A Better Man by Louise Penny is the latest addition to the #1 New York Times bestselling series starring Armand Gamache.
She has done it again. With a vengeance. Take the same backwater in Québec, the same core of main characters, and write fifteen crime stories with that. You will probably end up with predictable plots. But Louise Penny doesn’t. Not ever. A Better Man is here to prove it. Once more.
After experiencing difficult developments in her personal life, Louise Penny offers her readers a new book full of transitions: Jean-Guy Beauvoir has had enough of the pain received and inflicted in his job in the Sûreté de Québec. He is now preparing to leave with his young family and settle in Paris.
Before that, he has to solve one last case, this time in tandem with his father-in-law, Armand Gamache, who is preparing to get back to his former position as the head of Sûreté. After the hardest months in his career. With all they have been through together, this could become an explosive situation.
Plus, the murder they are investigating rings too close to their own lives, challenging both to deal with it without being emotionally involved. But can you remain neutral and detached when a father realizes his pregnant daughter is found dead? And when your dearest one, your daughter, or your wife, is herself pregnant?
Another character finds herself at a crossroads. The painter Clara. Just like Gamache, she has to face cruel reactions to her work on social media. This could be the end of her career. Or a new beginning.
How will they all emerge from the present crisis? As bitter people? Better people?
Will their world even survive? Three Pines, Québec, is definitely not a sheltered place. Climate change is threatening it in this fifteenth volume in the series. With catastrophic flooding.
Louise Penny is a mystery in herself. Once again, she managed to deliver a unique book, with an original plot. And red herrings. And many twists and layers. Layers that keep getting more involved. If her latest books dealt with drugs in the city, this one focuses on domestic violence. And violence through social media.
At the same time, fans of Three Pines have a new chance to enjoy Penny’s great art at describing characters, the depth of human emotions, as well as landscape.
The sky was grey and stretch and threatened rain. Or sleet. Ice pellets or snow. The dirt road was covered in slush and mud. There were patches of snow on the sodden grass. Villagers out walking their dogs were clumping around in rubber boots and wrapped in layers of clothing, hoping to keep April away from their skin and out of their bones.
It was not possible. Somehow, having survived another bitterly cold Canadian winter, early spring always got them. It was the damp. And the temperature swings. And the illusion and delusion that it must be milder out, surely, by now.
The forest beyond stood like an army of winter wraiths, skeleton arms dangling, limbs clacking together in the breeze.
Woodsmoke drifted from the old fieldstone, brick, clapboard homes. A signal to some higher power. Send help. Send heat. Send a real spring and not this crapfest of slush and freezing, teasing days. Days of snow and warmth.
April in Québec was a month of cruel contrasts. Of sublime afternoons spent sitting outside in the bright sunshine with a glass of wine, then waking to another foot of snow. A month of muttered curses and mud-caked boots and splattered cars, and dogs rolling, then shaking. So that every front entrance was polka-dotted with muck. On the walls. On the ceilings. On the floors. And people.
A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit Knowlton, in the Eastern Townships, one of the main places of inspiration for Three Pines. With its lake and quaint old buildings, and its homey bookshop, it exudes peace and quiet. Qualities reflected in the pace of A Better Man. Armand Gamache approaches his investigations with wisdom and contemplation.
Is it true? Is it kind? Does it need to be said?
Armand does not hurry. He takes time to look, feel, and think. The writing style itself, with many short sentences and pauses, beautifully conveys the same atmosphere.
And yet, when the time is ripe, the book also contains nerve-wracking suspenseful scenes, where events rush too quickly at the protagonists, with the violence of the Bella Bella river threatening to engulf the nearby villages.
Lovers of this series will also enjoy how the author integrated elements of previous books. And of course, we meet the same characters. Including the poet Ruth. And her duck Rosa—featured with short refrains, another nice little touch that helps keep all the threads together.
Reading another book by Louise Penny is like spending some annual time with good old friends. And age and experience have the potential to make them better. The only bitterness to it, is that we’ll have to wait next year to meet them again.
VERDICT: Louise Penny is a mystery in herself. Once again, for this #15 i the series, she managed to deliver a unique book, with an original plot. And red herrings. And many twists and layers.