The Cruelest Month is the third installment in the Inspector Gamanche detective novel series. Like the prior two novels, The Cruelest Month is also set in the Stars Hollow-esque Eastern Township village of Three Pines. Gamanche is called in after one of the village inhabitants, Madeleine Favreau, drops dead in the middle of a séance that a group of villagers were holding in the old Hadley house up on the hill. Although Madeleine had a bad heart, someone slipped her a dose of ephedrine to help her on her way to the grave and its this someone that Gamanche and his crew are trying to find.
In addition to the murder investigation at hand, The Cruelest Month also (finally!) has a subplot that gives us more background on the Arnot affair that has been hinted at in the prior two novels. Although we previously knew that Gamanche had outed a corrupt supervisor, and that this had created rifts within the Surete de Quebec police department, we didn’t have any of the details. This subplot really satisfies- it answers a number of questions I had and also fleshes out Gamanche’s backstory.
Penny’s writing style here continues in the same groove she established in the first two Gamanche novels. Her writing is dense and filled with detail about the fan favourite characters (Clara and Peter Morrow, Ruth Zardo, Myrna, Oliver and Gabri, etc.) and Three Pines settings (the Bistro, the village green, the old Hadley house). I think this is a real strength, but the density means I can’t blow through a Penny novel the way I can a Michael Connolly or Kathy Reichs.
So far I’ve had great luck in reading Penny’s novels roughly around the same time as they’re set- I read Still Life in January, A Fatal Grace in February and now The Cruelest Month in April. It’s a really fun pairing and I highly recommend it if you can swing it. I’m writing this review on Easter weekend and wished I could have been in Three Pines for their Easter celebrations- I’d join in the easter egg hunt, with all the townsfolk hunting for painted wooden eggs around the village green, in a windy April minute; I’d offer to help curmudgeonly Ruth as she was taking a shine to some ducklings (she’d turn me down but I’d still offer); and I’d warm up with a coffee in the Bistro. The only thing that gives me pause about visiting Three Pines is the murder rate…