Book review: Louise Penny's Armand Gamache returns in 'The Great Reckoning'
September 25, 2016 12:00 AM
Author Louise Penny.
"A Great Reckoning" by Louise Penny
By Robert Croan
One of Louise Penny’s strongest talents is her ability to invent a complex, marginally nasty story, then tell it with such directness and good humor that it seems simple and reads briskly. “A Great Reckoning,” No. 12 in her deservedly popular Armand Gamache series, is that kind of book.
The series is somewhat in the cozy genre, with colorful village characters who return in each installment. Ms. Penny’s stories, however, have a distinctly harder edge than the traditional “cozy” mystery.
The plot has many strands. In previous episodes, Gamache was chief inspector in charge of murder investigations with the Surete, Quebec’s provincial police force, After uncovering serious corruption within the force, he has taken early retirement and moved with his wife, Reine-Marie, to the country town of Three Pines.
He has made many friends in the force, including the current chief inspector, Isabelle Lacoste, and Gamache’s son-in law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, now second in command to Lacoste, but also some formidable enemies. Gamache’s past, which includes unfounded accusations of cowardice during a massacre that resulted in the indictment of the corrupt officers, comes back to haunt him in the present tale.
"A GREAT RECKONING"
By Louise Penny Minotaur Books ($28.99).
Never satisfied to sit back idly in his retirement, Gamache has accepted the post of commander of the local police academy, where corruption has also been rife until now. The previous commander had been weak and ineffective, allowing his second in command, Serge Leduc — a vicious martinet known unaffectionately as “The Duke” — to rule the academy by force and cruelty. This has produced a generation of Surete officers with those same values, a situation Gamache now undertakes to reverse.
Instead of firing Leduc, however, Gamache keeps him on as a full professor (though not as his second in command), in order to keep an eye on him. The new commander also brings in a lifelong friend and colleague, Michel Brebeuf, who became an enemy when Gamache uncovered his illegal dealings and forced him to resign from the Surete.
Gamache has gone through the list of new admissions and accepted some previously rejected students — among them the countercultural, pierced and tattooed Amelia Choquet, and the insecure, gangly and gay Nathaniel. Those two rookies soon encounter The Duke, who forces them to perform menial tasks that include bringing coffee to his private quarters in the mornings. Amelia and Nathaniel also hook up with two domineering seniors: the Chinese girl Huien and the belligerent Jacques, who have been brainwashed by Leduc and share his hostility toward the new commander. Before long there is a murder at the academy, which implicates not only the faculty and students, but also Gamache himself.
Interwoven with this is the discovery of a mysterious antique map of the village of Three Pines, which allows Ms. Penny to give the reader (along with her protagonists) a lesson in the history and techniques of mapmaking. It’s a collateral reward that goes with the final unraveling of the mystery.
Lacoste and Beauvoir take over the investigation, but to preserve the appearance of impartiality, Gamache insists on bringing in a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, whose relationship to Gamache quickly turns adversarial.
Add to the mix Ms. Penny’s recurring collection of eccentrics from Three Pines: the wildly eccentric and outspoken old poet Ruth, who goes everywhere with her pet duck; the artist Clara, who paints perhaps a little too realistically; the bookstore owner Myrna, sometimes discriminated against for being overweight and black; and the genial gay couple Gabri and Olivier, who own a bed-and-breakfast along with the bistro that serves as a meeting place for the Three Pines locals.
These characters serve as a backdrop for the plot and catalyst for the action. Here it is the map, hidden inside the walls of one of the buildings, that spurs the villagers, the students and Gamache himself to find the killer.
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