Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What we're reading: The next in a favorite series

A Great Reckoning is the next in Louise Penny's mystery series featuring Armand Gamache, former Chief of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec in Montreal. In #9 of this series (this book is #12), Gamache gave his all to clean up the corruption lurking beneath the surface of the Sûreté, reclaiming it for the good guys, and then took a well-deserved retirement. He and his beloved wife, Reine-Marie, moved permanently to the hidden village of Three Pines and (apart from solving a couple of mysteries in his spare time) have enjoyed their sojourn there, visiting the bistro for delectable meals, and socializing with their neighbors and friends.

Everyone, however, knew deep down that Gamache would never be content to permanently rest on his laurels, and in this novel, after much pondering of all the alternate career options available to him, he has chosen to become the Commander of the Sûreté Academy. Although he has gotten rid of the bad seeds within the Sûreté itself, he knows from the quality and attitudes of the recent cadets who have graduated to become officers that something is still seriously wrong at the Academy from which those officers come, so this is the next logical step, however reluctant he may be to embroil himself once again.

What he finds is even more horrific than he can imagine, and turns into a murder mystery that involves several other professors, a representative from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and four of the cadets.

With Louise Penny, one plot line is never enough, so we have another small mystery originating from Three Pines that ultimately ties into the bigger plot line in a way that seems to incriminate Gamache, as well as one or more of the cadets. Then there are the questions everyone has about the most recent admission to the Academy, Amelia Choquet, and her mysterious tie to or hold over Gamache, to complicate things even further.

Every time I read one of the books in this series, I end by wondering how she can keep bettering the previous experience. By now, her readers have become intimately involved with all her characters (this is definitely a series you must read from beginning to end), and yet there are always new layers and quirks and surprising discoveries. I particularly appreciated the experience this time because I just finished reading a book from another series whose author comes up with great new mysteries to solve, but whose protagonist has remained static and cardboard flat for practically the entire span. But not Armand Gamache and his family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, setting...they are reassuringly familiar, and yet expand and deepen with every story, and the depth of emotion contained within their interactions is the most engaging (and moving) part of the books. These are mysteries, but they are so much more. I am touched by the human fears and feelings that are explored in each one, that grow ever more intense and more poignant.

A fellow Goodreads reviewer wrote about the satisfaction of having an annual August "date" with Armand Gamache (Penny is extraordinarily faithful to her deadlines), and I have to say that I look forward to August for that reason with the same giddy excitement and anticipation. Long may you write, Louise Penny!

Note: This series is popular enough that there are multiple holds on this book--bad news for those of you who are up to date, but if this is a new series to you, or you are behind by a few books, then enjoy your reading experience while you wait! The first book in the series is Still Life.

If this series sounds appealing but you'd like to start one with fewer books to catch up on, you might try Robert Galbraith's mysteries featuring private eye Cormoran Strike, the first book of which is The Cuckoo's Calling. Only three books so far, but Cormoran and his sidekick Robin are similarly engaging.

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