Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny

Image from Louise Penny

In Number 10 of the Gamache series, someone from Three Pines has to die. Not just a passing victim, but one of the major characters who has endured from the beginning.

Gamache, now retired as Chief of Homicide from the Surete du Quebec and living with Reine Marie in Three Pines, is bogged down in the midst of a mysterious poetry book. He sits on the Surprised by Joy bench above the village, unable to get beyond a certain page. There is a balm in Gilead...

Parked beside him on the same bench, the worried artist Clara Morrow waits for an overdue date with her husband. Why hasn't he returned? They planned this meeting date a year before, when they embarked on a trial separation. On the hill overlooking Three Pines, she sits beside Armand Gamache, unwilling to request his help. Until finally she does.

Beauvoir is still living and working in Montreal, handling his personal ghosts. When on a visit to his parents in law in Three Pines, he is asked by Gamache to help Clara find Peter, there is only one answer possible. Oui, patron. With some regret, he lets Annie go back to Montreal alone and joins Clara, Gamache and Myrna to seek the missing man.

Like Penny's other works, this is much more than a cracking good mystery. Its echoes probe deep into the human condition. Seeking humour in the midst of horror. Following one's calling. Facing oneself. Not mistaking movement for progress. Nole timere. Only after facing down the fear comes the salve, the boon, the peace.

Nole timere. Do not fear. The author will translate the Latin phrase. Or the French. Eventually. On the surface is the mystery, laced with humorous dialogue and gorgeous images of Quebec. This story is set amid the ferocious weather and landscape of a tiny settlement near the mouth of the St. Lawrence, on the remote Gaspe Peninsula.

The names of the fictitious villages, Agneau-de-Dieu and Tabaquen, the mythic characters of the ferrymen, fishermen, and art dealers conjure up the old Canadian nation of Quebec. Even he touristic eatery, La Muse, hints at something ancient and deep. The hardcover image is a painting by the iconic Quebec artist, Clarence Gagnon.

From the redoubtable Louise Penny, a book of many layered splendour. Again. She set out to do a series of ten books, but I doubt if Armand and Jean-Guy and Reine Marie and Annie are ready to bow out of the author's life -- or that of their readers -- just yet.

An obvious direction for future books would be to promote Beauvoir to main protagonist. A man now tempered by hard experience, he can forge ahead in the Surete. That way, Armand can step in from his retirement to help as needed.

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