Tuesday, January 11, 2011
2011 reading begins with two mysteries by Louise Penny
Book Two: The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
The first two books of 2011 were mysteries by Louise Penny.
Increasingly, I've come to appreciate Penny's work in recasting the cozy mystery for a modern audience.
Largely set in the tiny Canadian village of Three Pines, Penny provides a fascinating cast of characters -- Chief Inspector Gamache, in particular, can hold his own with Banks or Rebus -- and through their lives she skillfully explores human nature, especially its dark side.
That's the value of such a large cast of charactes in a mystery series. Penny, who provides the reader with three sets of distinct characters, has the luxury of time and space to explore the twists and turns of human nature and to develop backstories for the most enduring of her characters.
The three sets of characters are Gamache and his investigative team, the villagers of Three Pines (both of these groupings re-appear from novel to novel) and finally those characters who are one-offs, appearing for the sake of the narrative in a single novel, but destined not to re-appear in future books.
In A Rule Against Murder, the village of Three Pines makes only a cameo appearance. Bulk of the novel is set in an isolated auberge where Gamache and his wife, Reine Marie, are vacationing. Also at the auberge, for an annual gathering, is a quarrelsome family that includes two of the Three Pines villagers that we've come to known.
Naturally, a member of the family is murdered, by a most ingenious method, which takes Gamache and the reader some time to unravel. It's not Penny's best book in the series, but it is especially good because of what we learn about Gamache's past and the insight into one of the two Three Pines familiars.
The Brutal Telling may be Penny's finest mystery to date. It involves the death of a hermit, whose existence in a cabin a short distance from Three Pines, is unknown to all of the villagers save one, until the hermit's untimely demise.
The mystery surrounding the hermit's identity and the treasure that fills his modest cabin is engaging, but what elevates the book is Penny's courage in tying the murder to one of the Three Pines denizens we've come to know since the series debuted.