– Louise Penny, The Cruellest Month.
Louise Penny is a master at articulating and exploring corrosive emotions – jealously, bitterness, hatred and revenge – as well as joy and grief. The resolution of a murder by Chief Inspector of Homicide, Armand Gamache and his team, which she expertly accomplishes, is what garners to Penny legions of readers. What I find most compelling about her work is not discovering the identity of the murderer but how she explores the range of emotions in the character of the empathetic Gamache. She goes even further in examining the emotional dynamics between him, his team and his superiors, and the captivating denizens of the hamlet of Three Pines in the Quebec Eastern Townships. They feature in all of Penny’s eight novels except her most recent, The Beautiful Mystery (Minotaur, 2012).
In her debut novel, Still Life, Penny reveals a piece of information about Gamache that powerfully reverberates throughout the subsequent novels. He broke rank by investigating a senior officer in the Sûreté du Quebec who had ordered the murder of natives. The officer was convicted and he and his friends on the force are determined to destroy Gamache. Although Gamache has achieved an almost perfect record in solving homicides, he will never be promoted and has been excluded from the confidences of the top inner circle, something that Gamache fully understands given that actions have consequences. Nonetheless, he is a contented man, happily married and maintains a good relationship with his adult son and daughter. Penny hints in the first two novels that there may be agents de provocateurs in Gamache’s team who are working to undermine him. By the third novel, The Cruellest Month, I found the tension so gripping that I skipped ahead not to find out the identity of the killer but to those passages about how this subplot would play out. Then I was able to return my attention to murder investigation itself.