August 30, 2019
Genre/Categories: Mystery, Detective
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A better man or a bitter man?
In #15 of the Chief Inspector Gamache series, A Better Man, a dangerous spring flood causes the river to rise, social media displays its cruel side, and the search for a missing woman intensifies. Meanwhile, life is complicated for Gamache who returns to the Surete du Quebec as second-in-charge and reports to Beauvoir.
Typical of Louise Penny’s stories, the setting of Three Pines is a safe haven, cases are complicated and sometimes morally ambiguous, and the character of leaders is explored and tested. Will Gamache return as a better man or a bitter man?
Setting: It’s my opinion that the cozy, atmospheric setting of the series is its main draw. The amazing food descriptions make your mouth water. Most readers envision themselves relaxing in front of the roaring fire in the bistro surrounded by good friends and engaging conversation while enjoying hot chocolate and a croissant. Fans of the Chief Inspector Gamache series often refer to it as The Three Pines series. Mugs, t-shirts, totes, book sleeves, and assorted items stamped with Three Pines can be found in Etsy shops like this one or the #meetmeinthreepines hashtag can be seen/followed on Instagram.
Here’s an example of how the setting also serves as a metaphor for a safe haven and a place of acceptance and healing:
“Dominica smiled as she thought of the residents peering through their curtains at the wild black woman in dreadlocks and combat boots sitting in the middle of their peaceful village. She must, she thought, scare them to death. She’d spotted the bistro when she’d arrived, and now she made for it. Her boots, veterans of sidewalk garbage and dog shit, squelched on grass and mud. She opened the door….what she found was a place both contemporary and somehow ageless. It seemed to straddle the centuries. Comfortable armchairs upholstered in fresh linens sat around an assortment of rugged old tables. Dark oak. Maple. Pine. Tables made from the forests that surrounded the village. They were scratched and dented and worn by a century or more of meals. Of drinks. Of companionship. And hardship. The place settings, displayed in an old Welsh dresser, were white china with clean modern lines. Oriental rugs, hand-tied, were scattered on the wide-plank floors. The walls were freshly plastered and painted a shade that contrasted nicely with the warm wood and stone. The bistro smelled of rich coffee and subtle maple smoke from the fieldstone fireplaces at either end of the room. It was a place of confidences. Of companionship. Where secrets were exchanged and yearnings admitted. Where children grew into adults, into seniors. Where homecomings were celebrated and lives celebrated by those left behind. It was a place where both grandmother and granddaughter would feel at home. “Bonjour,” said a young woman coming from behind the long bar to greet her. “Une table? C’est votre choix.” She smiled at Dominica, as though dreadlocked New York critics were their regular customers, and pointed to the near-empty room. It was midafternoon, between rushes. The few other customers had glanced at her, then gone back to their conversations. Showing little interest and no fear. “Ummm,” said Dominica, not at all sure what the young woman had said. “Oh, sorry. English. Sit anywhere you like. The fireplace has just come open. I’ll clean the table for you.” The young woman spoke in slightly accented English. As Dominica followed her to the large armchair by the fire, she thought she might have to do something rare for her. Reconsider her opinion.”
Character Development: Another strength of the Three Pines series is the character development and relationships. In A Better Man, Gamache and Bouvier are personally affected by the case of the missing woman because they ponder “What would I do if it were my daughter?” Gamache and Bouvier are also working out their professional relationship now that Gamache is second-in-charge and Bouvier is the acting Superintendent. This is further complicated because Bouvier is Gamache’s son-in-law. I appreciate that Penny creates these two examples of detectives that are thoughtful, trustworthy, and kind, and that they strive for moral leadership and value family.
The Plot: It takes quite a bit of time and consideration to solve the mystery of the missing woman in this story. At times, I feel like it was a little over-wrought, but the dynamics of the setting and interpersonal relationships carry the day. It also seems that the crisis that Clara faces is a distraction from the story and doesn’t add to it. However, it’s because of Clara’s story that we have the Dominica storyline (see excerpt above) and Penny can build her theme that Three Pines is a kind place that is free of intolerance and prejudice. Keeping the metaphor of Three Pines strong is as important as the mystery in every one of her stories.
Content Notes: TW for descriptions of and references to domestic abuse (no actual scenes); the writing is also sprinkled with profanity (more so in this book than the others I think).
Recommended: Of course, I recommend A Better Man for all fans of the Inspector Gamache series. Although it’s possible to read this as a stand-alone, I recommend reading the entire series in order because of the overarching political intrigue and character development. Fans of gentle mysteries will appreciate this series for its thoughtfulness, cozy sense of place, and unique characters. Reading a new installment is like a visit with old friends.
My Favorites: As with any series, some of the stories are stronger than others and everyone has their different favorites. Although they are all solid reads, I do have some favorites and they are How the Light Gets In, A Trick of the Light, and Glass Houses. I think Glass Houses is my VERY favorite!
My Rating for A Better Man: 4 Stars
Meet the Author, Louise Penny
LOUISE PENNY is the #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail bestselling author of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels. She has won numerous awards, including a CWA Dagger and the Agatha Award (five times) and was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. She lives in a small village south of Montréal.
Is A Better Man on your TBR or have you already read it?
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Come back tomorrow (Saturday) for my August Reading Wrap Up.
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