One of the pleasures of the Armand Gamache series - and there are many - is the description of the food. Wherever his job as head of the homicide division of the Surete du Quebec takes him, Gamache always seems to eat exceedingly well, and Louise Penny describes it all in intricate detail - the herbs used, the consistency of the sauce, and especially the aroma of the baking bread and of the coffee, always the coffee.
That is never more true than in this fourth entry in the series. Armand and his beloved Reine-Marie have gone to the Manoir Bellechasse for a short vacation and to fulfill their tradition of celebrating their anniversary at this inn which holds so much nostalgia for them. It's their thirty-fifth anniversary and they are enjoying their time away from it all, being cosseted and pampered by the staff of the Manoir.
The Gamaches are not the only guests. The Morrow/Finney family has arrived for their family reunion and a more obnoxious and unattractive family is hard to imagine. They all seem to dislike each other - and everyone else. The only moderately polite person is the family is Julia, one of the two daughters.
There are two sons as well, but at first only one, Thomas, is present. Then the second son and his wife turn up and we learn that they are Peter and Clara Morrow from Three Pines, the most murderous village in Quebec! One begins to suspect that there will soon be a murder.
One's suspicions are confirmed when a statue of the long-dead father of the four Morrow children topples from its pedestal in the garden and crushes poor Julia. At first it seems a grotesque accident, but Gamache quickly determines that all is not just as it seems - at the site of the murder or with the Morrow/Finney family. It is indeed murder and soon his team is on job.
There are plenty of suspects, most of them other family members, but there seem to be other possibilities as well. There are some unhappy young staff members at the Manoir and the three permanent staff members, the manager, the maitre d' and the chef, all seem to be hiding something. Was one of their secrets a motive for murder?
It's always entertaining to be a fly on the wall as Armand Gamache picks his way through all the known facts and subtle clues and arrives at the conclusion which will solve the crime. Gamache is a most human and humane policeman. He has his weaknesses which are always on full view to the reader. (One of them is a fear of heights!) But the key to his success seems to be that he is always able to empathize with both victims and criminals. He sees both as essentially human - a flawed human perhaps, but still a part of the human experience and responding to known human stimuli and motives.
Louise Penny seems to have a bit of that same empathy for all her characters. She draws each of them with loving care. It is one of the qualities that make these books such pleasurable reads.