A World of Curiosities

I was late to the party reading Louise Penny’s most recent in her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series—they reliably drop in the fall of each year (although this one, coming out in November, was later than the usual August or September denouement), and I have just gotten to it in April, five months later. But I am happy to say it was worth the wait, and harks back, in more ways than one, to the best books of the series.

I always enjoy the books in which Penny explores origin stories for her characters, and A World of Curiosities went back to the original meeting and co-opting of Inspector Jean-Guy de Beauvoir into Gamache’s work circle and later, inevitably, into the family. And the case over which they met plays a central role in the current mystery, so that we are simultaneously intrigued by the past case and put into a major state of anticipation over the current one. This is a great ploy for keeping readers enthralled with the story line. It becomes even more engaging with the inclusion of Amelia Choquet, one of my favorite characters.

The creation of the siblings, Sam and Fiona, children of a murdered woman who managed to tragically damage them before she died, gives an entrée into the eternal question of nature vs. nurture, and also messes with the reader’s faith in the instincts of the detectives. Gamache cannot help but feel a frisson of fear and dread each time he encounters Sam, while Beauvoir believes he is completely off base and is being naive by trusting Fiona. When the two become a part of a bigger case, something Gamache believed to be shelved for good along with its perpetrator, John Fleming, lodged in the Special Handling Unit (SHU) of Montreal’s most notorious prison, the tension just keeps ratcheting higher. I loved this quote from one Goodreads reviewer:

“Despite the ravioli and eclairs,
this is no cozy mystery.”

I was also pleased that something lacking in the last book seemed much more present in this one: the Three Pines community. In the last story, interactions amongst the villagers seemed both subdued and incidental, while in this one the presence and significance of the residents came roaring back, with new connections being made and new characters introduced.

I like to scan the star ratings of books on Goodreads to see what other readers thought; I am somewhat puzzled by those for this book, since it was either the absolute favorite with five stars or the most disappointing with one or two! My vote is for the upper end of the spectrum, and I hope Penny will continue to tap into the richness of her characters’ back stories for future tales.

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