Sunday, August 30, 2015


Sometimes characters make the story. Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast seemed that way to me.

When someone kills Laurent Lepage after the boy tells another unbelievable story about a big gun in the woods, former Chief Inspector Gamache investigates.

He and his team find the weapon. It has a picture from Revelation’s Second Coming etched on it. They track its history and learn it has a reason to be connected to Three Pines.

So does the chilling serial murderer John Fleming. He ties in with the massive weapon too. He wrote a mysterious play. The director of the local playhouse attempts to conceal the author’s identity to try to get the play produced in Three Pines.

After another murder, Gamache and his team work through to a solution.

My problem was, I saw no convincing reason the facts had to lead to the solution they led too. Several people could have committed the murder. I couldn’t help but think of the Gamache story where Gamache nailed the wrong person. (Penny rectified Gamache’s mistake in a later book.)

I found the premise too fantastic. True, Penny says in her Afterword that such a weapon and plans for its larger prototype existed. That part of the story is one of those fictions loosely based on fact.

But that didn’t much matter to me. What mattered were the characters--Gamache’s wife Reine-Marie (who plays a large part in solving the crime), the poet Ruth, the bookstore owner, the grocery owner, the bistro owners, Laurent’s mother, and all the rest. They made the story for me.

And I had one other thought. I wondered about how art begets art, a major theme in the Gamache books. The Nature of the Beast seems to be built around William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming.”

As with all the Gamache stories, creative people play a large part. Ruth took ten years off from writing poetry after writing a few lines about a horrific experience in her life. The great painter Clara struggles to paint a portrait of her husband after his horrific death (which showed who he really was). One suspect does skillful line drawings and writes great music with terrible lyrics.

At one point, Gamache says of John Fleming’s seemingly innocuous play, “It has everything to do with him. If John Fleming created it, it’s grotesque. It can’t help but be. Maybe not obviously so, but he’s in every word, every action of the characters. The creator and the created are one.”

When I talk about how I wish Louise Penny would write something lighter sometime, my wife says (paraphrase), "She won’t. That’s not how her mind works."

So be it. Though I didn’t think The Nature of the Beast was her best book, I still see Louise Penny as a particular blessing for mystery lovers.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Joe, I have heard a lot about Chief Inspector Gamache and I'm looking forward to reading a Louise Penny novel or two.

Joe Barone said...

Prashant, These books are excellent books.