My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ms Penny consistently wins top honors in the mystery field. Often, the winners do nothing for me story wise. Penny’s Armand Gamache is somewhere in between. I’m not sure I’m seeing what those handing out awards is seeing. On the other hand, I do like them. Well, I like Gamache. I do not like Jean-Guy but more on that later. One thing that has to be taken into account is that the Gamache mysteries are written in the omniscient point of view and there’s no waiting until a scene break to change point of view characters. It can happen one sentence to the next. Also, flashbacks happen the same way. One character says something and suddenly Gamache or Jean-Guy are in the past. The mind does work that way but in reading it, you have to be on your toes or you’re lost. (And seeing how both flashbacks and omniscient point of view turn off so many readers, the awards are even more surprising).
When the book opens, Gamache and his detective, Jean-Guy are off duty and the flash backs hint that something very bad has happened. That is one of the three mysteries in this book. We don’t know what and won’t know until very close to the end as we weave in and out of situation where Gamache and his men were badly hurt and some didn’t make it.
Gamache sends Jean-Guy to Three Pines to investigate a murder case that is already closed but he fears that he put the wrong man in jail. Olivier, lover of Gabri, has been jailed for killing an old hermit to steal his treasure trove of antiques. Gabri is sure his boyfriend is innocent, greedy and foolish as he moved the dead body to try to sully the reputation of a nearby spa, but innocent. Jean-Guy doesn’t like the country. He doesn’t like these people and he doesn’t want to be doing this.
Gamache is in Quebec City, visiting his aged mentor and trying to relax. However an amateur archeologist, rather despised by much of the city turns up dead at the Lit(erature) and His(tory) library/cultural center for the disappearing English-speaking Quebec residents. The town is mostly made up of the Quebecois, the French-speakers. Augustin Renaud is on the trail of Champlain, the founder of Quebec when he turns up murdered in the Lit and His subbasement and the local police ask Gamache to consult.
The hunt for Renaud’s killer was a very good mystery. Gamache is likeable and while I personally do not know how accurately the culture/history of Quebec is being portrayed, I hope it’s accurate. It’s very interesting as presented. Champlain’s body has been missing for centuries, no one knows where he’s buried and of course, he’s seen as a founder, a very important man, sort of how America would view Washington. I did know there are tensions between the French and English speaking Canadians and that there has been talk of separation but I didn’t know it was this long lasting and violent (again providing the research in the book is spot on. I don’t know enough Canadian history to say and there are no author’s notes in this version).
Jean-Guy’s mystery is a bit weaker with a twist ending that was a touch hard for me (even though I figured it out). I might have liked it better if LaCoste (the female detective who is absent in this book, presumably because she was uninjured in the event that sidelined Gamache and Jean-Guy for nearly a year) was doing this. I find Jean-Guy judgmental, unfriendly and arrogant. I felt the same in the first Gamache book I read. I don’t like him at all.
The third mystery really isn’t so much a mystery. It’s only mysterious to the reader as the event is told piecemeal and it has to be put together slowly. Overall, I did enjoy this, more than my first foray into the series. I have another one on the shelf I should get to.
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