Tuesday, February 18, 2020

A Fatal Grace - Louise Penny

A Fatal Grace is book two of Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache series, a series that has grown so popular over the last fifteen years that it will soon – with the publication later this year of All the Devils Are Here - total sixteen novels and one novella. Because I somehow managed to read nine books in the series before having read any of the first five, I am particularly enjoying the way that the early books are filling in some of the gaps in the way I’ve perceived Penny’s main characters. Reading A Fatal Grace was, for me, like reading a long flashback about some of my favorite fictional characters because this book takes several giant steps toward evolving those characters into the people I’ve grown so fond of in the last ten years.  

But let’s begin with the novel’s hook because it is a good one. CC de Poitiers, a truly despicable woman, has been murdered – although no one in Three Pines much appears to care – in what seems to be an impossible manner. She was electrocuted on a remote, frozen Canadian lake in the middle of a curling match, and nobody saw a thing. And that was that.

I suppose that because this is just the second book in the Gamache series I should not be surprised that the good inspector is not even mentioned until the book’s eighth chapter begins on page 54. Penny, instead, spends the first 53 pages reintroducing the reader to the main residents of Three Pines, a little village about an hour’s drive from Montreal where Gamache works and lives. (Series readers know, of course, that Gamache will eventually become a Three Pines resident and that some of these same characters will become his closest friends.) Gamache is already familiar with Three Pines because he helped solve a crime in the village, almost losing his own life in the process, just a year earlier. Now he is back to see if he and his team can figure out how CC de Poitiers could have possibly been murdered in plain sight without anyone noticing.

Louise Penny
A Fatal Grace provides a first-rate mystery for its readers to solve, one that becomes ever more complex as Gamache learns more and more about the victim’s past and how it all relates to some of the village’s oldest residents. And of course, that’s why we read murder mysteries. We want to solve the crime before the fictional detective gets it all figured out (this is one of the extremely rare times that I actually accomplished that), but fans of the series should pay particular attention to the developing relationships between the various characters, especially between Beauvoir and Gamache, but also between Gamache and the main Three Pines characters, and between the Three Pines characters themselves. There are lots of answers in A Fatal Grace to the questions readers may otherwise have to wonder about in the books that follow.

Particularly enjoyable, also, are the little asides Penny sprinkles throughout the first half of the book that explain Gamache’s investigatory techniques and his affinity for mentoring rookie investigators. For instance, in one exchange with a young cop who is on his first homicide investigation, Gamache had this to say:

            “You need to know this. Everything makes sense. Everything. We just don’t know how yet. You have to see through the murderer’s eyes. That’s the trick…and that’s why everyone’s not cut out for homicide. You need to know that it seemed like a good idea, a reasonable action, to the person who did it. Believe me, not a single murderer ever thought, ‘Wow, this is stupid, but I’m going to do it anyway.’ No, our job is to find the sense.”

Two of my favorite developments in the long term Gamache story come at the very end of A Fatal Grace: Reine-Marie, Gamache’s wife, makes her first appearance in Three Pines where she makes a positive impression on Ruth Zardo (perhaps every reader’s favorite series character), and the Gamaches unexpectedly return to Montreal with Henri, a Three Pines dog who loses his owner. The novel, though, does not end on an entirely happy note because Penny reveals that Gamache still has powerful enemies amongst his superiors, enemies willing to do whatever it takes to destroy Armand and his future.

Bottom Line: A Fatal Grace is a good mystery that can easily be read as a standalone, coming as early in the Gamache series as it does, but it will be even more special a book to fans of the series, both those who have read ahead and those who are reading the books in order. Don’t miss this one.

14 comments:

  1. It's funny, but for as constant a reader as I am, I just recently discovered Louise Penny. I'm reading the books in the order I find them rather than the order they were written, so it's a bit interesting trying to put the whole connective story into sequence. I still haven't found the book where the Gamache's move to Three Pines. Soon, I hope.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't remember reading the one where they actually made the move to Three Pines, either. But this one certainly has him getting closer and closer to that point, especially since Reine-Marie has now made a visit and met some of the residents. Maybe book three? I've still yet to read books 3,4,5,7, and 9 - plus the novella, The Hangman.

      I was surprised at the way in this one Beauvoir is still so rough around the edges. He obviously benefitted greatly from working with Gamache all those years - even to marrying the man's daughter.

      Delete
  2. I haven't read the third book yet, but in the fourth one, which I did read, they hadn't moved yet.

    I wonder if Beauvoir was just supposed to be personality-less sidekick who got developed over the years. After all, she did have to do something with all those characters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now I'm starting to wonder about the move to Three Pines and why it took so long to get him there. I think maybe that Penny needed a place to park him after he got in so much trouble in Montreal and had to move him there in order to keep him interacting with the residents of the village.

      What you say about Beauvoir developing maybe developing differently than Penny thought he would when she introduced him makes me wonder just how easy it is for a writer to lose "control" of their plot. In your experience, do characters really start taking on a life of their own at some point? I've heard other writers say something similar to that but I don't know if it's true or if they are just saying in so many words that they have to follow the storyline wherever it most logically takes them next.

      Delete
  3. My last Three Pines was The Great Reckoning, but I have the next one ready to read. Love this series!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I'm counting correctly, that's number 12. Have you read them in order?

      I'm finding that the tone of the books was a bit lighter at the beginning and that the more recent ones get darker and darker as regards Gamache's relationship to his fellow cops and superiors.

      Delete
    2. Yes, they do get darker. I just finished Glass Houses and that is one of the things I kept thinking about. When I read the first Three Pines when it first came out, I wasn't at all sure I'd continue the series. As the characters continued to come to life and the plots became more complex, I couldn't resist them. I feel compelled to see what Ruth and Rosa are up to. :)

      Delete
    3. God, I love Ruth. She would have been the grandmother I would have chosen it that were possible...well, maybe as a third grandmother. :-)

      Speaking of ducks, I saw our local "duck man" in the McDonald's parking lot this morning and stepped over to his car to say hello to him and "Duck." Both were doing well. The man now also keeps a small German Shepherd in is car, too, and I'm starting to suspect that the three of them live in the car.

      Delete
  4. I loved her earlier books so much more than the recent ones I have read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just mentioned to Jenclair up above that the more recent books are getting darker and darker...and more like thrillers than the early books were. They've definitely changed, but I'm still hooked on them and looking forward to the new one that's coming soon.

      Delete
  5. It's interesting that you're just now reading the first books after already reading the newer ones. I've also heard that the older ones are better, but I'm on #11 (THE NATURE OF THE BEAST) and I'm still really loving the series.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The books are definitely darker and more ominous as regards the battle Gamache is being forced to fight against some of Canada's highest ranking cops, that's for sure. But like you, I'm still loving the series.

      Delete
  6. It's a few years since I read this one, before 2007 in fact as I have no record of it on my book blog, and to be honest very little of your excellent review rings a bell. One day I'm going to have to do what you're doing and go back and reread the first books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a couple of long series that I intend to re-read one day in the order in which the books were published...but I never seem to get there. Maybe I'll end up doing it with the Penny books, going ahead and re-reading the ones I've already read. I'm going to read book three next, and after book five I'll have to decide if I really want to re-read the others.

      Delete