This is the closest I have ever been to giving one of these books five stars. I think I might have even done it if I’d been able to read the book faster, but since I was stuck with audio CD’s from my library, which I could only listen to in my car, my time with the story stretched out and I was able to think about it more rationally than I would have if were sitting on my couch frantically turning pages to find out what happens next. (Wouldn’t have been the first time I awarded five stars while still on a book high.)
The book was really good, I think the best yet, BUT it did have some problems.
There are two major storylines throughout the book, both of which Gamache is at the center of. The first is the murder, and it was a really good one (though, I did figure out the murderer way before anyone in the book did, which happens approximately 1% of the time). Constance Pineault (nee Ouillet) is a friend of Myrna’s who is coming to visit for Christmas, but she never arrives. Because Myrna is friends with the Chief Inspector of Homicide, she gives him a call and he heads over to Three Pines to help her out. Turns out Constance was one of the famous Ouillet Quintuplets (based on the real life Dionne Quintuplets), and she was murdered.
The second storyline is the big one. Since book one, Gamache’s confrontation with certain people in the Sûreté du Québec has been building. I thought this had gone away in book three with the conclusion of the Arnot case, but Arnot was just replaced by Sylvain Francoeur, who as of this book, has maneuvered Gamache into a place of powerlessness, essentially destroying the Homicide department in order to discredit Gamache and force him into retirement. Here, finally, we learn why Francoeur has been doing all of this. We see Gamache and the remainder of his people try desperately to learn Francoeur’s secrets. And all the while, Gamache’s relationship with Beauvoir has deteriorated almost beyond repair. Beauvoir was even kicked out of the house he shared with Annie for refusing to admit he had a problem (a drug addiction that Francoeur was encouraging, in order to manipulate and ruin him as a distraction and punishment for Gamache).
Towards the end of the book, this series goes from occasional cozy mystery/character study to full on suspense thriller. Gamache and his team are up against a bigger group with more resources and official backing, and their leader is in disgrace.
My only complaint about the actual storylines resolving is that I wish everything hadn’t been wrapped up so neatly. I’m not sure if this was originally supposed to be the final book, it kind of reads like it was, but not seeing Francoeur get his comeuppance the way I wanted was frustrating, and though Gamache figures out what happened to Constance, we don’t see how that is resolved, either. Instead, the book fast forwards seven months, presumably to give everyone time to recover, and ends on rather cheesy happy note. I wanted to see them do the emotional work of putting things back together!
Taking a break from this series for a bit, and I’ll pick it back up next year. (I’m very sad I only have one more book with Ralph Cosham as narrator. I think I’m going to switch over to hard copies after #10 because I don’t think I will be able to accept a new narrator.)