Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny: A review

When reading a mystery series, I think it is a mistake to read the books out of sequence. But earlier this year my Mystery Book Club read Bury Your Dead, the sixth in Louise Penny's Armand Gamache series, and it was my introduction to this series. After finishing that book and loving it, I determined to read the series in order and I've been working my way through the books here at the end of the year. 

Then I picked up The Brutal Telling, number five in the series, and made another mistake. I was reading the book on my Kindle and thought I had started number four. By the time I had realized my mistake, I was already involved in the story.  Now, I have to circle back and read number four.  Sigh.

But having read Bury Your Dead earlier proved really problematic for reading this book because the final solution to this book's mystery is revealed there. And so, I read this book knowing all along who the murderer was. I knew so much more than the investigators and I kept having this impulse to shout at them, "No, no, you're getting it all wrong!" Somewhat surprisingly though, I found that knowing the solution really did not interfere with my enjoyment of the writing.

So, here we are in Three Pines, Quebec once again and once again there's been a murder. A man's body with its head bashed in has been found in Olivier's Bistro, the favorite gathering place for the villagers. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the man was not killed there. No enough blood. Obviously the body had been moved, but why? 

As Gamache and his investigative team, including its newest member, Paul Morin, dig into the mystery, they find themselves stumped. At first glance the dead man had looked like a tramp, but on closer examination, he had obviously cared for himself and had lived a healthy and clean life. There's no identification on the body and none of the villagers will admit to knowing who he was. With no identity, no motive, no murder weapon, and no murder site, the investigation seems hopeless.

Still, the team plows doggedly ahead,  and finally they get a break when Jean Guy Beauvoir discovers evidence that the body had spent some time on the floor of the old Hadley house, which is no longer a grim and scary place but has been bought and renovated into a bright and beautiful spa by Marc and Dominique Gilbert. Even though the wreck of a house has been changed beyond recognition, it still seems to be a magnet for murder.

But no. It turns out that even though the body had rested there for a while, it was not murdered there. Still not enough blood. And still no identity for the corpse.

Then the team gets its second break when a cabin in the woods is found and on the floor of the cabin is a large bloodstain. The place where the man lived and died has been found and in that humble cabin is a fortune in art!  And still the dead man has no identity.

The mystery only seems to deepen and Gamache travels across the country to the Queen Charlotte Islands searching for a link to the man's past that may offer the key to the puzzle. Meanwhile, art experts are inventorying the treasures found at the cabin and trying to find how they came to be there. It seems that the Homicide Division of the Surete du Quebec and its director Chief Inspector Gamache may finally be stymied. But don't bet against them.

Louise Penny continued her string of winners with this book. She's given us characters in Three Pines that we care about and it is difficult to see their lives torn apart by the events in this book. But then, I know what's coming because I have already read Bury Your Dead.     

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