Wednesday, November 24, 2010
A FATAL GRACE by Louise Penny
Louise Penny's A Fatal Grace has the most improbable murder, but it doesn't matter.
The book is written in such a way that the killer could reasonably be any of several people. There is no inevitable one. But it doesn't matter.
When Penny reveals the actual murderers (there are two murders), it is the ones you thought it might be all along. But it doesn't matter.
Louise Penny is such a sublime writer that what she writes is more a novel than a mystery story.
Strangers in small towns are always suspect. When a troubled woman comes to Three Pines, she seems to be a stranger, but she isn't. And she ends up dead. Everything about her leads to murder.
It is Christmastime. Inspector Armand Gamache investigates two murders, one a cold case given him by a friend and the other a murder in Three Pines. Gamache and a police friend exchange cold
cases at Christmas. They are like a lot of police people seem to be. They are bulldogs. They don't give up, even on the least-solvable murders.
One of the real blessings of these stories is that Gamache is ethical. He pursues even those whom the police department would protect. His superiors plot against him because he has refused to cover up police wrongdoing. And he, like all ethical people, wonders if he did (and is doing) the right thing.
He lives in the light of a wonderful love, his wife Reine-Marie. And he has found the most sublime place to come in and out of. Penny honestly portrays Three Pines. The town is picturesque, yet filled with people who struggle against, but love, one another.
Here is one short description of Christmas in Three Pines seen through the eyes of a character looking through a frosted window--
"And now, watching the snow globe that was Three Pines, [Clara Morrow] knew she liked looking at it through the beautiful designs the frost made on the old glass.
"Sipping a hot chocolate she watched as brightly swaddled villagers strolled through the softly falling snow, waving mittened hands in greeting and occasionally stopping to chat to each other, their words coming in puffs, like cartoon characters."
And here is a description of Gamache which shows the kind of person he is. His assistant Beauvoir describes Gamache--
"Gamache was the best of them, the smartest and bravest and strongest because he was willing to go into his own head alone, and open all the doors there. And he went into the dark, hidden rooms in the minds of others. The minds of killers. And he faced down whatever monsters came at him. He went to places Beauvoir had never even dreamed existed.
"That was why Armand Gamache was their chief."
Penny's Three Pines books have one of the most memorable characters I've ever known. Her name is Ruth. She is a poet. And her poetry (We see flashes of it) cuts to the core.
There is such depth in Louise Penny's Three Pines books. They are among the very best of the books I read from living writers.
Penny always surprises me, though I should have learned by now. I pick up her books expecting a well-written cozy, and I get what often seems to me to be a sort of clumsy murder mystery, but a great book.
Some things are more important than the mystery. Louise Penny teaches me that.
I still have a couple more Gamache books to catch up on before I am up to date in the series. When the time comes that I have to wait for the books like everyone else, I will wait impatiently.
Louise Penny is a special kind of writer. I would class her with another very different writer I also see as great, Ken Bruen.
If you haven't yet read one of Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache books, if you are behind the curve as I was, I suggest you give her books a try.