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Bookends: Chaos and Woe are misdirections in this mystery October 20, 2015

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Bookends: Chaos and Woe are misdirections in this mystery

By Dan DavidsonBrutal telling

April 20, 2015

– 896 words –

 

The Brutal Telling

By Louise Penny

Headline Publishing

374 pages

$24.95

Louise Penny’s work falls slightly to one side of the sub-genre called “cozy mysteries”. For the most part the actual murder will occur off stage and there will be a minimal amount of gore. Most of the novels take place in a Quebec village called Three Pines. Over the course of the novels we haven’t really met that many of the inhabitants of the village, which include the owners of a B&B bistro, an antiques dealer, a retired psychologist who runs a used book store, a artist couple and a Gov. General’s Award winning poet who has a pet duck. Other characters emerge as we need to know them, and there a few new ones introduced in this story.

The book has a bit of a preamble, in which Olivier Brulé, the antiques dealer, meets with an old man we are left to call the Hermit. Olivier and the Hermit have been meeting for years, for reasons that we will find out later, and have been sharing very mythic and scary stories of “the great and grim army with Chaos looming and leading the Furies. Inexorable. Unstoppable. Close.”

Snippets of this story will reappear in various chapters as the story progresses. They are descriptions of intricately made wooden carvings.

The two part that night for Olivier to make his 20 minute walk back to Three Pines and the bistro. The last words between them are “Chaos is here, old son.” It’s not quite clear who says it.

Imagine Olivier’s surprise when he finds his fortnightly companion sprawled in front of one of the fireplaces in the bistro the next morning, dead, with his head smashed in. Well, murders happen, but Olivier knows full well who this man is, and when Inspector Gamache and his team arrive from Montreal, Olivier tells them nothing about the man, the cabin in the woods, or anything about his connection with corpse. Why? What is that he is hiding even from his lover, Gabri, the man with whom he lives and runs the B&B?

The investigation is hampered for some time by this lack of identity, lack of crime scene – for he certainly wasn’t murdered where he was found – and therefor lack of any discernible motive.

As always in Three Pines there’s more going on, some of it connected to events in previous books. These are introduced without going into excruciating detail. The male artist is having a dry spell, while his wife’s star seems to be on the ascendant. The poet is more irascible than ever, and has everyone over for what must be one of the most awkward soirees ever.

The house on the hill that was the scene of two horrible murders a few years back has been purchased and is being transformed into the sort of rural spa that may just drive the B&B out of business. But the owners, new to Three Pines, are a troubled family, and the arrival of the long estranged husband and father, whom the son had long thought to be dead, further complicates their lives.

As part of their development plan they have been brushing out the old paths in the forest, hoping to make them clear enough for walking trails and perhaps even horse riding trails. This activity comes close to exposing the cabin in the woods, which turns out to be the scene of the crime.

When they enter, Gamache and his team are shocked to discover not only the evidence of the murder, but a woodland cabin patterned after those built on Haida Gwaii, clear across the country, a cabin stuffed with priceless antiquities, dishes, lamps, priceless first editions of books, all being horded by a man who has so much loose cash floating around that he has been using it to stuff cracks in the walls to keep out the drafts in winter. A lot of the artwork seems to date back to items that went missing during World War II.

The cabin and some verbal clues end up sending Gamache well out of his comfort zone to Haida Gwaii, where he does pick up some clues as to the murdered man’s identity. There’s an Emily Carr connection, as might be expected in a book with this title. Carr referred to her father’s explanation of the facts of life with that phrase, and the solution to this particular murder is another sort of brutal telling all its own.

I did not expect the ending of this novel. I understand it and it makes sense, but I was disappointed by the identity of the killer.

Louise Penny is on a roll. Each of the ten novels in her Inspector Gamache series has either won or been nominated for at least one prestigious mystery genre award. She’s won two Canadian Arthur Ellis Awards, four Anthony (Boucher) Awards, five Agatha (Christie) Awards and the Nero (Wolfe) Award. Aside from those she’s been nominated for a slew of other awards.

This present book, the fifth, which came out in 2009, won the Agatha and the Anthony. At the time winning a third Agatha was unprecedented, but she’s scored twice more since then and the 2014 award season hasn’t reported yet.

-30-

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