Firstly, I’m glad I just gave in pretty early on and accepted that Three Pines is the improbable murder capital of the world, and now let’s also add on to that hub of weapons of mass destruction (from two books ago) and drug trafficking. If you suspend your disbelief, this series is a lot more fun. Which is really necessary for this book. You’ve just got to buy in at the beginning, otherwise it’s not going to work for you.
Because in this one, Gamache (who is of course now Chief Superintendent of Sûreté du Quebec) takes on ALL OF CRIME AND CORRUPTION. Okay, not really, but it feels like that a little. Also, there is yet another murder in Three Pines, this time of a tourist, one who comes every year with friends on vacation. This is mostly what I mean about suspending disbelief.
This book did two things I thought really interesting, and one that was interesting but could easily lose you. The first interesting thing is that almost the whole book is told via the framing device of Gamache being on the witness stand in a trial six months after the investigation, so we’re learning what happened as the judge and jury hear the testimony, but it’s immediately apparent that something else is going on under the surface, so there are really two mysteries: who murdered this person and why (and who is murdered is only revealed quite a ways in), and what else is going on at the trial.
The second thing is something that Penny frequently does well, which is bringing in real world elements and twisting them just enough so that they’re plausible but amplified. The thing she does that with here is the cobrador del frac, a real thing in Spain where men in coat tails and hats follow around people who owe big debts to shame them into paying. A figure shows up in Three Pines dressed all in black, saying nothing, not moving, for days. This is what instigates the story, and the idea of the cobrador plays into that.
The third thing is a spoiler. Sorry. SPOILERS I think the plot of Gamache tanking the agency with no arrests to reel in the drug cartels mostly worked for me, but that’s because I know nothing about law enforcement or math or anything important, and what worked for me was the characters and the secrets and the machinations. If those things don’t outweigh the other stuff for you, and the other stuff doesn’t work, I don’t know how this plot will play out. I could be a lot! END SPOILERS.
I guess I’m all in for this series, warts and all. I liked all three mysteries (or mysteries within mysteries and plots) even as it verged on being too much, it didn’t go over the edge for me. This also features the opioid crisis quite heavily, and I thought Penny handled it well, overall, especially as it wasn’t the true focus of the story, and some of our main characters have history with substance abuse.
The afterward makes it clear that Penny wrote this book fresh off the death of her husband, so I would probably have cut it some slack anyway, but I honestly didn’t even need to. Book fourteen in the winter sometime, and then maybe by the end of 2022 I will be caught up with this series.