Some writers write with their smarts on their sleeves (Jeffrey Deaver and Thomas Perry come to mind) and some with their hearts on their sleeves. Louise Penny belongs firmly in this second category, and in none of her novels has her heart been more front and center than in this one, a deeply moving examination of the relinquishment of power, love, and attachment as well as an examination of the painful but necessary process of change and growth.
It almost seemed at times as though Penny couldn’t stop the words from rushing over the page, and as a reader, I couldn’t stop myself from rushing to inhale them as fast as she was throwing them down. Gamache has retired and settled in Three Pines with Reine Marie, with frequent visits from his new son in law, Jean Guy Beauvoir.
It seems like Gamache has always belonged to Three Pines, of course, but his peaceful consideration of his long life and career is interrupted by the pressing needs of artist Clara Morrow. In the last novel, she and her husband Peter separated and agreed to meet a year from the date they parted. A year has passed and Clara waits with no word and no Peter. She is terrified and asks Gamache for help.
Jean Guy is given the go ahead from his new boss to help his father in law in their hunt, as it becomes quickly apparent that while Peter seems to have moved all over the globe, the trail ends abruptly back in Canada. And while Gamache would have been in charge in the past, it’s Clara who takes the lead and Gamache who follows.
This novel is also a deep look at creativity and where it comes from as well as how it’s encouraged and inspired. Like one of my favorite of Agatha Christie’s books, The Hollow, this seems like inside information as far as Gamache’s own creator is concerned. While Christie addresses creativity obliquely, Penny embraces it head on. If you have ever had a creative thought or bone in your body this proves to be fascinating reading.
The winding path into Peter’s psyche taken by the motley crew looking for him – Clara, Myrna, Jean Guy and Gamache, with a little help from Reine Marie – takes in his art school past, his trajectory as an artist, and eventually, how that trajectory may have changed. It’s a story Penny has been building toward since book one.
Their journey takes the travelers deep into Quebec into some of the most beautiful and remote parts of it bordering the St. Lawrence River. I was moved by the elegiac and yet ultimately healing nature of the story, which is not without its horrible twists. To say much more about the plot would be entering spoiler territory. This is quite simply a gorgeous novel.
Editor’s note: to non-Canadians, the names of painters Tom Thomson and Clarence Gagnon may not be familiar. This is a crime, and you are the victim! Years ago when I was at the Toronto Bouchercon I spent a museum afternoon and discovered the gorgeous paintings of Tom Thomson. Gagnon’s are equally incredible, and well worth looking up.