Chief Inspector Armand Gamache [series]
- Louise Penny
The novels in the Armand Gamache series are primarily set in a small Canadian village and feature a protagonist who is nearly 50 years old, kind, sociable and settled in a happy marriage. This is a very welcome change from the usual murder mysteries set in UK or US, having a lead character who is bitter and has issues forming relationships, both personal and professional.
This series is as much about the characters as the mysteries, and the arcs capturing the evolution of the story of the primary characters are an important part of the narrative. The most prominent recurring characters have of course been given an appropriate focus in terms of creating their backstory and the ongoing changes in their lives, but the other significant characters in each book are also well developed. The village of The Three Pines, where these stories are based, is a (fictional, of course) tiny village that has somehow evaded being marked on any map. The author has described in such a charming manner that it makes you want to leave where ever you are and move there, despite an unusually high rate of crimes!
I started this series because it featured in some of the lists of best cozy mysteries, and enjoyed high recommendations on Goodreads and my reading group. However, I would call only the first few books as cozy mysteries; as the series progresses, it becomes darker and more gruesome. I understand the challenge of sustaining readers’ interest through a series, without some sort of progression in the story lines of the key characters – I have abandoned quite a few series because the mysteries eventually become tepid, the characters do not change, and all books start appearing same. Which is why one must admire writers like Doyle and Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner, who created an engaging series with very little by way of continuation from story to story in the lives of their fictional characters.
The books in the series are not consistent in the quality of the plots – I really enjoyed some of them, while there were some that I could not like at all. Anyhow, I stopped reading after 12 books, because they were getting too dark for me (and that is not what I was looking for), and somewhat repetitive, and I felt that I have read enough for now and should look at other things. I am not giving up on the possibility of resuming the series, but given that there are so many diverse books on my TBR, I do not think it is likely that I will return to it
#1 Still Life
In this first installment, I knew the murderer, and partially the reason, very early in the book. Yet, I enjoyed the unfolding of the drama, and the observations about human nature and interactions.
#2 A Fatal Grace
The mystery and the tension in this one was better than the first book in the series. I knew the identity of one of the murderers early on, but kept wavering between two characters for the second one. As before, I liked the quaint village setting, and its lovely inhabitants. The thing that disconcerted me most was fat-shaming of the child, not just by the characters, but by the author herself, which was apparent in the way every time she was described.
#3 The Cruelest Month
The mystery in this was better than the previous ones, and the much dreaded Arnot case is explained as well. The too frequent verbose details become a drag though. And it was annoying that throughout the book, change of scenes kept happening within a chapter, without even a little break to indicate this.
#4 A Rule Against Murder
I haven’t liked the character of Peter Morrow right from the first book, he is not just vain and shallow, but is also highly insensitive to his wife Clara. This book shows us probably the worst side of his character, and I do wonder why Clara puts up with him at all.
I found the plot of this one very good and suspenseful, though the denouement was somewhat unexpected. Had the end matched the build-up, it would have been a great thriller.
#5 The Brutal Telling
This is one of the best books of the series so far. The twists and
turns were thrilling, and I have to say, courageous on the author's part. The
characters form as much a part of the book as the murder mystery, and the
evolution of the characters and their relationships adds much more interest to
I was quite unaware of Canadian history, particularly the natives before it was colonized, and have wondered about it, though did not find out more. So, it was also good to get a little bit of insight from that aspect.
#6 Bury Your Dead
This was a disappointment in some sense – it was too cluttered, as the author seemed to be experimenting with several formats all at once.
There are two parallel murder mysteries, one with Gamache in Quebec, and the other with Beauvoir in Three Pines. Both were interesting in themselves, but they had nothing to do with each other. I found the story line with Gamache set in old Quebec City more interesting, for its historical context and the way he solves a 200-year-old mystery.
Flashbacks from past interspersed with the current events is a common device; however, here we have the memories of the same terrible event from the perspective of both Gamache and Beauvoir. It became very confusing as the reader must reconstruct the whole event from bits and pieces through the entire book.
#7 A Trick of The Light
The mystery and tension here were really good. The aspects of human behavior and relationships play a great role in the story, and the discovery of the murderer. The dynamics of the art world and its underlying brutality were well depicted. I really enjoyed this one.
#8 The Beautiful Mystery
This book is set in an isolated monastery in the midst of a deep forest, and we have a little bit of history of this particular monastic order, believed to have died out during the inquisition. A lot of focus is given to the routine of the monks and the Gregorian chants, which became boring after few repetitions.
The explanation of the murder did not match the buildup of the mystery and was rather an anti-climax. The manipulative ways of Francoeur and Gamache’s helplessness to do anything about it were depicted very well, and I truly detested him. It leaves us on a cliffhanger, wondering about his real motive.
#9 How The Light Gets In
This moves in two parallel story lines - a murder mystery, and the escalating conflict between Gamache and Francoeur. The only common thread between the two is the murder victim's connection with The Three Pines village, but the murder mystery is not the focus in this book. The focus is Gamache's investigation into what Francoeur is really planning for. This is more of a thriller than a mystery, with an end that is a little too theatrical.
The events in this book stretch the credulity of the story arcs of primary characters, reaching a cinematic climax and a happy-ever-after ending. The writing style in this book was jittery. There were several instances of repetitions of the same events or explanations, and a whole bunch of chopped sentences attempting to build up the tension during the climax. I do hope we have a smoother story and style in following books.
#10 The Long Way Home
This is the worst book in the series so far, both in terms of story
and the writing style.
The choppy writing style I noticed towards the later part of the previous book (not sure if it wasn't used earlier or I missed it), continues in this book from the beginning.
A large part of the book consisted of everyone viewing Peter's paintings. This is described so many times, that it gets on one's nerves. The chase was okay by me (though not as interesting as a murder mystery), but the entire cause and means and result put together, it was a bit too farfetched.
#11 The Nature of the Beast
I have mixed feelings towards this one. On the positive side, it is a great thriller, with an amazing build up of the suspense and tension. It keeps you at the edge until a cinematic kind of climax. As before, I like the way the primary characters in the series keep evolving and the way the important characters in this novel are developed.
On the downside, the basic premise behind the whole story – the incongruous weapon, seems well, incongruous. It may be loosely based on factual events (of which I learnt afterwards), but the impression I gathered while reading it made the entire operation unbelievable, and my doubts persist. Secondly, this was quite gruesome, and I don’t want so much blood and gore and psychopathy (which is the reason why I started reading cozies after all).
#12 A Great Reckoning
This is a taut mystery-thriller, even though a little too disturbing for my taste. While I liked the fast-paced mystery despite my aversion to violence, I am disconcerted by the implausibility in the fundamental structure of the plot.
For all the buildup it was given, I found the auxiliary story line concerning the map not quite relevant to the central plot, even though it had its own elements of interest. A parallel story line with little connection to the main mystery is also becoming a recurring feature in the novels.
The fractured sentences are not so frequent, or I have become used to them and do not notice them as much as in some of the previous books.