Monday, December 24, 2012

The Fatal Grace by Louise Penny: A review

This was the perfect time to read this book. The action takes place around Christmas in Three Pines, the idyllic village in the mountains of Quebec. 

It is a village where everything seems postcard perfect. As the snow falls, it could certainly serve as the scene on the front of a holiday card. There's only one tiny flaw in this otherwise perfect scene: The murder rate here seems astronomical!

Part of the traditional Christmas celebration in Three Pines is the annual curling tournament that takes place on a nearby frozen lake. The whole village, including CC Poitiers and her mouse of a husband and her pathetic daughter, have turned out for the exhibition. Also present is CC's photographer (and lover) who has been hired to take pictures of her interacting with the locals for a project the would-be Martha Stewart clone is planning. 

In the middle of the action, in the middle of the lake, in front of the whole village, CC is electrocuted. But no one will admit to having seen anything. And what about the photographer who was taking pictures? Did he photograph the murder? He turns over his pictures to be police, but some of them seem to be missing.

CC had not endeared herself to the village. She had managed to alienate them all, and no one can muster any particular grief at her passing. But at least her death gives them an opportunity to once again welcome their favorite policeman, Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec. 

Gamache and his team settle into this village where he feels very much at home and they begin working the case. But there is more to this story than the macabre murder of one unloved woman. Gamache is obsessed with another murder, that of an old bag lady who was killed outside a department store in Quebec. 

The old woman was strangled. There seems to be no motive, and yet as Gamache gathers information, he begins to find possible links between that victim and the one in Three Lakes. Are the two murders somehow connected?

Meanwhile, all is not well in the Sûreté. Gamache has made enemies and it seems that they - or at least one of them - seek a way to bring this well-respected and well-loved Chief Inspector down. As part of that plan, a mole has been planted in his homicide team, a traitor who is seeking information that will destroy him. Louise Penny has very cagily left the identity of that mole somewhat ambiguous, but at the end of the book, she leaves us readers very much concerned for the welfare and future of our very own favorite Chief Inspector.

This book won the 2007 Agatha Award for Best Novel. One can easily understand why. The plotting is impeccable. The characters are drawn with care and attention to detail. 

As always, Gamache pursues his quarry with compassion mixed with steely resolve. He knows that the key to finding the murderer is to listen and to look, and, through his example, we begin to listen and to look more carefully, to watch for that nuance of phrase or expression that will give us entry to the hearts and minds - and secrets - of these people. 

The secret of Gamache's success as a policeman is that he is a world-class observer. The tiniest details are absorbed and stored away and finally brought out to fit into the puzzle that, when completed, reveals all. It all makes for a delicious read.

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