Minotaur Books, 2011.
I’m not usually a fan of mystery novels – in fact, I never read them. However, this novel was much more literary than I expected, and really transcends the genre of murder mystery. It is the third in a series of which the eleventh novel, The Nature of the Beast, will be coming out this August. That being said, this is the first in the “Chief Inspector Armand Gamache” series that I have read, and I believe it stands on its own, and can be read within the series or separately.
This is the story of a village called Three Pines, set in rural Quebec. It is filled with eccentric characters who are so well-written that they completely overshadow the actual mystery plot. The novel is really a series of character studies, and I found myself much more interested in the individual people than in actually solving the mystery, although it did take a while to figure out who was who. The constantly shifting perspective is unsettling at first, which may have been the point – it keeps readers on their toes as the action escalates. My favourite parts were their dialogues at the various dinner parties and meetings at Gabri’s bistro, in which all of their personalities interact in a believable and funny way.
The series is held together by the presence of Chief Inspector Gamache, who travels from Montreal to Three Pines to solve an inordinate number of mysteries, considering the small population of Three Pines. It is necessary to suspend disbelief on this point, which I didn’t mind doing because the small town dynamic was very fun and sweet in the residents’ connections to each other. Meanwhile, Gamache has his own problems – and I did feel like I was missing a lot of back story in that area because I have not read the first two books. However, it wasn’t difficult to catch up.
Information about the murder is released slowly. The residents of Three Pines decide to have a séance – as it begins, we are left with a cliffhanger, then given news of a murder. It is only through police interviews that the real story is filled in, and even then, we do not know if the characters being interviewed are trustworthy. Not knowing the truth made the story more surreal for me, and it made the mystery a lot more fun. I have read that Penny has been influenced by Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I can definitely see elements of magic realism in Three Pines.
Gamache uses his experience with individuals to gain insight into the human condition as a whole, which makes him more powerful and understanding as an inspector. He understands the feelings and motivations of both victim and perpetrator, making him a formidable adversary. During his investigations, “[he] gathered feelings. He collected emotions. Because murder was deeply human.” (p. 82) Penny’s novel shows us what it is to be human, where anyone can be a combination of good and evil.
I received this book from Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.