Actually, I’ve slept on it, and this book makes me angry. My initial review was a little wishy-washy, because for 95% of this book, the writing is like an experimental offshoot of the normal series. There is no crime to solve; Gamache is retired. Instead, Peter has failed to come home on time after his and Clara’s separation, and Clara wants to find him, so Gamache, Beauvoir, and Myrna accompany her on an investigation road trip to basically follow in his footsteps. Only, pretty much all they have to work with is his artwork, as his financial trail goes cold after he removed $3,000 from the bank three months earlier.
So the gist of this novel is Gamache and Co. contemplating art and mining it for clues, like some sort of middle-aged group of Canadian Admiral Thrawns. If you get that joke, we are friends.
At every stage of the investigation, they look at paintings, and then they look at paintings some more, and then again, and again! And while this was at times very interesting (I do love when books talk about the process of creating art, becoming an artist, and the work itself), it also became a little ridiculous after a while. Most of the breaks in the “case” don’t come from interviewing people or doing detective work, but interpreting Peter’s art. To make matters worse, I’m not quite sure the urgency to find Peter was there. I didn’t for a second believe that they wouldn’t find Peter alive at the end of it, and for most of the novel there isn’t a crime to investigate, so it’s just not a very urgent story. I don’t mean that everything needs to feel like a crisis, but I do need to feel emotionally interested in “what happens next” and it just wasn’t there as much as it has been for every other book in this series, although I wasn’t ever bored. (Also, I really didn’t like Peter up until this book, so I didn’t really want Clara to find him. More on Peter below.)
I think one of the things that did really work in this book is the way the group of searchers witnesses Peter’s emotional growth, his character arc, from afar as they search for him. By the end, I really did want him to change and come home to Clara, and finally not be such a bag of dicks like he was before. SPOILERS Which is why the ending, wherein he’s killed in a final confrontation with the secret hidden murderer who was there all along, is such a slap in the face. You finally make me care about this stupid character and then you kill him? Like the book would have only been worth something with a death at the end, not just letting him live his life, finally a whole person. And it’s dealt with in the most perfunctory manner. What the fuck? Then the narrative doesn’t even go back into Clara’s head after that, it just retreats from her, and we only get Gamache’s perspective on her emotional state. I just really don’t get the thinking behind any of these moves END SPOILERS.
Sad this was the last book Ralph Cosham narrated before he died. I’ll be switching to hard copy for future books because his voice is Gamache for me.