The Brutal Telling

by Louise Penny, © 2009, St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books hardcover – fifth in the Inspector Gamache (Three Pines) series

This series takes place in and around the village of Three Pines, hidden away in a small valley south of Quebec. Chief Inspector Armande Gamache is the perceptive leader of a division of the homicide department of the Surete du Quebec.  He is called, as has happened in most previous books in the series, to Three Pines to investigate a murder. A body, brutally murdered by a blow to the back of the head, shows up on the floor of the bistro owned by two gay partners, Olivier and Gabri, who also run the B & B next door. Gamache and his colleagues Jean Guy Beauvoir and Isabelle Lacoste return to Three Pines and the B & B to solve the crime. They also allow a local young man, Agent Paul Morin, to apprentice with them, learning the lessons they all now know so well:

“…to catch a killer they didn’t move forward. They moved back. Into the past. That was where the crime began, where the killer began. Some event, perhaps long forgotten by everyone else, had lodged inside the murderer, and begun to fester. What kills can’t be seen, the Chief had warned Beauvoir. That’s what makes it so dangerous. It’s not a gun or a knife or a fist. It’s not anything you can see coming. It’s an emotion. Rancid, spoiled. And waiting for a chance to strike.”

And so, in the warm, comfortable rooms of the bistro and the B & B, the inspectors begin their investigation. Gamache, who is kind, thoughtful and intelligent, leads and follows the investigation which soon takes it’s first twist: the hermit was not murdered in the bistro, he was carried there. From where? Who is he man? Why was he killed?  The questions continue to mount, with few answers forthcoming, as the investigating team track down every clue, most leading nowhere of help in solving the case.

Yet Gamache knows progress is being made by the mostly futile efforts, because the reasons must be there and it is simply a matter of time until the secrets unravel, the truth is revealed.

Before long, the place the murder actually took place is discovered, a log cabin deep in the woods. It’s full of miscellaneous things, but not just junk collected by a hermit. The items are priceless books and antiques. Why is this treasure trove there? How was it acquired by a seemingly destitute hermit?  Instead of helping, every new discovery leads to more unanswered questions.

I like this series, have done so since I read the first book, Still Life. I thought the previous book, A Rule Against Murder was the weakest, this is a better book. There are things I question, but that’s true of nearly every mystery I read, about the plotting, at times it seemed a bit haphazard, but I kept turning the pages and read late into the night to finish it.

The characters readers of the series will have come to know and like from the previous books are here, new faces are added, new tensions created. The author put in a few red herrings which I found fairly transparent, and the ending was less of a surprise then she intended, I’m sure, but I can easily recommend this book to any who enjoy a “soft” (violence off stage) police procedural or cozy.

The lead character is sometimes compared, by other reviewers, to Adam Dalgliesh, who performs a similar function for P.D. James, and I admit that, in spite of Penny’s descriptions of the character, when I visualize Gamache I see Roy Marsdon, the fine actor who has played Dalglish.

As is usual when I finish one of Lousie Penny’s books, I want to read the next one. Right now. I’ll have to wait until September of this year when Bury Your Dead will be released Canada / UK / the Commonwealth. The U.S, publication is likely to be two months later.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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12 Responses to The Brutal Telling

  1. Patti Abbott says:

    Liked the first one very much. And she is a super nice person.

  2. Richard says:

    Patti – I’ve heard that she is, I’d like to meet her. I see she is scheduled to be at Bouchercon in San Francisco, so I’ll be looking for her on a panel or signing or sommach. I can recommend the next two as well, and an ongoing thread over the three of them is neatly tied up as well. Good stuff.

  3. Patti Abbott says:

    When I asked her to write about a forgotten book early on, she responded right away. And I spoke briefly to her at Bourcheron-Baltimore ( I was handing out badges) she was as unassuming as could be.

  4. This sounds like a series I should be reading. I’ll start the hunt for these books right now.

  5. Richard says:

    They may be too soft-cozy for you, George. You must remember I’m a great big soft-cozy teddy bear of a guy.

  6. Not familiar with her writing, but it sounds interesting. I’m not at all put off by cozies.

  7. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I know everyone loves them but…I couldn’t get involved with the first one at all. Maybe will try again…some day.

  8. Richard says:

    I like cozies well enough, from Christie to some of the current crop, though I don’t read a lot of them. The strength of this series is the characterization and sense of place.

    Jeff – too many books in the world to try going back to something that didn’t appeal to you on the first try. Unless, of course, it would be Chandler.

  9. Carl V. says:

    I need to point these out to my wife. She is the big mystery reader of the family and this series sounds like one she would enjoy. She tears through them, be it reading or on her hour drive to and from work, so finding new stuff is always a good thing.

  10. Richard says:

    Carl – This is a series that absolutely needs to be read in order.

  11. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Now Chandler I had no problem with.

  12. Carl V. says:

    No problem with that, neither my wife nor I are the kind to pick things up out of order. There is even less of a chance that she would do that than myself. One nice thing about working in a big library system like she does is that she has much more access as well, so she can usually track down anything she is wanting to read. I’ll be passing the author and book list on to her. Thanks.

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