The Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (2016)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #12

great reckoning l penny

The the main character of Louise Penny’s outstanding mystery series, Armand Gamache, returns to solve another mystery in A Great Reckoning. In this installment, he must solve a murder, uncover a complicated corruption scheme, and he must also face some painful truths about his own past — revealing secrets he has been keeping for most of his life — in order to solve the crimes.

When the previous book ended, Armand was faced with answering the question “what next?” What would be the next chapters in his personal and professional lives? That question is answered in the opening chapters when Penny reveals that Armand has come out of retirement to take over running the Sûreté du Québec Academy. Armand hopes to undo the damage that years of abusive leadership has wrought and to help lead the young cadets in becoming wise and respectful officers.

When Armand took over the Academy, he fired most of the old professors and hired new ones to lead the students without cruelty. However, he left in place the most corrupt, cruelest, and most abusive of the old professors — Serge Le Duke — in the hope that having the man on campus would help Armand uncover proof of his corruption and place him in prison.

A few months into his tenure, Armand feels that he is making progress with the students and feels that the safer, more accepting Academy culture is training a new generation of talented investigators. Armand is wrong.

Serge Le Duke is found murdered, execution style, in his private rooms and all of the evidence suggests that either a student or professor was responsible for the crime. Immediately, four students emerge as central to the case. Armand and the other investigators know that these students know more than they are telling, but are they covering up committing the crime? Or are they covering up information that would lead to the killer?

In a questionably legal decision, Armand moves the four cadets to his home village of Three Pines for the duration of the investigation. To keep the cadets busy, he tasks them with finding out the origins of a mysterious map that has been found in the village and — baffling, a copy of the same map was found in the murdered man’s rooms — to see if the students can find out how the map relates to the case.

Armand’s decisions regarding the new rules at the Academy; his choice of cadets he admitted to the school; his decision to move the four cadets to Three Pines; and his decision to leave a corrupt man in a power position are all cloaked in mystery. In order to catch the killer, Armand must answer these questions and many more about his shady actions in the recent months; his answers will not only expose his secrets to his family and colleagues, but also expose secrets that may harm the four cadets at the center of the mystery.

 

 

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The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny (2015)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #11

the nature of the beast

After a few weeks off from my Louise Penny reading spree, I was thrilled to finally restart the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series yesterday. Penny has returned the action back to the small Quebec village of Three Pines and reassembled her cast of beloved characters who work together to solve another mysterious murder.

Fall is approaching Three Pines and the residents are reveling in the beautiful weather and fall colors descending down the mountain. Now retired from the police, Armand Gamache and his wife are settling into a peaceful, quiet life in the village; filled with rest, good friends, and delicious meals. Armand has recently been fielding offers to return to the police force, as well as other offers to work for various government and international agencies. Despite increasing pressure to return to work, Armand has been reluctant to do so. He is at a crucial crossroads: what does “next” look like for he and Reine-Marie?

The calm exterior of the village is shattered when a little boy is found murdered, his body disguised as an accident and his father rumored to be a prime suspect. Armand assists his former colleagues in solving the murder and makes an early, critical discovery: the boy’s body has been moved. The search for the site of his murder leads to an unimaginable find: a cave hiding an enormous Soviet-era missile launcher hidden in the Quebec wilderness.

Soon the case spins out in a million directions: who build this gun? Why is it hidden outside of Three Pines? Is it still capable of firing? And who was intended target when the weapon was built?

Armand and the police force must dig deep into the weapon’s history, going back to the start of the Cold War and the years of the nuclear arms race. Military experts and secret service agents soon arrive in Three Pines to investigate the case; causing tensions between the different groups. Armand wants to find the boy’s killer, the other agents want to find out more about the gun and who built it. These tensions cause everyone to begin hiding information from one another, stalling out the search for the murderer.

When another citizen is killed, the case veers wildly off course and Armand and the others must dig deep into documents about physics, weapons design, military strategy, and government secrets to find all of the answers they seek.

The Likeness by Tana French (2008)

Dublin Murder Squad series, Book #2

the likeness tana french

Tana French’s first book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, In The Woods, was highly recommended to me by several people but when I read it I found it strangely hard to like and never bothered to read the next book in the series. However, after reading only “light” novels and non-fiction over the holidays, I was in the mood for something a bit juicier and the library had a copy of The Likeness on the shelf. I am so glad I gave the series another try; as this novel was thrilling, intriguing, and completely unlike any police procedural I have ever read.

Our heroine, Detective Cassie Maddox, was a rising star in the Dublin police force, whose work in Undercover had earned her a coveted spot on the Murder Squad in the first book of the series. However, several errors and unethical choices by Maddox during a high-profile murder case resulted in a humiliating nervous breakdown and a demotion to another unit.

The opening of The Likeness finds Maddox working Domestic Violence cases and still struggling with psychological issues resulting from her last, disastrous case in Murder. When she receives a call from two detectives — her former boss from Undercover and her boyfriend in Murder — asking her to report to a crime scene, she is reluctant to comply. Terrified that refusing would have her fired, and equally terrified that her loss of nerve will be revealed, she goes.

What greets her there is something that she never could have predicted: the young woman who has been murdered is her exact doppelgänger, who has died using the alias “Lexie Madison,” one that Maddox herself invented when she was working Undercover years earlier. Shocked at the turn of events, Maddox cannot understand why she has been pulled into the investigation.

The two detectives leading in the case have an outrageous — and slightly unethical — request of Maddox. They would like to conceal the woman’s murder and send Maddox undercover into the Lexie’s life to see if they can catch her killer. On one hand, Maddox is horrified at the thought of working in the field for the first time since her breakdown. On the other hand, she knows she was a master at Undercover work and is intrigued at the idea of being asked to take on such a delicate — and dangerous — task.

She agrees and soon she is moving into a large estate outside of Dublin, where Lexie — using a stolen identity — lives with her four best friends, all of whom are murder suspects. Each day she must simultaneously be Lexie and learn who Lexie was pretending to be. Having told her friends she survived a stabbing and is recovering from a coma and memory loss (to help conceal any differences they might notice), Maddox slowly has to earn their trust by becoming “their Lexie” and getting them to relax enough to reveal what really happened the night of the murder.

But a strange thing starts to happen to Maddox during the months she is living undercover with the four suspects: she begins to fall in love with the life they are living and deeply care for them. All four of them are orphans, as she is, and they are all creating a life outside of the mainstream: a life filled with music, art, literature, good food, and a friendship that Maddox has never before experienced and finds intoxicating. The lines between who she is and who she is pretending to be grow blurry and soon the investigation stalls. These wonderful people could not have hurt anyone, Maddox begins to believe.

Knowing Maddox is in too deep, the two detectives on the outside force her hand by revealing that one, or all, of the housemates most certainly killed Lexie. Shocked to learn that she has cozied up to the very killer she was sent their to arrest jerks her back into herself. Maddox begins to tear the group apart, hoping that they will reveal the killer before anyone tries to kill Lexie again.

I found it utterly unique to read a murder mystery where the detective lives with and comes to deeply care for the suspects, developing “some creepy variant of Stockholm syndrome” that threatens the case and puts her life in danger. Emotionally rich and filled with a truly unique mystery to unravel, The Likeness was a wonderful read!

Hardcore Twenty Four by Janet Evanovich (2017)

Two other books in the Stephanie Plum series have been reviewed on this site. To find them, click on the “Janet Evanovich” tag on the main page.

hardcore 24

Stephanie Plum, the inept but lovable bounty hunter, is back to solve yet another mystery with her unique brand of mediocre sleuthing. Hardcore Twenty-Four opens with Stephanie in her usual predicaments: running low on cash, juggling feelings for two men, and partnered with wildly unpredictable colleague who hinders her work as a bounty hunter about as much as she helps.

Trenton New Jersey is abuzz with gossip about a series of bizarre crimes: someone has been breaking into funeral homes and decapitating bodies awaiting burial. If that was not creepy enough, the police begin to discover other bodies all over town: some headless, some with their heads left on but their brains gone. The predominant theory:  a zombie horde has invaded Trenton.

When she is asked to track down a young man who blew up a building trying to cook meth (and missed his court dates), Stephanie finds herself drawn into the zombie mystery. While she tracks down her criminal, she keeps having run in’s with people who very well could be zombies — or at least people who look like the living dead. Rather than leave it to the police to solve the mystery, Stephanie feels compelled to keep tracking the so-called “zombies,” certain that if she can find her missing skip, she can get to the bottom of the strange string of crimes upsetting the city.

While Stephanie does get to the bottom of the things, she does so in her signature way: with plenty car crashes, explosions, gun fights, with help from all manner of crazy side-kicks. Hardcore Twenty-Four does not add anything new to the Stephanie Plum series, but it does not disappoint loyal fans either.

 

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (2014)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #10

Spoiler Alert: This blog post contains some information about the series that serious fans might be upset to learn before they read the book themselves! Proceed with caution super-fans!

the long way home

After the thrill-ride of How the Light Gets In, the book that proceeds this one in the series, readers will find The Long Way Home is a subtler, more nuanced story; one that is quite different in tone from the other books in the series. Most notable is the fact that Armand Gamache has retired and he and his beloved wife have moved into a home on the village green in Three Pines. Surrounded by the dear friends he has made while investigating murders in and around the town over the years, Armand finds himself deeply at peace.

However, his neighbor and friend, Clara Morrow is not at peace: her husband is missing. After a terrible betrayal was revealed to her in A Trick of the Light, Clara asked her husband Peter to leave their home for one year, while they both decided if their marriage could be repaired. Peter was due to come home mid-summer, but he did not arrive, nor write or call Clara. Weeks have passed and Clara, now simultaneously furious and terrified, feels that she must find Peter.  Has Peter not returned because he does not want to, or because he cannot?

Even though doing so will burden Armand Gamache, Clara begs him to help her search. He reluctantly agrees. Together with the help of Clara’s best friend Myrna, and Jean Guy Beauvoir (who still works for the police and can utilize those resources) the group sets off to find Peter. However, finding him proves much, much more difficult than they imagined. Peter seems to have vanished with almost no trace.

Painstakingly the group finds the barest of threads that lead them across Canada, always one step behind Peter. As they draw closer and closer to where they think he might be, it becomes clear that there is a sinister plot afoot that Peter — wittingly or not — may have become involved in.

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (2013)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #9

how the light gets in

For the ninth book in her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Louise Penny has written her most complex, broad-reaching, and thrilling novel of the series so far. Christmas is fast-approaching and Armand finds himself weary and heart-sick: his second-in-command Jean Guy Beauvoir has left the homicide department and cut ties with Armand; his superiors at the Sûreté du Québec are pressuring Armand to quit his job; and the young officers in his department are refusing to follow his command. Armand is working, delicately and carefully, try to unravel the real reasons that his superiors are trying to force him out. His instincts tell him that there are crimes being committed within the Sûreté that someone desperately does not want Armand to look into; so much so that they are trying to make his work-life miserable enough to force him to resign.

Despite the chaos that has descended onto the department, Armand must continue to investigate murders, it is his duty and his moral obligation to help find the men and women who have taken lives and bring them to justice. Only now, Armand must do it with almost no support. It is a murder that brings him back to Three Pines once again, to look for clues into the murder of a once-famous woman. While in the village, Armand realizes its remote location would also allow him to perfect place to investigate his fellow officers from afar.

With the help of a few agents who are still loyal to him, Armand sets up a base in Three Pines and — using the woman’s murder as cover — begins to bring to light the corruption within the Sûreté. What he uncovers is more shocking than any of the team can imagine, and uncovering those secrets puts not only Armand in danger, but all of the villagers in Three Pines as well.

Thrilling and complex, the novel brings to conclusion several story-lines with twists and turns on nearly every page. A page-turner that was impossible to put down, even on the busiest of days, Thanksgiving! My guests may have felt slightly neglected but I had to know how it would all come together in the end!

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (2012)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #8

“Gregorian chants…were so old, more than a millennium, that they predated written music. The chants were simple, but there was power in that very simplicity. The first chants were soothing, contemplative, magnetic. They had such a profound effect on those who sang and heard them that the ancient chants became known as ‘the beautiful mystery.’ The monks believed there were singing the word of God, in the calm, reassuring, hypnotic voice of God.” Prologue, The Beautiful Mystery

Armand Gamache and his second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, find themselves flying over the Quebec wilderness at the start of the series’ eighth book, The Beautiful Mystery. The two men have been asked to fly to a remote monastery — Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, Saint Gilbert Among the Wolves — to investigate the murder of one of the order’s twenty-four reclusive monks. Armand and Jean Guy will be among the first ever non-religious men to enter the church, which was built in secret nearly four-hundred years ago by a group of Catholic monks running from the Inquisition.

The order has always been made up of only twenty-four monks, men who have lived cloistered in the wilderness, under a vow of silence, never relying on the outside world. There only indulgence is their love of Gregorian chanting, which fills them all with religious ecstasy when they sing.  After nearly four-hundred years of solitude so extreme that even the Pope did not know they still existed, that peace has been shattered. One of their order has been murdered, and the killer must be among the other twenty-three monks living inside Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups.

Armand and Jean Guy are not what has shattered the monks world, not even the murder has caused devastation to the order; what has changed Saint-Gilbert is that the world found the monks and wanted to be let in…and the monks had begun to fight about whether or not to accept the world in. In fact, it was what they monks must valued — their chanting — that led people to their remote doorstep. To be more precise, a recording of their chanting had been publicized and enthralled people from around the world. A religious practice that the monks hold in the highest esteem has become the reason for murder.

The investigators find the men — silent, stoic, hard-working, devout — outwardly to be at peace with their simple life; kept company by their work running the monastery, their chanting, and God. Under the surface, however, Armand and Jean Guy find division, anger, and even hatred. It seems that after living “among the wolves” for so long, a wolf has finally gotten into their home and killed one of their flock.

The monks of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups are at turning point: should they lift their vows of silence and solitude and share their music with the world? Or should they fight to protect four-hundred years of tradition, even if it means battling with the outsiders who want so desperately to share in their love of the music of God?

The victim wanted to share their music with the world, and the killer had wanted to keep the doors firmly locked…and keep the music all to themselves. To force the killer into the light, Armand must first find the darkness lurking in each monk, searching for the one among them whose darkness has become something horrific.