The Long Way Home: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel
When STILL LIFE, Louise Penny’s first novel featuring Chief Inspector Gamache and the quirky residents of the quaint village of Three Pines, first released in 2006, it was an instant hit with reviewers and readers alike. Immediately hailed as a cozy or village mystery, her debut was compared to the Mitford series or Miss Marple. Such praise must have been encouraging but a bit daunting to be heralded as a possible successor to these icons of the genre. Penny has proven to be more, so much more, in succeeding novels that comparing her to Jan Karon and Agatha Christie is like comparing a Hershey bar to Belgian truffles. Both are tasty treats, but while one is satisfying and popular, the other can only be described as exquisite and rare.
"Each novel can stand on its own as [Penny] masterfully draws these evolved characters into the plot, but once you sample any one of her books, you will want to pull up a chair and enjoy the feast."
Penny has gone on to produce 10 character-driven novels that, by their very nature, must contain a murder. What else can she do with a protagonist who is the Chief Inspector of Homicide of the Sûreté du Québec? But these not-cozy, not-village mysteries have evolved into so much more. Her villagers have been imbued with such nuance, psychological depth and elegance that they often become the stars of the drama. Thrilling yet often amusing plots embroil artists, musicians, B&B hosts, the profane yet profound poet Ruth and her pet duck, a psychologist who has retired to open a used bookstore, and the occasional wayfarer. You begin rooting for them all, leaving Inspector Gamache’s crime-solving as a vehicle to convey Penny’s masterful storytelling. This is not to say that Inspector Gamache and his protégé, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and their complex relationship are given short shrift. THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY is one of the most emotionally compelling and mesmerizing offerings of the series, and my first introduction to the author.
In her latest novel, THE LONG WAY HOME, Peter Morrow, a talented and successful but unimaginative landscape artist, has left his wife, Clara, who stole his thunder by bursting onto the art scene (see HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN) with her brilliant art nouveau renderings. Their marriage is threatened by her success, and they have agreed to a one-year separation. Peter sets out on a lonely pilgrimage with a promise to return on a set date to reassess their relationship. When that day arrives and he does not come back, Clara seeks her old friend Gamache’s help to find out what has happened to him.
As Clara and her friend, bookstore owner Myrna Landers, Jean-Guy and the recently retired Gamache follow Peter’s footsteps from Montreal to the grungy quarters of old Quebec City and on to remote villages, they embark on a journey deep within the St. Lawrence River headwaters. A mad artist, one of Peter's professors at university, has established a cult of followers, and it is feared that Peter may have followed him. We are awed by the sheer, raw beauty of that ancient source of one of the world’s great rivers as we ride along white-knuckled as their journey takes them by small plane and packet boat to a remote cult colony where they confront the truth of what has happened to Peter.
Louise Penny has evolved from a contender as queen of the cozy, village mystery genre to be justifiably compared to P.D. James and Elizabeth George. Each novel can stand on its own as she masterfully draws these evolved characters into the plot, but once you sample any one of her books, you will want to pull up a chair and enjoy the feast. The food metaphor here cannot be ignored; sumptuous meals and exquisite wines await your pleasure.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on September 2, 2014