Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Book Report/A Fatal Grace, 2006
In September 2006, I read Still Life, the first book in the Three Pines series by Louise Penny. I liked it very much, and gave it an 'A' in my reading journal. My dear friend, Kay, recently sent me the second and third in the series, and I couldn't wait to begin. The books came at the perfect time because I am embarking on the Canadian Book Challenge (see sidebar) and these books are set in the Eastern Townships of Québec. As far as I know this is the only mystery series using this locale, and it is one dear to my heart since my late father was born there.
Often in cozy mysteries, we meet a horrible character who soon is murdered. Well, the woman in this book was so awful, Tom quit reading it before she was killed. :<) I decided I would stick with it until the series' detective Armand Gamache appeared.
Though he was only in his early fifties, there was an old world charm about Gamache, a courtesy and manner that spoke of a time past. His body spoke of meals enjoyed and a life of long walks rather than contact sports.
I really liked him in the first book, and thought he might redeem the misery of reading about this terrible person, and he did. He is a wonderful character with a wife who is his perfect match.
Yet, even after the introduction of Gamache, the book still had a somber tone, which contrasts with the beautiful locale. I read recently that Louise Penny may be bringing back a 'Golden Age' of mysteries, and the reader can see comparisons with the Miss Marple books by Agatha Christie. St. Mary Mead is the essence of the perfect English village. It is beautiful and serene at first view, but behind those lovely cottage doors there is crime brewing, as in Three Pines. The series also reminds me a bit of the television mystery drama, Midsomer Murders; idyllic place, not so idyllic lives. This paragraph gives an indication of what I mean.
The days leading up to Christmas were active and full. Clara loved the season. Loved everything about it, from the sappy commercials to the tacky parade for Père Noël through St-Rémy sponsored by Canadian Tire, to the caroling organized by Gabri. The singers moved from house to house through the snowy village filling the night air with old hymns and laughter and puffs of breath plump with song and snowflakes. Villagers invited them into their living rooms and they carried on round pianos and Christmas trees, singing and drinking brandy eggnogs and eating shortbread and smoked salmon and sweet twisty breads and all the delicacies baked in the festive ovens. The carolers sang at every home in the village over the course of a few evenings, except one. By unspoken consent, they stayed away from the dark house on the hill. The old Hadley place.
After reading The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club with its emphasis on dialogue rather than description, this book was a feast for the imagination, as seen in these two passages.
Peter led them into the cozy living room and threw a birch log on the fire, the flames grabbing and crackling and leaping as the bark burst into flames. Gamache noticed again the honey pine wide-plank flooring, the mullioned windows looking out onto the village green, the piano and the bookcase, crammed with books and covering one wall. A sofa faced the open hearth and two easy chairs bracketed it. The hassocks in front of the seats were covered with old newspapers and magazines and books, splayed open.
The store felt like an old library in a country house. The walls were lined with warm wooden shelves, and they in turn were lined with books. Hooked rugs were scattered here and there and a Vermont Castings woodstove [this is what we have!] sat in the middle of the store with a sofa facing it and a rocking chair on either side.
I enjoyed this book. I loved going back to visit the village; reading about the snow, the sport of curling, the relations between the Anglos and the French in Québec. The mystery was complex, with many psychological layers. I did guess a couple of the elements, and even had a hint of whodunit, but it was still interesting to find out about all the connections. When Tom gave up the book, we talked about the negativity we felt in the first fifty or so pages, and he said it was like the unpleasant woman had put a curse on the whole town. When you read the book, you will find how prescient his words were.
Gamache knew this mystery, like all murders, had begun long ago. This was neither the beginning nor the end.