Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny: A review

Louise Penny's mysteries are very much in the tradition of Agatha Christie. Her Chief Inspector Gamache is almost a cross between Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple! He combines the brilliance of Poirot with the small village values of Miss Marple. He is unfailingly courteous to all, even to the murder suspects that he and his team investigate in their roles with the Homicide Division of the Surete du Quebec. 

He has a soft spot for outsiders, for those whose value may not be recognized by others in the Surete or in society. Frequently, he makes them a part of his investigative team and his team has an almost 100% rate of solving crimes, thus proving Gamache's instincts are golden. 

His inclusion of these outsiders always meets resistance from his second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, even though Jean Guy himself was once one of Gamache's "outsider projects." That could be said of most members of this highly successful investigative team.

Once again that team is called to Three Pines, the small village in Quebec that is virtually crime-free, except for murder. 

This time a death has occurred in the old Hadley house, the scene of a previous murder and kidnapping and a place where both Armand Gamache and Jean Guy were injured in the attempt to rescue the kidnapped woman. In fact, the old Hadley house stands on a hill outside the village proper and seems to exude a sense of evil. It is an abandoned house, a place that people avoid.

Why, then, on Easter weekend, did a group of villagers decide to go to the old house to conduct a seance? On Good Friday, they had persuaded a Wiccan visitor to the village to conduct a seance at the bistro, but that was less than successful. Not scary enough! Then someone suggested the old Hadley house and the plans were made.

During the seance, strange things begin to happen, weird sounds are heard, and one of the participants screams and drops dead. It appears she has been scared to death. But was it a natural death?

As a reader of mysteries, you surely know the answer to that question! The autopsy confirms it. The dead woman, much beloved, with not an enemy in the world according to all accounts, has been helped on her way out of this life. Now Gamache and his team must find someone who wanted her dead.

It seems impossible. Everybody loved her. And yet love and hate are emotions that can be closely related, two sides of the same coin. As Gamache always says when someone tells him things don't make sense, it always makes sense. You just have to find the sense that it made - to someone. There you will find your killer.

And Gamache, the patient observer, always finds the killer.

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