The Arnot Case, apparently the downfall of Surete de Quebec Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, leaving his career in limbo and his promotion unlikely, was mentioned in passing in the first of the Gamache mystery series by Louise Penny, Still Life. In A Fatal Grace, the second in the award-winning series, we learn more about the Arnot Case and Gamache's role in it. The repercussions of the case still haunt Gamache and his team in part in the form of Yvette Nichol, an unattractive, arrogant, self-absorbed, and dangerously impulsive Surete agent who against his will is assigned to Gamache and who threatens not just the solving of the cases he is working on but his very life.
At the end of this book something is about to happen in the Arnot matter but the reader is, while satisfied with the solution to this second murder, left curious about the goings on in the Surete and how they will affect Gamache, whom the reader has become fond of, loving him in much the same way that his assistant, Jean Guy Beauvoir loves him, for his intellect, instinct, and care for his detectives and for the people whose lives are disrupted by the crimes he investigates and solves.
A Fatal Grace, like Still Life, takes place in the small town of Three Pines, and we are again introduced to the people who live there and their engrossing lives. Especially interesting to me is Clara Morrow, an unappreciated artist who is shocked and encouraged by the words of a derelict woman whom she finds in front of a Montreal department store and for whom she buys food. The woman is later found dead with a copy of a book written by Three Pines' acerbic poet, Ruth Zardo, but at first it is difficult to see how her death can be related to the crime in Three Pimes that Gamache is investigating.
And that crime is puzzling enough to keep Gamache and his team baffled. CC Poitiers, a weekend resident of the town and a much-hated woman with a corrosive personality has been electrocuted out in the middle of a frozen pond during a curling match. An impossible situation, but nonetheless there is no question that she died from electrocution and in full sight of at least a hundred people, none of whom saw anything unusual until she died.
It is Christmas and it is very cold in Three Pines, so cold that the weather becomes another character in the story. As in the earlier mystery, the B&B in town, the bistro, food, and the gatherings of friends make the reader, and Gamache, feel like a part of the place. Once again Myrna, the bookstore owner, talks about books and psychology, Clara Morrow aches for recognition of her art, Ruth Zardo insults everyone in her inimitable way, and Gabri and Olivier, owners of the B&B and bistro, serve food that makes one's mouth water. (I'd almost be willing to travel to Three Pines for some of their boeuf bourguignon.)
New characters are introduced: CC Poitiers and her family, long-time residents of the town called by Clara the Three Graces, and a rustic young man from nearby named Billy Williams who, along with a piece of lemon meringue pie, provides Gamache with spiritual inspiration.
A meditation center, a mis-quote from the Bible, a Tchaikovsky violin concerto, the movie A Lion in Winter, and Eleanor of Aquitaine all play a part in the story which, with a thrilling rescue and a last-minute turn in the plot proves even more satisfying than that in Still Life. Louise Penny's books have won four Agatha awards, three Anthonys, and a Barry, not counting numerous nominations. Penny is one of the finest writers of murder mysteries of our day.
2012 No 113