy are aging, yet still struggling with questions of creation, expression, and belonging. I highly recommend this book. It can stand alone, but it is more enjoyable if you have developed relationships with the denizens of Three Pines over the years.