I didn’t finish this one in time for Canada Day but at least the call for Canada Day reviews provided the push for me to finally read this one. It’s weird because I loved the first Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novel but haven’t felt the need to plow through it in the way that I basically binged through the Sebastian St. Cyr series. I certainly had trepidations coming into this one because narfna’s review highlighted issues that were already showing signs of developing (for me anyway) in the second novel.
And the first half of the novel was a struggle for me. Part of it was that the pacing felt off. I like the occasional slow-paced cozy mystery but it felt like the mystery became an afterthought in this one. Perhaps more importantly, the magic of Three Pines has worn off for me. I think the idea of a village with all these cute quirky shops and people sounds cute and appealing but since no outsiders seem to know this village exists, I also spent too much time wondering how the economics of this village even worked. How can a small village support a grocer and an organic grocery store? And a Bed and Breakfast and bistro with eclectic food when no one even knows about the village? (Honestly, are we sure Gabri and Oliver aren’t on a murder spree to make sure they keep having the police as paying customers? “Oh, business is slow this quarter, let’s get the police in here on a complex murder case.”) Also, given the amount of murders, how charming can the place really be? The murder and location of the crime scene justifies some of the tangents on intuition vs. logic in this novel, the discussion of what one can feel and what one can see, but I honestly became irritated with musings on how some places and houses feel evil very quickly (random philosophical musings is also why I never got that into most major Russian authors). It might have been because the philosophical reflections became a recurring theme rather than a passing thought, and felt out of place to me, even in a cozy mystery like this.
I also felt like the characters that were so interesting in the first novel are quickly turning into types, and losing their charm. Clara is described as the sensitive but sensible one, but while her story line involving her painting was a nice view into her marriage, I don’t really get why the novels seem to position her as a heart and leader of the community because I don’t see it.
However, by the time the novel wrapped up, I was interested again to see how the series would continue since this one does explore one of the ongoing story lines rather thoroughly. I have also since reading this heard the fourth one takes a break from Three Pines, but that the majority of the novels do indeed focus on that village. I think having that set in my mind going forward will help my enjoyment level since I very much came into the series thinking of it as being centered around Gamache and the cases he explores around Quebec when seeing it as mystery series set in Three Pines creates a different expectation – instead of expecting a new cast of intricately drawn characters every time, it’s going to follow the same supporting characters throughout.