Armand Gamache “IS” Penny’s detective series. He is what makes it, his uncompromising character, decency and actions.
In that sense, this book stays on track. Gamache still carries the series.
Penny reliably provides us with delicious writing, full of symbolism, metaphor and foreshadowing.
Unfortunately, the rest is slipping. It’s too full of easy plot twists, relying on sketchy MacGufffins, and loose editing. You could see the plot twist over who would discover the Carfentil right from the early chapters. There is really little reason for minor characters from Three Pines to even be mentioned, and some new characters are unrealistic.
Not her best, but by very definition not every book can be.
Long time readers of these book reviews will know that Penny and I have long enjoyed an intensely deep romance, starting with delight at finding someone interesting and new, progressing through growing interest, moving to infatuation, and climaxing in her best work so far, THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY. Since then, our relationship has moved on, grown, less passionate, only making it stronger, more like understanding and cuddling now, spooning, accepting when she forgets to shave her legs or steals the blankets in the middle of the night. By Book #20, we’ll be checking each other’s backs for suspicious moles.
It’s because of this, that I know too much about her, that I feel comfortable giving Penny some advice, because of how much she’s exposed to me. Exposition. Explaining. There’s too much of it here. Show. Stop telling.That’ll re-kindle the romance, then.
The only problem with this book is that it isn’t Penny’s last book, which was simply tremendous.
It reminds me of the time I was enthralled by one of my other favourite authors, Tom Robbins, and his JITTERBUG PERFUME, which is still one of the best books I’ve ever read. I eagerly awaited his next book (which turned out to be SKINNY LEGS AND ALL) and felt disappointed, simply because while it was a good book, it wasn’t as great as his masterpiece.
What I don’t like about Penny’s latest is that is so much less organic than her previous books, which seem to have grown out of the characters. This latest takes a plot Penny is obviously invested in (she reported on it before she became a full-time writer), but this book starts with the plot, which she seems to have worked out before writing it, and the characters are plugged into those plots points instead of the other way around, not doing what they’d do naturally.
In my mind, it doesn’t work as well. The book is good, but it’s not “Gamache-good.”
On how formal education, learning, improving oneself, doesn’t always make things better…
[looking at some paintings hanging in a restaurant after having previously looked at some much superior painting by a master in a gallery]
“If he hadn’t looked into the windows of the Galerie Gagnon, Jean-Guy might have thought these [restaurant paintings] were quite good. But he had looked. And now he knew the difference. Part of him regretted that. He might now like better things, but he also liked fewer.”
Penny on feeling jealousy for what other people have, of feeling hatred towards people in your life and the devastating effect this has on yourself instead of the intended target(s). In this case, it refers both to Inspector Gamache’s feelings for his parents (who died when he was young), and successful but staid artist Peter Morrow who can’t accept that his artist wife accomplishments and talents have outstripped his own.
“It’s like drinking acid,” said Myrna, “and expecting the other person to die.”
I’ve worked overseas over half my life, in eight different countries and have been surprised not only at the sheer number, but large proportion, of severely messed up people I’ve met, far more than those that were comfortable simply staying at home.
One of Penny’s quotes echoes a thought that has long been in mind on that subject.
“The investigators knew that most people who took off were running from unhappiness. Loneliness. Failure. They ran, thinking the problem was one of location. They thought they could start fresh somewhere else.”
“It rarely worked. The problem was not geography.”