Skip to main content

A Better Man: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel

Review

A Better Man: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel

It is April in Québec, which is always an unsettled season. But this spring is like few others. Rivers rage as ice floes threaten bridges and low-lying areas. The residents of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache’s home village of Three Pines form brigades to fill sand bags in order to stem flooding as Canadian national forces respond throughout the province.

The headquarters of the Sûreté du Québec bustles to meet public demands as Gamache returns following a stressful nine-month hiatus. It is his first day back on the job after being cleared in the highly publicized investigation of a daring but successful drug-smuggling operation that nearly cost him his career. He will discover that a few law enforcement personnel have taken sides during the intervening months. Welcome, Armand Gamache, to the world of tweets and social media. We live in unsettled times.

Acting Chief Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Gamache’s son-in-law, served during Gamache’s absence. In two weeks, he will leave law enforcement to enter the private sector in Paris with his wife and small son. Followers of this series have watched the intense relationship between these two men rise and fall over the years. But his departure is heart-rending for Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie. Their only grandchild will grow up in Beauvoir’s native France, which is geographically close yet distant.

"Louise Penny’s literary mysteries reach beyond the scope of the standard page-turning crime novel. They are character-driven works, embracing the foibles and eccentricities of the individuals through her complex plotting."

As headquarters bolts into action to order emergency evacuations and highway closings, a call comes in from a frantic father who pleads for them to put out a missing persons report. His daughter failed to show up at his house the night before, and he fears that she is the victim of her abusive husband or an accident. She was last seen a day earlier near the flooding Bella Bella River just outside Three Pines. Gamache, inundated with the pending natural disaster, wants to honor the mandatory waiting period. However, a member of the force is a close family friend of the missing woman, so the search takes on a personal note as Gamache internalizes the request: What if it were my daughter? Thus he agrees to open an investigation. This leads to a tawdry foray into online dating, and viral and mean-spirited Facebook mashups of misleading information, with devastating results to all within its reach.

Louise Penny’s literary mysteries reach beyond the scope of the standard page-turning crime novel. They are character-driven works, embracing the foibles and eccentricities of the individuals through her complex plotting, and introducing us to their talents: their poetry, humor, paintings, music, philosophy and, sometimes, crimes. It is classic mystery that beats with the heart of the human condition.

Located in the tiny village of Three Pines, which appears on no maps nor can it be found on GPS in the wooded rural province of Québec, the continuing cast members seem like old friends. Whether we warm ourselves sipping wine by the crackling fire at the B&B with Gabri and Olivier whipping up a French specialty, admire the latest production in Clara’s art studio, smile at the senile Ruth’s brilliant poetic verse (the only essence left of the famed poet’s mental functions), or explore retired philosopher Myrna’s vast library of classics, we feel safe among old friends. A stroll through the woods with Gamache, Reine-Marie and their rescued German Shepherd, Henri, is a companionable walk in happier times. You might think “cozy,” but these books are so much more.

Penny, a Canadian, has created a character whose name has attained instant recognition. Gamache joins Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley, P. D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh and Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey in the pantheon of fictional detectives. More recent creations by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce) and Peter Lovesey (Peter Diamond) are within reach of the prize. And don’t forget old school giants like Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and the indubitable Arthur Conan Doyle. I look forward to the day when Netflix or Amazon Prime recreates my favorite tableaux for the small screen.

Perhaps I’m a bit biased because I live in one of those tiny villages that began when a distant relative built a dude ranch following WWII. It attracted artists, writers, philosophers, poets and musicians from all over America who wanted to get away from it all. Alas, urbanization has found us. We share the same zip code, but we’re still on no maps. Delivery drivers relying on GPS try to find us, but even Amazon has had to call and ask for directions. Pure bliss!

Reviewed by Roz Shea on September 6, 2019

A Better Man: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel
by Louise Penny

  • Publication Date: August 27, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250066212
  • ISBN-13: 9781250066213