Saturday, August 13, 2016

Murder Most French AND English- The Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series

First novel in the Chief Inspector
Armand Gamache series
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec has a knack, not to mention a reputation, of falling into strange and dangerous murder investigations. He also has a knack and a reputation of solving them. The creation of award-winning Canadian author, Louise Penny, Gamache appeared on the mystery genre scene in 2005 in Still Life, winning Penny numerous awards and kicking off the start to a continuing series, with the 12th and latest book, A Great Reckoning, debuting this year. Based in the culturally tumultuous Quebec, Canada, in a village called Three Pines, Gamache faces down various cunning killers, motivated by greed, ambition, insanity, hate, jealousy, and sometimes, under the surface, racial tensions and stand-offs between the Francophone Quebecois and the Anglophone Quebecois. This last tension plays a running theme throughout Penny's series. True to real life, Penny weaves the ebb and flow of the tension of the primarily French Quebec in a primarily English Canada; this causes racial tensions to flare and a general confusion over who 'belongs' and who does not. This, among many things, is key to Penny's flawless storytelling in her novels.

Gamache can easily be compared to Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot; he is detail oriented and believes that the solutions always lie within the personal interactions of people, rather than the physical clues that remain from the crime. His observations and analysis of the interactions is what primarily drives the story lines. Gamache, unlike many of the people around him, is largely without prejudices and utilizes his personal kindness and compassion in his investigations. He attempts to hammer these virtues into his fellow police officers and into the people involved in the investigations, suspects and witnesses alike. However, Gamache is not completely flawless; past mistakes come back to haunt him in several books and people who he inadvertently scorned come back with a vengeance. However, Gamache is the hero that everyone wants; he is calm, quiet, compassionate, deeply in love with his wife, and tries his best to balance the good and the bad in all people. He is the cop everyone wants on their case... except for the bad guy, because Gamache will most certainly nab them.

Penny does a startlingly wonderful job at making the reader want to back everything up and move to
Author Louise Penny
this quaint, beautiful village, even though murder seems to happen at an alarming rate in the area. Penny, as a Canadian native herself, infuses love and awe in her descriptions of the landscape and of the traditions and eccentricities of Canadian life and Quebec village life. Seasons play a big part in the series and Penny describes the weather's affect on the village and the people in a way that makes the weather almost another character. Penny's secondary characters, although memorable and crucial to the plot, still play second-fiddle to the power and the force of Gamache's character. Penny also does a great job describing the settings without using too many words; she uses the descriptions to lay the groundwork for the conversations and interactions that drive the story.

These stories are much better than I had expected. Penny took an unusual circumstance in Canada, the schism in Quebec, and wrote eloquent, complex murder mysteries that incorporate the tension. Readers will be completely immersed in these stories and will feel not only a part of Three Pines, but also like they have met and known everyone Penny writes about.

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