Written by Louise Penny — Louise Penny has a devoted audience of readers who eagerly await each of her novels featuring Québecois detective Armand Gamache – and I am no exception. We were all on tenterhooks to see if the good inspector’s retirement from his position as Head of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec would put an end to his adventures, but this book shows that the series still has plenty of life left in it.
This series started out essentially as a cosy mystery set in an idyllic imaginary village called Three Pines, close to the border with Vermont. All the ingredients for tourist crime fiction were there: eccentric characters, evocative landscape and mouth-watering descriptions of food, the odd French word thrown in, an unusual murder and a logical solution. As it progressed, it became darker and more ambitious in scope. The politics and rivalries back at police headquarters have been a constant threat to Gamache and those loyal to him. Friends grow old, die suffer… and the outside world has started to impinge on the magical peace of life in Three Pines. It seems to me that the author is moving into uncharted waters with this series – a move which I personally find courageous and very interesting, but which may not please those readers who prefer constancy.
Following a close brush with death and a huge professional scandal, Armand Gamache has retired to Three Pines, but he is not bored. He has allowed routine to seep into his life, walking the dog with his wife Reine-Marie, reading on a bench overlooking the village, and inviting his neighbours over for a barbeque on a Friday night. Then his artist friend Clara approaches him with a personal problem. Her husband left the marital home a year ago, when they attempted a trial separation, with the understanding that they would meet up in a year’s time to reassess the situation. The anniversary of his departure has come and gone, but her husband Peter has not shown up, nor has he sent any message. Peter had once been the successful artist in their partnership, but grew increasingly jealous when his wife’s star began to rise in the world of art. Would that be reason enough to disappear without a word?
Despite Reine-Marie’s misgivings, Armand gets involved in this search for a missing person. He also calls upon his former side-kick (and now son-in-law) Jean-Guy Beauvoir to help with the investigations. Sweary poet Ruth with her duck, Myrna of the second-hand bookshop, the charming gay couple running the village bistro – the cast of eccentric characters, whom we have grown to know and love, are all present and each contributes in their own way to the manhunt. However, the action soon moves outside the village, and ultimately leads them to the beautiful real life town of Baie-Saint-Paul on the St Lawrence River, beloved with artists and tourists alike. Was Peter searching for artistic inspiration, for his lost muse, or was there something more sinister at work, something related to his past?
This latest novel is far less of a murder mystery and more of a personal quest, a yearning for adventure counter-balanced by a desire for peace and quiet, as well as a meditation on the illusory nature of fame and love. It is atmospheric, philosophical, beautifully written and sad, although it does have its funny moments. Fast-paced it most certainly is not. At some point the main characters choose to take a boat instead of a flight to the remote fishing community of Tabaquen in the Gulf of St Lawrence: this book is the boat trip. If you are an avid follower of Louise Penny’s work, this is an unmissable and powerful addition to the canon, but if you are new to the series or if you enjoy more traditional crime fiction, you are best off starting with an earlier book.
The Long Way Home comes out 26 August. We reviewed book eight in the series, The Beautiful Mystery, here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars