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Last week I introduced the main characters of Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries while discussing the first two books in the series.

Louise Penny writes mysteries with deceptive depth. More than village cozies, this series deasl with the human mind and heart. And sometimes even the soul.

Sometimes her mysteries expand over multiple novels which allow her to explore overarching themes of goodness and evil, and which will win out. Happiness, envy, jealousy and the creative process itself are just some of the issues she examines in her mysteries. And belonging -- that sense of being a member of a community larger than oneself. Sometimes Three Pines reminds me of Cheers. There is that sense of welcome, a cast of unique individuals, the insider jokes, and yeah, "everybody knows your name." Perhaps that is why so many who read these novels wish they could visit, if not live in, Three Pines.

The Cruelest Month
Published by Minotaur Books
March 4th 2008 (first published 2007)
311 pages

It is April in Three Pines and the town is busy with Easter Sunday activities, including an egg hunt using painted wooden eggs that are exchanged for chocolate ones when found by the children. The switch to wooden eggs was the result of an earlier, rather unpleasant, incident involving hidden candy eggs and an overnight visit by the local wildlife.

But what would Easter be without a seance? A small group of villagers join a visiting Wiccan in hopes of casting out the evil from the old Hadley Mansion. As the candle-lit group sits in the dark circle calling forth the dead, one of the members dies of fright. Or so it appears.

The Easter holiday finds Chief Inspector Armand Gamache enjoying his time with his wife, Reine-Marie, their son Daniel and his family in Montreal before Daniel returns to Paris. Gamache receives a call from his superior who has the toxicology report that indicates that the death may not have been caused by fright alone.

And so the hunt is on as Gamache and his team head for Three Pines to find a killer. Meanwhile, using the the media, someone appears to be trying very hard to discredit the Chief Inspector as we learn more about his past.

Woven into this mystery is an exploration of magic and miracles, and of what makes them different. Penny looks at the spirituality of Wiccans, Christians and the man who hears the trees. And jealousy; what it does to those who feel it and to those who are its object.

Fun facts from this novel:

  • Ruth Zardo gets a duck.
  • Armand Gamache did not learn English until he attended Christ's College in Cambridge which accounts for his English accent.
  • And Gabri:
    Every time Gabri has a guest he organizes some outlandish event, like the time the poker champ came to stay and took all our money, or that singer who made even Ruth sound like Maria Callas. Still, horrible as these socials Gabri threw together turned out for the villagers, they must have been worse for the unsuspecting guests, roped into entertaining Three Pines when all they wanted was a quiet stay in the country.

A Rule Against Murder
Published by Minotaur
January 20th 2009 (first published in 2008)
322 pages

For those Americans, and others who don't know, Canada Day marks the anniversary of the creation of the nation of Canada by combining the three original British colonies into one country within the British Empire. This was formalized on July 1, 1867 by the British North America Act. Although the name has changed, today's Canada Day is celebrated as the nation's birthday.

And as the occasion for another murder from the marvelously inventive mind of Louise Penny. Feeling perhaps that her craft was taking too great a toll on the inhabitants of Three Pines, Penny has moved the setting for this mystery to the luxurious Manoir Bellechaise, where Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache are celebrating their 35th anniversary with their thirtieth annual visit. Also enjoying the resort are the Finneys, a wealthy, squabbling family who have met to dedicate a statue to the memory of their patriarch.

The Manoir Bellechaise, a former Robber Baron hunting lodge turned luxury resort on the shore of Lac Massawippi, has a rule against murder:

When my husband and I bought the Bellechasse we made a deal with the forest. Any death that wasn’t natural wasn’t allowed. Mice are caught alive and released. Birds are fed in the winter and even the squirrels and chipmunks are welcome. There’s no hunting, not even fishing. The pact we made was that everything that stepped foot on this land would be safe.”
But apparently that rule was unknown to whoever took a life at the manor that week. Gamache is drawn into the investigation; the suspects include not just the guests, but the staff as well. And a surprise connection to the village of Three Pines.

Louise Penny turns her gaze to families in this mystery, both the Finney's and that of Armand Gamache. It is such a pleasure to watch the characters gain depth and dimension as we get to learn more of what makes them tick.

Fun facts:

  • Reine-Marie can clog.
  • Armand Gamache knows how to draw a happy face.
  • Manoir Bellechaise is loosely based on Manoir Hovey of North Hatley in Quebec, a favorite retreat of the author and her husband. After marrying in North Hatley, they hosted a two day wedding party at the Hovey. (The linked website has some lovely photos of the resort.)
The Brutal Telling
Published by Minotaur Books
September 22nd 2009 (first published 2009)
372 pages

In The Brutal Telling, Louise Penny returns to Three Pines when an old man, The Hermit, is found murdered on the floor of the Bistro on Sunday morning of the Labor Day weekend. No one knows his real name or where he came from when Chief Inspector Gamache and his team arrive on scene to investigate the murder.

As secret after secret is exposed, the evidence all points directly to a well-known and well-liked member of the Three Pines community. But before a murderer is identified, there are many puzzles to be solved, including one that sends Inspector Gamache all of the way to the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the coast of British Columbia.

Meanwhile, Clara Morrow has been offered a show by Montreal art dealer Denis Fortin. But there is something in his attitude toward her friends that she finds personally offensive and she must weigh the conflicting demands of loyalty and ambition.  

The Brutal Telling also exposes us to the Czech community in Quebec. It is easy to think of the province as being majority Francophone with a minority Anglophone population, but there are quite a few other ethnic groups including the Czech, some of whom immigrated when the nation of Czechoslovakia broke up.

Fun fact:

  • The poetry of Ruth Zardo in this book comes, in large part, from Margaret Atwood's book, Morning in the Burned House. Penny also quoted from The Bells of Heaven by Ralph Hodgson and "Gravity Zero" a poem from Bones, by "an emerging Canadian poet named Mike Freeman."

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