Review: The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny

nature of the beast by louise pennyFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: mystery
Series: Chief Inspector Gamache #11
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Date Released: August 25, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Hardly a day goes by when nine year old Laurent Lepage doesn’t cry wolf. From alien invasions, to walking trees, to winged beasts in the woods, to dinosaurs spotted in the village of Three Pines, his tales are so extraordinary no one can possibly believe him. Including Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache, who now live in the little Quebec village.

But when the boy disappears the villagers are faced with the possibility that one of his tall tales might have been true.
And so begins a frantic search for the boy and the truth. What they uncover deep in the forest sets off a sequence of events that leads to murder, leads to an old crime, leads to an old betrayal. Leads right to the door of an old poet.

And now it is now, writes Ruth Zardo. And the dark thing is here.
A monster once visited Three Pines. And put down deep roots. And now, Ruth knows, it is back.

Armand Gamache, the former head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, must face the possibility that, in not believing the boy, he himself played a terrible part in what happens next.

My Review:

As much as I love this series, and all the characters in it, I would not want to live in Three Pines. Quebec. The murder rate is much too high. I can see the tourist brochures now – Come to Three Pines if you’re tired of your life. With the subtext that your life will probably end if you go there.

The regulars all survive. Often not unscathed, but survive. This is a place that people come to for sanctuary, and often stay. Providing they survive their initial introduction.

For a story that starts small, The Nature of the Beast brings in a wider and wider world, even though its entire physical setting is that one small village in Quebec.

We start with one myth, the boy who cried wolf, and end with another, the Whore of Babylon. While that seems like quite a stretch, the path from one to another ultimately becomes clear, even as it obscures who is responsible for the evils that rain down on this place.

A little boy loves to roam the woods around Three Pines, and make up stories about the monsters he finds. Laurent Lepage is not just very imaginative, he’s also an excellent salesperson – he does all too good a job at getting people to believe his fantastic tales. But Laurent has been doing this since he was 6, and at age 9 people are generally wise to him. So when he bursts into the local Bistro claiming that he found a gun bigger than his house with a monster on it, no one believes.

And, just as in the fable about the boy who cried wolf, this time he is telling the truth. And it gets him killed.

Three Pines has been hiding a terrible secret. 40 years ago an arms dealer, a genius engineer, and a serial killer built a gigantic gun in the woods near Three Pines. Over time, the arms dealer was murdered, the engineer died, and the serial killer got caught. But the gun remained under camouflage netting until poor little Laurent found it, and touched off a series of murders, a witch hunt, and very nearly a prison break.

Chief Inspector Gamache, formerly of the Surete du Quebec, has retired with his wife Reine-Marie to the village of Three Pines. He became famous for rooting out the long-standing corruption in the Surete, and retired or perhaps retreated, to Three Pines to heal.

But murder, and his past, keep finding him. He is the first to think that Laurent did not die in a bicycle accident, but was murdered. And it is he that starts the search for the boy’s trail, and discovers the gun known in the arms trade as Big Babylon.

This Supergun was purported to be able to shoot a payload into low-earth-orbit using mechanical energy only – no electronics. The aiming, however was so imprecise that it could only be used on a very big target, like a city. It is a weapon of mass destruction, and the rumors said that it was purchased by Saddam Hussein. Luckily, he never got it.

During the story I kept wondering if the reason that the image of the Whore of Babylon was etched onto the gun’s base was for Saddam’s benefit. The reason turns out to be much more chilling than I imagined.

The discovery of the gun brings a host of interested parties to Three Pines. Laurent’s death has already brought Gamache’s former colleagues to the village. Isabelle Lacoste is now Chief of Homicide, Gamache’s old position, and Jean-Guy Beauvoir, originally Gamache’s second, is now hers. They are there for the murder.

Following in their wake are a retired physics professor and finally, two agents of the Canadian Security Service. The professor knew the arms dealer, and the Security Officers claim to be paper pushers who just so happen to be experts in the arms dealer, and especially in the Supergun he planned to sell. Or sold.

After a second death, both investigations heat up, and go at cross purposes. This is a case where everyone has secrets, and everyone’s secrets get in the way of anyone else finding the truth. They are all going in circles, and they all suspect each other of agendas that may not be for the greater good.

Into the middle of it all, a bigger threat than anyone imagined. The one person left alive who might know the truth of the whole mess is a convicted serial killer, locked in maximum security for a series of murders so heinous that his trial was kept secret. Gamache is the only person who knows who the man really is or just how much he has done.

The question facing the retired Chief is a terrible one – will the world be better off with a soulless serial killer on the loose but the plans for the doomsday gun found and safe, or will it be better to keep the devil locked up and let the world hunt for the Supergun plans throughout Three Pines, with all the chaos and destruction that will cause?

Which is the greater good?

Escape Rating A+: This one kept me up until 3 am. I had to finish. And as usual with this series, it’s the way that events affect the people involved that stick with me, and not necessarily the case itself.

This is also a case that fools the reader, as well as the detectives, right up to the end. The story starts with “Who killed Laurent?” but we and the detectives all get so sidetracked by the Supergun that we lose sight of the dead boy. We all think we know the motive for his murder (and the one that follows) but no one seems to fit the frame for the murderer.

The tie to the serial killer seems to come from left field. At first, the detectives think that Gamache is grasping at straws when he brings the man’s name into the investigation. At the end, of course, he’s right. He’s always right in the end, no matter how many times he seems to go off course in the middle. And this course looked very far fetched when it is first introduced. It’s only at the end where we discover just how deliberate this particular piece of misdirection was.

How the Light Gets In by Louise PennyAnd through the entire story range the people of Three Pines. By this point in the series, we know them and love them – even the cantankerously nasty poet Ruth Zardo and her duck Rosa. It is Ruth that is both shielding the present from the awful past, and who provides the insights that make the solution possible. And it’s Ruth who provides a surprising amount of compassionate healing to those who are left needing it most. Just as she did with Jean-Guy at the end of How The Light Gets In (enthusiastically reviewed here)

The part of the story that is sticking with me are the open questions that are left at the end. Gamache has healed enough that he needs to find a second act for his life. He’s not yet 60, and there is plenty of time for him to leave his mark again in some other service. He still feels the need to fight injustice, right wrongs and solve murders. There are plenty of places begging for him to come and lead them.

At the same time, the serial killer is a manipulative murdering bastard who is looking for a way out of prison and back into the world where he can commit more sick crimes. He knows Gamache’s name, and obviously spends his life planning his next action. Or evisceration. I have a feeling that he will (unfortunately for Gamache) be back.

And then there’s the Supergun, and everything it brought with it. It’s not just that the behemoth is out there in the woods, it’s that there are now members of the illegal arms trading community who know where it is and where to look for information on it. Some of those completely unscrupulous people know that Gamache and his colleagues thwarted them this time, and there’s a chance they’ll want payback.

But the big questions are the hard ones. Do the ends justify the means? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one? And if they do, who decides which are which? And last, particularly in regards to the security community – Who watches the watchers?

Those are the questions that haunt Gamache at the end of this book, and I expect will play a big part of the next. They are certainly haunting me.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

long way home by louise pennyFormat read: print ARC provided by the publisher
Formats available: hardcover, audiobook, ebook
Genre: mystery
Series: Chief Inspector Gamache #10
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Date Released: August 26, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Happily retired in the village of Three Pines, Armand Gamache, former Chief Inspector of Homicide with the Sûreté du Québec, has found a peace he’d only imagined possible. On warm summer mornings he sits on a bench holding a small book, The Balm in Gilead, in his large hands. “There is a balm in Gilead,” his neighbor Clara Morrow reads from the dust jacket, “to make the wounded whole.”

While Gamache doesn’t talk about his wounds and his balm, Clara tells him about hers. Peter, her artist husband, has failed to come home. Failed to show up as promised on the first anniversary of their separation. She wants Gamache’s help to find him. Having finally found sanctuary, Gamache feels a near revulsion at the thought of leaving Three Pines. “There’s power enough in Heaven,” he finishes the quote as he contemplates the quiet village, “to cure a sin-sick soul.” And then he gets up. And joins her.

Together with his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and Myrna Landers, they journey deeper and deeper into Québec. And deeper and deeper into the soul of Peter Morrow. A man so desperate to recapture his fame as an artist, he would sell that soul. And may have. The journey takes them further and further from Three Pines, to the very mouth of the great St. Lawrence river. To an area so desolate, so damned, the first mariners called it The land God gave to Cain. And there they discover the terrible damage done by a sin-sick soul.

My Review:

still life by Louise pennyThe Long Way Home is a marvelously told character-study wrapped around the mystery of one man’s disappearance into the wilds of Quebec, and his own past. The story richly rewards those who have followed Inspector Gamache and the inhabitants of Three Pines from the beginning of his journey in Still Life, as The Long Way Home serves as an exploration into the lives of Gamache and his friends after the climactic ending of How the Light Gets In (reviewed here).

It’s also the story of the disintegration of both a marriage and a man. Peter and Clara Morrow are both artists, but for most of their lives, Peter has been famous (relatively) and Clara has been exploring. And sometimes laughed at. Until her acclaimed solo show at the Musee in Montreal. Now Clara is the famous artist, and Peter is seen as merely a technician.

He can’t bear being demoted to second place in their marriage. He can’t bear being suddenly seen as “less”, when he’s always been “more”. So he left. Left Clara, left Three Pines, left everything behind. But he promised to come back in one year. Then they would see.

But Peter doesn’t come back, and Clara can’t move on with her life until she figures out what happened. Especially since orderly and rule-bound Peter would never forget or miss their “date”–unless something was very, very wrong.

How the Light Gets In by Louise PennySo Clara does what everyone does when they have a mystery to be solved. Clara unburdens herself on a retired and recovering Armand Gamache. She needs to find Peter, whether or not he is lost. And Gamache, who owes the people of Three Pines so much, both for their willingness to stand by him in How the Light Gets In and simply for the way they have taken him into their hearts and provided refuge from the battles he thought he had left behind, knows that he must help her.

For Clara, he is willing to undertake one more case, even unofficially. All his friends, family and even former colleagues come along for this search into Peter Morrow’s whereabouts, a search that turns into an investigation of Peter and Clara’s past as well as the present. As they follow the route that Peter has taken through light and dark places, they discover that someone along their journey has been deceiving the world for too many years.

Suppressing someone’s art, the crime that Peter almost committed against Clara, creates a passion more than strong enough to murder.

Escape Rating A+: While the story is a terrific exploration of mystery, human nature, and how we invent and reinvent ourselves, it particularly rewards readers who have followed the series. Gamache’s brand of solving crimes (or missing persons cases) by examining the nature of the people involved (as opposed to just looking for motive and opportunity) has more depth in this case if you know the characters. There is a lot of bantering humor that is based on the personalities.

The action follows on the heels of How the Light Gets In, and serves in some ways as a coda to that story. If you love these characters, you want to know what happens after the crisis ends, and how they attempt to rebuild their lives. It was marvelous to visit Three Pines again, and I wasn’t sure that there would be a book after Light. This was a terrific look at what happens after “they lived happily ever after” because they don’t. Deep wounds don’t heal cleanly. We forgive but we don’t forget.

There’s a lesson in The Long Way Home. Those who manage to find a balm for their past wounds, move forward in their lives. They may continue to struggle with their pain, as Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Ruth Zardo do in different ways, but they also keep walking on into the light of a new and brighter day. Those who cling to the scars of the past, die in the shadows.

I hope I’ll get to go to Three Pines again. It has become one of my favorite places.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In by Louise PennyFormat read: print ARC provided by the publisher
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, audiobook
Genre: Mystery
Series: Chief Inspector Gamache, #9
Length: 416 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Date Released: August 27, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” —Leonard Cohen

Christmas is approaching, and in Québec it’s a time of dazzling snowfalls, bright lights, and gatherings with friends in front of blazing hearths. But shadows are falling on the usually festive season for Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Most of his best agents have left the Homicide Department, his old friend and lieutenant Jean-Guy Beauvoir hasn’t spoken to him in months, and hostile forces are lining up against him. When Gamache receives a message from Myrna Landers that a longtime friend has failed to arrive for Christmas in the village of Three Pines, he welcomes the chance to get away from the city. Mystified by Myrna’s reluctance to reveal her friend’s name, Gamache soon discovers the missing woman was once one of the most famous people not just in North America, but in the world, and now goes unrecognized by virtually everyone except the mad, brilliant poet Ruth Zardo.

As events come to a head, Gamache is drawn ever deeper into the world of Three Pines. Increasingly, he is not only investigating the disappearance of Myrna’s friend but also seeking a safe place for himself and his still-loyal colleagues. Is there peace to be found even in Three Pines, and at what cost to Gamache and the people he holds dear?

My Review:

Saved by the duck.

In the end, everyone is saved by the crazy poet Ruth Zardo, and her adopted duck, Rosa. And the reminder that we are all strongest in the broken places.

It all starts with one woman dead and one woman missing. Audrey Villeneuve commits suicide at the Champlain Bridge, and Myrna Landers’ friend Caroline Pineault fails to come to Three Pines for Christmas. In the usual way of things, Gamache passes by the recovery of Villeneuve’s body on his way to Three Pines to talk with Myrna.

Of course, nothing is as it seems with either case. And neither is the apparent destruction of Chief Inspector Gamache’s formerly impressive Homicide Division in the Sûreté du Québec. The only thing that is entirely too close to what it appears to be is the descent of Gamache’s former second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, into addiction, depression and self-destruction.

Caroline Pineault is not merely missing, she is dead. Murdered. In the wake of her death, her true identity emerges. She was the last of the Ouillette Quintuplets, a Depression-era miracle and media creation. Gamache needs to know not just how she died, but why. It is who he is. It is what he does.

But while he seems to be investigating her strange but probably relatively normal murder, he is setting other wheels into motion. Wheels that have been grinding slowly but inexorably for more than 30 years.

Wheels that will either finally cleanse the corruption out of Gamache’s beloved Sûreté, or grind him and every single one of his friends and allies, into dust.

And blow the tiny town of Three Pines along with them.

Escape Rating A+: There are so many mysteries in How the Light Gets In. There’s the relatively simple one of “who killed Caroline Pineault?” even though that turns out to be nothing like it seemed at first, because she turned out to be someone different than she appeared to be.

And yes, every time I read “Ouilette Quints” I saw “Dionne Quintuplets”. I had to look them up after I finished. Similar but not the same. Still.

A Fatal Grace by Louise PennyThe big mystery is one that has been hanging over Gamache since A Fatal Grace. Not just who is after him, but why? What happened 30 years ago to corrupt Pierre Arnot? Who is really behind the rot? How deep does it go? What is it really about?

The revelations surprise even Gamache, but once he understands, the long dark journey finally makes sense.

And speaking of long dark journeys, after The Beautiful Mystery (see review for details), I did wonder if the series wasn’t Jean-Guy Beauvior’s journey, even though the series is named for Gamache. At the beginning of the series, Gamache already is who he is going to be. He does some soul searching after Bury Your Dead, but it doesn’t change his essential self.

still life by Louise pennyJean-Guy is the person who grows up and changes the most through the series. He has the most to learn at the beginning of Still Life, and his lessons are the most painful, but he does learn them. With a little help from Rosa.

And the incredible, marvelous, crazily fantastic people of the village of Three Pines. The village and its inhabitants are as great a creation as Gamache himself. I can’t wait to go back.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.