My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When nine-year-old Laurent Lepage bursts into the bistro in the sleepy little village of Three Pines on a beautiful mid-September afternoon excitedly telling the patrons there about a huge gun, bigger than a house, that he found in the woods, his listeners smile and shrug it off, assuming that it is just another of Laurent's tall tales. For Laurent is a small boy with an outsized imagination full of aliens and monsters, and when he says that his huge gun has a monster on it, that confirms things for the villagers: Just another of Laurent's tales.
Laurent begs his friend Armand Gamache, the now retired Chief Inspector from the Sûreté, to come and look at the gun, Gamache instead loads the boy and his bicycle into his car and drives him home.
But one person present in the bistro that day to hear Laurent's story knew that he could actually be telling the literal truth. That person would do anything to ensure that this story doesn't get out, that it doesn't get believed. Anything includes killing a nine-year-old child.
One day later Laurent doesn't come home from his day's play and when his parents and other villagers go looking for him, they find his body, along with his bicycle, in a ditch beside the road. It appears that he may have hit a rut in the road and swerved into the ditch where he hit his head on a rock and was instantly killed.
But something about the scene of death does not add up for the eagle-eyed Gamache. There's something about the placement of the body that is wrong.
And where is Laurent's "gun"? His father had carved a limb for him which Laurent's imagination turned into a play gun with which he defended his village. He was never without it when he was out for a day's play, but the "gun" is nowhere to be found.
Once again the villagers fan out to search, this time looking for Laurent's stick, and, finally, deep in the woods, they find it. They find it next to the house-sized gun that Laurent had tried to warn them about. The gun that had the monster on it.
The gun was, in fact, a rocket launcher that had been built back in the '80s for something called the Babylon Project. It was a project of evil intent, symbolized by the image of the biblical "Whore of Babylon" etched into the gun's side, that was put together by some rogue weapons designers and a huckster who intended to sell the massive guns to be produced on the world firearms market - sell them to the highest bidder. Before that could happen, though, the huckster was killed in Brussels and the guns, if they ever existed, disappeared.
Once the huge gun, along with Laurent's stick, is found near Three Pines, it is clear that the child's death was no accident. He was murdered to keep him quiet.
Before this murder can be solved, another one occurs. Antoinette Lemaitre of Three Pines was planning to direct a play at the local theatre. It was a play called She Sat Down and Wept by an anonymous author. But it turns out that the author is not really anonymous. His name is John Fleming and he is a notorious serial killer, presently incarcerated in the Special Handling Unit.
Gamache, who knows the evils that Fleming committed, feels intuitively that the two murders are somehow related and that all of this is somehow connected to Fleming. He faces skepticism for his theory from his former Sûreté colleagues. They should know better.
Louise Penny has once again given us a convoluted and thoughtful tale about the nature of evil and of how people choose to face it. We find Gamache chafing a bit under his early retirement and considering offers that he has had to return to work. Although this good and decent man is appalled by murder, he is somehow addicted to the solving of these crimes and he's finding it very hard to simply walk away from all that. It is made harder by the fact that his former homicide team, made up of his hand-picked proteges, still turn to him for advice.
I'm betting that Gamache is going to unretire in the next book and return to officially solving crimes once again. But even if he doesn't, there seem to be enough murders happening in his idyllic retirement village to keep him preoccupied and engaged in the detecting game.
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