No, that wasn’t a misspell. Although…anything with ganache would go well with Gamache. I am referring to the latest book in the detective series by Louise Penny. As is usual every August, I anticipate the arrival of Gamache, and then spend two days reading it and I’m done for the year. I try to draw it out, but it’s simply not possible.
In A Better Man, the newest book featuring the Chief Inspector, catastrophic things arrive in the typical three: The spring floods in Québec are threatening to overwhelm the riverbanks and possibly the dams of the entire province; there is a vicious twitter campaign villifying Armand as he returns to the Sûreté du Québec as Chief Inspector; and in the middle of all this, Gamache’s protegé, Lysette Cloutier, implores the Sûreté’s help to locate a friend’s daughter, who’s gone missing.
This one is good…but not as good as some. The mystery—the missing woman, Vivienne—was a little overwrought, with some characters in hysterics for most of the book; while Penny throws in various red herrings to prolong the suspense, I had gotten an inkling early on of the possible solution, which was in fact true (though not for the reasons I had surmised), and I kept waiting for the characters to figure it out as well. I have great respect for both the intelligence and instincts of Gamache, his son-in-law and cohort, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and his colleague, Isabelle Lacoste; but in this case they personalized their feelings by picturing Gamache’s daughter and Jean-Guy’s wife, Annie, as the woman in peril, and missed key clues while obsessing on bringing someone to justice.
One part that I love about the Gamache novels—the eccentric community of Three Pines, where the Gamaches now reside—seemed subdued in this book. Apart from the disastrous reviews of Clara’s new art form (landscape miniatures), the references to the other residents were incidental, brief, and not particularly memorable, and I felt like the book suffered a little accordingly. Not much…but a little.
Equally bothersome is my observation that Penny’s prose has devolved in the course of this series. I remember a couple of books, towards the middle of the pack, over which I waxed lyrical about the poetic language, but that’s no longer the case. I find the short, partial, strung-together sentences with which she now expresses herself to be jarring. I’m not sure what happened, but once I noticed this, I went back to examine those previous works and recognized the differences. It’s sad to me, because the overwhelming mood of these books is determined by the subtlety, humor, pathos, and grace of the character of Armand Gamache, and yet those things are no longer expressed in the kind of language which one would expect Gamache himself to use. I am surprised no editor has brought this up to the author; or, if the editor has done so, that Penny has not taken note. Perhaps she prefers this newer, choppy, abrupt style. I do not.
So, while I enjoyed my annual visit to Three Pines, the Sûreté, and the world of Gamache, it wasn’t an unalloyed pleasure.
This is a series I frequently recommend to those looking for a combination of police procedural and character-driven complexity—somewhat akin to the Dublin Murder Squad novels of Tana French. I usually tell people that if they don’t thoroughly enjoy the first book, they should try one or two more, because the series improves exponentially with every volume. Although I no longer feel I can say that, exactly, it’s still true that it’s a strong series with a lot to offer. Don’t let my remarks about this latest volume deter you from checking out the others. There are 15 books so far in the series, and all but four have received five-star ratings from me!
And just for fun, here is a chocolate raspberry ganache cake worthy of being served up by the bistro in Three Pines. If you’re a “foodie,” be prepared to be constantly craving exotic hot drinks and French treats throughout the reading of this series.