Review: The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

Review: The Madness of Crowds by Louise PennyThe Madness of Crowds (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #17) by Louise Penny
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #17
Pages: 448
Published by Minotaur Books on August 24, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache returns to Three Pines in #1 New York Times bestseller Louise Penny's latest spellbinding novel
You're a coward.
Time and again, as the New Year approaches, that charge is leveled against Armand Gamache.
It starts innocently enough.
While the residents of the Québec village of Three Pines take advantage of the deep snow to ski and toboggan, to drink hot chocolate in the bistro and share meals together, the Chief Inspector finds his holiday with his family interrupted by a simple request.
He's asked to provide security for what promises to be a non-event. A visiting Professor of Statistics will be giving a lecture at the nearby university.
While he is perplexed as to why the head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec would be assigned this task, it sounds easy enough. That is until Gamache starts looking into Professor Abigail Robinson and discovers an agenda so repulsive he begs the university to cancel the lecture.
They refuse, citing academic freedom, and accuse Gamache of censorship and intellectual cowardice. Before long, Professor Robinson's views start seeping into conversations. Spreading and infecting. So that truth and fact, reality and delusion are so confused it's near impossible to tell them apart.
Discussions become debates, debates become arguments, which turn into fights. As sides are declared, a madness takes hold.
Abigail Robinson promises that, if they follow her, ça va bien aller. All will be well. But not, Gamache and his team know, for everyone.
When a murder is committed it falls to Armand Gamache, his second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and their team to investigate the crime as well as this extraordinary popular delusion.
And the madness of crowds.

My Review:

There are four sentences that Chief Inspector Armand Gamache tells to every Sûreté du Québec officer who becomes a part of his team. He often ticks them off on his fingers as he recites them, and even though the order changes, the totality never varies.

“I’m sorry. I was wrong, I don’t know. I need help.”

Those four brief sentences may not be the path to wisdom, but they seem to be the path to being a good officer when taken to heart. And, as we all know in real life, any of them can be difficult to say, especially in the moments when they are most needed.

And they form an important backdrop to this seventeenth entry in the series, as Gamache finds himself saying the first three parts pretty much over and over again in this case that reaches back so far and has so many twists and turns that he is often forced to backtrack from his current course in his latest attempt to figure out exactly who did what in the past that lead to the dead woman in the snow in the present.

Not that there aren’t plenty of motives in the present as well, but those reasons don’t seem to apply to this particular corpse. A question that haunts and confuses Gamache’s entire investigation from its very beginning.

Deborah Schneider is in Three Pines with her childhood best friend Abigail Robinson. And there are PLENTY of reasons for people to want Robinson dead. Reasons that are rooted in the pandemic that has just passed. And it has passed in Three Pines, and seemingly even in the Province of Québec and Canada as a whole by the time this story takes place.

It seems that the Canadians, certainly the fictional ones, have been more reasonable about getting vaccinated and were more reasonable about wearing masks as well.

What people are not being at all reasonable about are the discoveries in the aftermath of the pandemic. Just as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina uncovered more than one long term care institution whose patients had been abandoned to the flood, the receding tide of the pandemic in Canada has uncovered many too many care homes, particularly for the elderly, where the patients were left to die by the people who were supposed to be caring for them.

How the Light Gets In by Louise PennyAnd Abigail Robinson, with her Ph.D. in statistics and her sterling reputation, has produced a technically correct but morally repugnant study that claims that Canada, in its entirety, will be unable to fully recover from the pandemic or any future such calamities if it doesn’t triage out of its population those who have the least chance of recovery and the greatest chance of becoming a long-term burden on the system and the rest of the population.

There are plenty of tired and scared people willing to follow her recommendations, a course of action that would transform the right to die into an obligation to die at a point predetermined by the government.

The recommendations are so morally repugnant that the Canadian government agency that funded the study has refused to endorse it or publish it. But in these days of instant internet communication, the report is everywhere and support for it is gaining ground.

If someone had killed Abigail Robinson, who has become an all-too-excellent and savvy representative of her terrible theory, no one would be terribly surprised. But Robinson is not dead. Instead, the woman who was her right-hand was bludgeoned to death with a fireplace log.

Was it just a case of mistaken identity? Or does the crime, and the reason for it, stretch back into the past – right along with the true origins of Robinson’s heinous proposal?

Escape Rating A-: On the one hand, I was very glad for this story to return to the series’ heart and home in Three Pines. And on the other, the pandemic hangs over everything like a bad smell, making this dark story even darker. Not that the story is bad, in fact it’s very, very good, but there’s a darkness in the past that needs to be uncovered, actually more than one such darkness, and a darkness in the present and the entire situation gets more than a bit murky.

So much of what makes this series work are its characters, not just Gamache himself but his close colleagues at the Sûreté du Québec and his friends and neighbors in the village of Three Pines. But it felt like there was maybe one too many new people, or people who weren’t fully integrated into the story, and it diffused the story a bit.

And the heart of the story was so damn personal. It’s clear from pretty much everyone’s reading of Robinson’s report that while it’s initial implementation is intended to force the elderly, particularly those with long-term health issues, to feel obligated to die – or that there will be literal death panels. But the implication is that the concept will be expanded to include anyone with permanent disabilities of any kind no matter what their age. People like Gamache’s infant granddaughter Isola who was born with Down syndrome.

Anyone who has a loved one with long term care issues has plenty of reasons to want to kill Robinson. But she’s not the one who is dead.

The case that Gamache must solve drags him out of his comfort zone, and into another governmentally sanctioned road to hell that links Robinson, the poet Ruth Zardo, and Three Pines’ resident “Asshole Saint”.

I started this one afternoon and finished it later that evening, because I couldn’t put the damn thing down. But it is a walk through dark places, and there are points where it seems like the twisty passages are all like. The origins of everything are so far back and the character holding a big chunk of the information Gamache needs is pretty much a lying liar every step of the way and I wanted a confrontation that needed to happen multiple times but never quite does. It also felt like there was one completely extraneous character, although who I felt that was shifted a bit. Rather like one of those large ensemble cast TV series that needs to lose one or two people to tighten up right and really zing.

But it still gave me an epic book hangover because I love these characters, felt for them, and wanted to spend more time with them. And I will, hopefully sometime next year with the OMG 18th book in the series!

Review: All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny

Review: All the Devils Are Here by Louise PennyAll the Devils Are Here (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #16) by Louise Penny
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #16
Pages: 448
Published by Minotaur Books on September 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The 16th novel by #1 bestselling author Louise Penny finds Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec investigating a sinister plot in the City of Light
On their first night in Paris, the Gamaches gather as a family for a bistro dinner with Armand’s godfather, the billionaire Stephen Horowitz. Walking home together after the meal, they watch in horror as Stephen is knocked down and critically injured in what Gamache knows is no accident, but a deliberate attempt on the elderly man’s life.
When a strange key is found in Stephen’s possession it sends Armand, his wife Reine-Marie, and his former second-in-command at the Sûreté, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, from the top of the Tour d’Eiffel, to the bowels of the Paris Archives, from luxury hotels to odd, coded, works of art.
It sends them deep into the secrets Armand’s godfather has kept for decades.
A gruesome discovery in Stephen’s Paris apartment makes it clear the secrets are more rancid, the danger far greater and more imminent, than they realized.
Soon the whole family is caught up in a web of lies and deceit. In order to find the truth, Gamache will have to decide whether he can trust his friends, his colleagues, his instincts, his own past. His own family.
For even the City of Light casts long shadows. And in that darkness devils hide.

My Review:

How the Light Gets In by Louise PennyI finished this Saturday – actually I started on Saturday and finished on Saturday, hours later – and I’m still all book hungover on Sunday. I think that’s partially because I’ve been following these people since that wonderful, long ago first book, Still Life. This is a group that I’ve come to care about, to know, and in some cases even to love, to the point where I almost have to turn my eyes away when things get dark. As they often do. As Gamache discovers the crack in everything that has come before, and that’s how the light gets in.

But it’s also, positively, definitely because the story has me on the edge of my seat, every single time, desperate to figure out the truth that seems to be concealed from even the protagonists every step of the way. A truth that always delves deeply into the dark hearts of entirely too many of the characters, and makes every single one both a suspect and a victim.

As Gamache frequently says over the course of the series, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

It’s part of the genius of Gamache, and this series, that the reader is made to think all kinds of things about who is guilty, who is innocent, who is redeemable and who is not, things that only turn out to be half true, while Gamache and his colleagues, friends, companions, all of the above, follow the chain of evidence from its very murky beginning to what turns out to be its inevitable end, doing their level best – and Gamache’s best is damn good – to keep themselves from being caught up in their own thoughts – and especially in their own assumptions.

This story begins, as so many of the stories in this series begin, rather quietly. This is not a mystery series where the body turns up on the first page.

Instead, this one begins at a family dinner in Paris, celebrating that the family is all together again in anticipation of the imminent birth of Armand and Reine-Marie’s granddaughter, their daughter Annie’s soon-to-be-born daughter with Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Gamache’s former second-in-command at the Sûreté du Québec – and unofficially adopted son.

The Gamaches’ own son, Daniel, and his wife Roslyn live in Paris, as Jean-Guy and Annie do now. Jean-Guy’s burnout from the last several cases he undertook with Gamache have led him to finally accept one of the many private sector jobs that have been offered to him over the years, bringing the family to Paris and Jean-Guy to a job he feels neither comfortable in nor exactly qualified for.

But he is. Just not for the job as it appears, rather for the “real” job that he’s been maneuvered into by Gamache’s godfather – and unofficial adoptive father – the billionaire Stephen Horowitz.

Because something is rotten at the core of GHS, the privately held multinational engineering firm GHS, even if Jean-Guy can’t quite put his finger on it. He thinks it’s his own second-in-command.

But Horowitz counted on Gamache getting involved. Because when it comes to Jean-Guy, or any of his children, Gamache can’t help but get himself involved. When Stephen is struck down in the middle of the street by what was expected to be taken as a hit and run driver, there’s a giant clue that no one can miss that something is rotten in Paris and that whatever Stephen was involved in is a part of it.

And if there’s one thing that Gamache is better at than anyone else in the world, it’s finding the rot that hides beneath a pristine facade. Even if that facade is covering a friend, or a loved one, or a trusted colleague. Or all of the above.

It’s only a question of whether he can figure out where that rot really leads in time to save them all.

Escape Rating A++: This is one of those reviews where I just want to squee all over the page. Which might adequately express that I LOVED THIS BOOK VERY MUCH, but isn’t exactly informative as to why you should love this series and this book too.

In the end – also at the beginning and in the middle – this is a mystery/suspense/thriller series that is all about the characters. Both in the sense that the continuing characters of the series are so very human, so fully-fleshed that they jump out of the page and into your heart, and in the way that human motivations drive the story and the tension.

There’s no “bwahaha” evil in this series. Not that plenty of evil things don’t happen, but the evil is always at the human scale – and is always pressed back if not defeated at the human scale.

The corruption that Gamache, Reine-Marie and Jean-Guy eventually unearth at the heart of this case is also human. It’s people believing what they want to believe. It’s people cutting corners out of expediency and then covering up out of guilt or greed. It’s a rotten system that has good people trapped in it but is designed to let bad people flourish.

And it thankfully doesn’t go quite as far as Gamache fears that it does, but we fear with him right up ‘til the end.

The characters are all flawed in ways that are, to belabor a word, human. Gamache does his best to figure out what is really going on, but he is, just as often, doing the best he can without any certainty of the truth or of his options. Sometimes he wings it and gets lucky. Sometimes he wings it and doesn’t. He’s good at piecing the puzzle together, but he’s never perfect and it’s never easy.

His godfather tries to outsmart the villains, but drastically underestimates their enemies and pays a high price for it. A price that nearly falls upon them all. Because he’s not as smart as he thinks he is. He needs Gamache to carry his plan the rest of the way – and he very nearly drops it.

In the end, this story, like so many in the series, is a story about people working together, playing to their individual strengths, towards their common goal of saving all their lives, sacrificing their fortunes if necessary, without losing their honor.

At each turn, we think we know. They think they know. But at the last we all discover that we really knew very little of what we thought we did. And that’s what kept me furiously turning pages until the very end.

If you like mysteries that will suck you into their story and their characters, keep you tied in knots for the entire length of a series, and spit you out at the end both emotionally wrung out and utterly captivated, pick up Still Life and be prepared to lose yourself for days.

Come to think of it, the idea of getting lost for days with Gamache and Company seems like an excellent way to escape this year for a good, long time.

Review: A Better Man by Louise Penny

Review: A Better Man by Louise PennyA Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #15) by Louise Penny
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #15
Pages: 448
Published by Minotaur Books on August 27, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Catastrophic spring flooding, blistering attacks in the media, and a mysterious disappearance greet Chief Inspector Armand Gamache as he returns to the Surete du Quebec in the latest novel by #1 New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny.

It's Gamache's first day back as head of the homicide department, a job he temporarily shares with his previous second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Flood waters are rising across the province. In the middle of the turmoil a father approaches Gamache, pleading for help in finding his daughter.

As crisis piles upon crisis, Gamache tries to hold off the encroaching chaos, and realizes the search for Vivienne Godin should be abandoned. But with a daughter of his own, he finds himself developing a profound, and perhaps unwise, empathy for her distraught father.

Increasingly hounded by the question, how would you feel..., he resumes the search.

As the rivers rise, and the social media onslaught against Gamache becomes crueler, a body is discovered. And in the tumult, mistakes are made.

In the next novel in this "constantly surprising series that deepens and darkens as it evolves" (New York Times Book Review), Gamache must face a horrific possibility, and a burning question.

What would you do if your child's killer walked free?

My Review:

Just as the massive spring flooding brings massive destruction and wipes all away in its wake, so does the story in A Better Man sweep away what has come before it in this series and returns much (and many characters) back to the places where they began.

So, in spite of this being the 15th book in this marvelous series, it also feels like a great place for new readers to step into Three Pines and see what it’s all about.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, after the harrowing events at the end of The Long Way Home, is back where he began at the beginning of the series, Chief of the Homicide Bureau of the Sûreté du Québec. But this time his position is a demotion, as he had been Chief of the entire Sûreté, until his horrendous gamble nearly put millions of dollars of drugs back on the streets.

It’s supposed to be a humbling experience for him, so humbling that he wasn’t expected to accept it. Particularly as the outgoing Homicide Chief is his son-in-law and former second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir. But Jean-Guy is moving to Paris and leaving not just the Sûreté but his time as a police detective behind.

So Jean-Guy’s last case as Chief becomes Gamache’s first case, the disappearance of a battered young woman, a disappearance most likely caused by her violent, abusive husband, and most likely a fatal one.

The floodwaters are rising, Gamache’s career seems to be sinking, and the village of Three Pines stacks sandbags in a desperate hope to stem the rising tide. The solutions, to the murder, to the flood, to the seeming destruction of a storied career, and to the deep and difficult questions that always lay at the heart of ever story in this series, touch the heart at every twist and turn.

As the quote from Moby Dick that threads throughout this book goes, this is a story of “All truth with malice in it”. The truths are hard, and the malice is deadly.

Escape Rating A+: On the one hand, this entry in the series feels very much like a reset. When we began, all the way back in Still Life, Gamache was the Chief of Homicide in Montreal and Clara Morrow, one of the more interesting residents of Three Pines, was an unknown artist. When this book opens, Gamache is back to being Chief of Homicide, although he and his wife Reine-Marie now reside in Three Pines. And Clara has screwed up her once-thriving art career to the point where she’s back at her own beginning, certainly not unknown but definitely struggling again.

One of the threads of this story is Clara finally accepting that the terrible reviews she is receiving really are truth with malice in them, and that it is time to go back to the kind of brave work that she does best. Playing it safe will not serve her.

Just as playing it safe with the rising floodwaters will not save either Three Pines or Montreal, and it is up to Gamache to do the hard thing and risk his career (again) to save people’s lives.

It’s too late to save Vivienne Godin. It’s up to Gamache and Jean-Guy, together again one last time, to bring her justice. Not just for her murder, but for her life.

I’ll admit that I figured out part of the truth of Vivienne Godin’s murder fairly early on. But knowing the kernel of it did not make the story any less compelling, because as is so often the case in this series, it’s not about the murder. It’s about the human beings who are involved, the victims, the perpetrators, the bereaved family and friends AND the investigators.

It’s never just whodunnit and how they done it but more importantly why they did it – and that’s where Gamache and this series always grab the reader by the heartstrings.

One weird thought I had while reading this particular entry is that Gamache, in a very strange way, reminds me of Captain James T. Kirk. Not his swashbuckling cowboy persona, and not his lack of belief in the no-win scenario, because Gamache is all too aware that there are plenty of those, but in his eager willingness to take the demotion and return to the place where he could be his best and truest self. For Kirk it was being Captain of the Enterprise. For Gamache, it is just as clearly being Chief of Homicide of the Sûreté du Québec.

So as Jean-Guy flies off into the sunset, Gamache returns to the places where he belongs, the Homicide Bureau of the Sûreté and the town of Three Pines. And I can’t wait to go back there with him again.

Review: Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Review: Kingdom of the Blind by Louise PennyKingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #14) by Louise Penny
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #14
Pages: 400
Published by Minotaur Books on November 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The new Chief Inspector Gamache novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author.

When a peculiar letter arrives inviting Armand Gamache to an abandoned farmhouse, the former head of the Sûreté du Québec discovers that a complete stranger has named him one of the executors of her will. Still on suspension, and frankly curious, Gamache accepts and soon learns that the other two executors are Myrna Landers, the bookseller from Three Pines, and a young builder.

None of them had ever met the elderly woman.

The will is so odd and includes bequests that are so wildly unlikely that Gamache and the others suspect the woman must have been delusional. But what if, Gamache begins to ask himself, she was perfectly sane?

When a body is found, the terms of the bizarre will suddenly seem less peculiar and far more menacing.

But it isn’t the only menace Gamache is facing.

The investigation into what happened six months ago—the events that led to his suspension—has dragged on, into the dead of winter. And while most of the opioids he allowed to slip though his hands, in order to bring down the cartels, have been retrieved, there is one devastating exception.

Enough narcotic to kill thousands has disappeared into inner city Montreal. With the deadly drug about to hit the streets, Gamache races for answers.

As he uses increasingly audacious, even desperate, measures to retrieve the drug, Armand Gamache begins to see his own blind spots. And the terrible things hiding there.

My Review:

The original quote is from the philosopher Desiderius Erasmus, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” There’s irony in the use of the quote, as Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, currently the Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec , albeit under suspension, would never put himself in the place of the one-eyed man. He always believes that he is one of the blind – even as he fervently prays that he is not.

This is a story where there are two cases, as there often are in this series. One case initially seems trivial, but of course turns out to be much larger than it appears. But it does not tie into the other case in this story, the one that not only starts out large, but started out in the previous book in the series, Glass Houses.

Which itself was the culmination of a story that begin several books before that. Which is a hint that this series is best read in order and from its beginning in Still Life. And that it’s worth every moment of immersion with these people and in the quirky, semi-lost village of Three Pines.

The small case seems to be the easy part, at least at first. Someone has named Gamache, his neighbor Myrna Landers, and a builder from Montreal as the liquidators, we would call them executors, of her will. None of them knew the dead woman, and have no idea why she named them in her will. But Gamache and Myrna, a psychologist turned bookstore-owner, are intrigued enough to agree, as does the young builder.

When they all get blizzard-bound in Three Pines, it provides plenty of opportunity for Gamache to investigate the possible connections between the three of them and the dead woman, and for the residents of Three Pines to pass judgment on the young man unwittingly stuck in their midst.

This case, while it turns out to be a great deal larger than it originally seemed, also provides the source of most of the lighter moments in the story – as any protracted sojourn in Three Pines generally does.

Those lighter moments are needed, as the decisions that Gamache and his team made in Glass Houses are still hanging over their heads like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. Gamache has planned that the sword will fall on his head alone, but he is still making one last desperate attempt to clean up the deadly mess he created in order to eliminate the rot in his beloved Sûreté.

That his career will end as a result of his actions is a consequence that he can live with. Leaving the deadly opioid carfentanil on the streets of Montreal is not. But the piece he has left on the chessboard to clean up that mess may not be enough.

If she is not, her death will only be the first of thousands that will be rightfully laid at his door.

Escape Rating A+: I was riveted by this story, and at the same time there were points where I had to stop and literally turn my eyes away – it was just too much. There were times when I nearly lost faith with Gamache, it seemed against the character of the character I have grown to love and admire that he would send an agent into the literal heart of darkness and that the agent would be unaware that they had been sent. I should have known better.

And yet there was a point where that had seemed to happen. That a young Sûreté cadet had either committed a heinous act or had been set up to take the fall for one, and that the agent had been sent into the hellish streets where addicts wasted their lives in pursuit of their next fix of a drug that was certainly killing them. It seemed that the cadet had been sent out into the cold, into the streets from which they had been rescued, with no resources and no backup, in the hopes that the missing drugs could be found before they hit the streets and set off a wave of death from which there could be no escape.

It didn’t seem as if Gamache could have committed such a terrible betrayal, and yet it seemed that he had. It’s only at the end of the story that we discover the truth, bitter but not black after all.

The other, initially smaller case is equally bitter, if at a slight remove – throwing the parallels into stark relief. Gamache has taught all of his agents many hard lessons, among them the lesson that betrayal can only come from those who are closest. That is what it appears has happened with the young agent sent into the wild streets, and that is also at the heart of the story of the dead woman and the three confused liquidators.

In the end, the story is brought full circle, as the betrayals are revealed, the cases are closed, and the reckonings come due. The open arcs of story that began 30 years and many books ago have finally closed. It is possible that this is the end of the series. It could conclude at this point, but I truly hope not. These characters have taken on a life of their own, and I want to see it continue with all my heart.

If it does not, I’ll be echoing Gamache’s grandson Honore’s first words, imitating Rosa the duck. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Review: Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Review: Glass Houses by Louise PennyGlass Houses (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #13) by Louise Penny
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #13
Pages: 400
Published by Minotaur Books on August 29th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When a mysterious figure appears on the village green on a cold November day in Three Pines, Armand Gamache, now Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, knows something is seriously wrong. Yet he does nothing. Legally, what can he do? Only watch and wait. And hope his mounting fears are not realized.
From the moment its shadow falls over Three Pines, Gamache suspects the creature has deep roots and a dark purpose. When it suddenly vanishes and a body is discovered, it falls to Gamache to discover if a debt has been paid or levied.
In the early days of the investigation into the murder, and months later, as the trial for the accused begins in a Montreal courtroom on a steamy day in July, the Chief Superintendent continues to struggle with actions he’s set in motion, from which there is no going back. “This case began in a higher court,” he tells the judge, “and it’s going to end there.”
And regardless of the trial’s outcome, he must face his own conscience.
In her latest utterly gripping book, number-one New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny shatters the conventions of the crime novel to explore what Gandhi called the court of conscience. A court that supersedes all others.

My Review:

I started Glass Houses while waiting for the eclipse to reach totality. And read it all the way home (there was a LOT of traffic). For this reader, the new Gamache book each year is every bit as much of a fascinating treat as the eclipse, with the added bonus that there’s a Gamache book every year, while the next eclipse won’t happen over the U.S. for another seven years.

I was not disappointed in either event.

As with several of the books in this series, Glass Houses is about more than it seems, and has its roots far back in the past. Not just Gamache’s past, but the past of the Sûreté du Québec, the agency that he loves, and to which he has given his life and his career.

How the Light Gets In by Louise PennyThere’s a saying that “the fish rots from the head down”. In many of the previous books in this series, culminating in How the Light Gets In, Gamache, while solving normal cases, or as normal as anything gets in Three Pines, is in the middle of getting rid of that rot, no matter the cost. And even though he does manage to get to the heart of the corruption, the fish has been rotting for 30 years. That rot has done a lot of damage, not just to the Sûreté, but to the people of Quebec.

The rotting fish was on the take. Unfortunately, not really a surprise. But what comes as a terrible surprise to Gamache and his inner circle is the terrible result of that rot, that taking. As this story begins, Gamache is now the head of the entire Sûreté du Québec, and not merely his own little corner in the Homicide Division. And what he has discovered is that the rot has gone on too long, and that it was rooted too deeply in the drug trade.

They’ve already lost the War on Drugs. They’ve passed the tipping point, and there’s no going back. Unless Gamache and his inner circle are willing to risk everything on one last throw of the dice. If they are willing to sacrifice  their reputations their careers and even their lives on one final million to one chance. If they can lure the drug kingpins, the snakes in their grass, into one final, fatal error.

Winner take all.

Escape Rating A: As so many of the books in this series, Glass Houses begins in Three Pines, that lost village near the U.S. border. And, also like many of the books in this series, it starts small. Someone is standing in the middle of the village green, black robed and black masked, terrorizing the village. Not by doing anything menacing, but simply by standing there, unmoved and unmoving, watching everyone in the village.

It, whatever it is, is there for someone. But whoever it is there to accuse, or warn, or menace, it is terrorizing everyone in the village with its ominous faceless gaze. And Gamache, now a full-time resident of Three Pines, can do nothing. Not that he doesn’t want to, but he really can’t. Standing on the village green in a mask is not illegal by itself. But when someone dies by its hand, or because of its presence, only then can he act. When it is seemingly too late.

The trial that results, from beginning to end, is a farce. But a farce with a purpose. Gamache and his colleagues, his co-conspirators, are ready to spring their trap. That they must subvert the cause of justice in order to save it is just one of the many tragedies wrapped inside this utterly compelling story.

Gamache is, as always, a fascinating character to watch. Although some of the early books in the series, beginning with Still Life, seem like more traditional mysteries than the later ones, there has always been a psychological element to the stories. Gamache solves crimes by searching for the why first. He’s a thoughtful observer, always looking for the thing or the person out of place. Once he knows why a crime occurred, from there he determines the who and the how. And the answers are never the obvious ones – and neither are his solutions.

(If this type of mystery appeals, then also try Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series. Maisie, like Gamache, looks for why because she searches out who and how. And her stories always have a deeper underlayer below the surface mystery, as does Gamache’s story)

A huge element of what makes this series so marvelous is the village of Three Pines and its quirky inhabitants, including Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie. Added to the mix of villagers (and often well-stirred into that mix) are Gamache’s two principal lieutenants, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, his second-in-command at the Sûreté as well as his son-in-law, and Isabelle Lacoste, his handpicked successor in the Homicide Division.

For those of us who have followed this series from its beginning in Still Life, we know these people intimately. They are all old friends, and it is always wonderful to see them, even in the midst of yet another crisis. Their friendship provides support for Gamache, as well as surprising insights into events. There is always an undercurrent of wry humor, no matter how serious the case, and that humor is rooted in how well we know these people, and just how well they know each other. And how much they care. Just as we do.

They are all FINE, as the crazed poet Ruth Zardo puts it. Where FINE is an abbreviation for Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Egotistical. Because aren’t we all?

Review: A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

Review: A Great Reckoning by Louise PennyA Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #12) by Louise Penny
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #12
Pages: 400
Published by Minotaur Books on August 30th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The next novel in Louise Penny's #1 New York Times bestselling series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.
When an intricate old map is found stuffed into the walls of the bistro in Three Pines, it at first seems no more than a curiosity. But the closer the villagers look, the stranger it becomes.
Given to Armand Gamache as a gift the first day of his new job, the map eventually leads him to shattering secrets. To an old friend and older adversary. It leads the former Chief of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec to places even he is afraid to go. But must.
And there he finds four young cadets in the Sûreté academy, and a dead professor. And, with the body, a copy of the old, odd map.
Everywhere Gamache turns, he sees Amelia Choquet, one of the cadets. Tattooed and pierced. Guarded and angry. Amelia is more likely to be found on the other side of a police line-up. And yet she is in the academy. A protégée of the murdered professor.
The focus of the investigation soon turns to Gamache himself and his mysterious relationship with Amelia, and his possible involvement in the crime. The frantic search for answers takes the investigators back to Three Pines and a stained glass window with its own horrific secrets.
For both Amelia Choquet and Armand Gamache, the time has come for a great reckoning.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny pulls back the layers to reveal a brilliant and emotionally powerful truth in her latest spellbinding novel.

My Review:

In this 12th book in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, maps ARE magic. And everyone is fine. Sometimes just fine but all too often FINE, poet Ruth Zardo’s acronym meaning “Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Egotistical.”

nature of the beast by louise pennyAt the end of the utterly marvelous The Nature of the Beast, Gamache (and the reader) are left with several burning questions. Only one of those questions gets answered in A Great Reckoning. It’s the question of what will Armand Gamache, retired Chief of the Homicide Division of the Sûreté du Québec, do for a second act? Gamache is in his late 50s, and still has more than enough time to make his mark on another service.

And there are plenty of services interested in letting him do just that. Not just in Canada, but internationally as well. In the end, he chooses to finish what he started in A Fatal Grace and brought to an explosive conclusion in How the Light Gets In. He has cleaned up the rot at the top of the Sûreté du Québec, but there is still a cesspool left at the bottom. Or at the beginning.

The corruption at the top wanted to make sure that it would continue to flourish for decades. The way to do that was to create new agents to fill in the ranks of those fallen by one wayside or another. The late and unlamented head of the Sûreté appointed his own agent to run the Sûreté Academy, thus ensuring an endless pipeline of young agents who had been trained to see the people they were supposed to serve as an enemy to be beaten and brutalized at every turn.

Gamache takes the position of Commander of the Academy, to root out the last vestiges of that rot. While he fires many of the corrupt “old guard” he leaves a few in place, under the principle of keeping his friends close and his enemies much closer.

But he doesn’t watch them carefully enough. He thinks he’s starting to get a handle on what has gone wrong. Some of the freshmen, at least, can be saved. But only if Gamache figures out exactly how deep and disgusting the merde is before it swallows both the Academy and himself whole.

By the time a corpse floats up out of the stink, it is almost, but not quite, too late.

Escape Rating A+: I finished this is less than a day. Just like so many books in this series, once I started, I couldn’t put it down.

There is always a mordant sense of humor in this series, Some of that is born from the situations, but much comes out of the very diverse characters that populate Gamache’s world and the village of Three Pines. Because we already love these people, even the frequently profane and generally misanthropic poet Ruth Zardo, the way that they interact with each other, the teasing and bantering that comes of long and loving friendship, brings a chuckle at the most unlikely of places.

still life by louise pennyThis is a series that rewards readers who start from the very beginning with Still Life. (Do not take the short cut of watching the made-for-TV movie instead of reading the book. This is a case where the movie does not remotely live up to the book. It’s not awful, but it isn’t really Gamache or Three Pines)

We start out with two mysteries, one seems new, and one is long-standing. In the end, both mysteries have been years in the making. And there’s a third, which we discover that we should have expected all along, but don’t even realize until near the end.

There has always been a mystery surrounding the village of Three Pines. It appears on no map. None. GPS can’t find it. There is no internet service and no satellite coverage. This seems like magic, or perhaps fantasy, but is nevertheless true. So when Reine-Marie Gamache finds a map to Three Pines among the detritus excavated from the walls of the bistro when it was redecorated, questions about the map spring up like weeds. Who drew this map? And why are there no others?

Gamache, in what seems like an attempt to engage some of the more disaffected students, assigns two seniors and two freshman the task of unraveling the mystery of the map and its origins.

When the much-feared and extremely corrupt former second-in-command at the Academy is found dead in his rooms with a copy of the map at his bedside table, the former and current purposes of the map take on sinister overtones. While it seems that Gamache continues the cadets’ assignment in order to keep them busy and safe in Three Pines, he always has a secondary and tertiary reason for everything he does.

And he really does want to solve this particular mystery. But not half as much as he needs to figure out who murdered Serge Leduc. Because someone seems determined to pin the murder on him. And while Gamache did not murder the slime, the more he uncovers about exactly what Leduc was doing to the cadets, the more he knows that he could have. Even his closest friends begin to suspect him.

In the end, this is a case that reaches back to the very beginnings of Gamache’s life, and who and what made him into the person he is. It is also a story that reminds us that the barbarian is not at the gates, but that we have already, perhaps unwittingly, let him in.

There’s a lesson in this story,as there often is in this series. In this case, it all boils down to, “Don’t believe everything you think.” You’ll think about that long after you close the book. I know I am.