Louise Penny’s Dead Cold (2006)
Louise Penny’s The Cruellest Month(2007)
I plunged into Louise Penny’s Gamache mysteries last October with the first in her series, Still Life.
When I found books two and three nestled together on the library’s paperback mysteries shelf, earlier this summer, I felt like someone was handing me a desperately needed escape on a bookshelf.And in chronological order: what more could an obsessive reader want?!But apparently I did want more. Dead Cold did not strike the same nerve that Still Life had.What I’d loved about the first mystery was the combination of setting and characterization.Dead Cold‘s setting is consistent. Three Pines is still charming. And it’s winter. “A Quebec winter could both enchant and kill.”

But one of the characters in this volume felt so much like a cardboard-cutout that I tripped over her throughout the read.

CC de Poitiers is not a character that readers are supposed to like; in fact, she’s presented as unlikeable from the start.

She is unlikeable and dead. We are told, immediately upon making her acquaintance, that she is to be killed. (For some readers, this might well make up for it!)

Nonetheless, the series is not rooted in CC.

It’s rooted in Gamache. And that’s intact.

Which is why I read on to the third volume. Which I enjoyed every bit as much as I had enjoyed the first.

The Cruellest Month is set at Easter in Three Pines. And, yes, if possible, Three Pines is even more charming at Easter than it was at Christmas in Dead Cold.

All of the characters familiar to readers who have read the first two books in the series are present and a couple of them take on dimensions that are not only intriguing (uninformative spoiler: quack quack!) but essential (for a certain member of the force who was verging on the one-dimensional).

And the approach to crime-solving remains consistent.

This is a long quote, but it really does bring Gamache off the page:

“Gamache knew people were like homes. Some were cheerful and bright, some gloomy. Some could look good on the outside and feel wretched on the interior. And some of the least attractive homes, from the outside, were kindly and warm inside.

He also knew the first few rooms were for public consumption. It was only in going deeper that he’d find the reality. And finally, inevitably, there was the last room, the one we keep locked, and bolted and barred, even from ourselves. Especially from ourselves.

It was that room Gamache hunted in every murder investigation. There the secrets were kept. There the monsters waited.”

Murder is personal. And Gamache takes it that way.

If you enjoy a good psychological mystery, you’ll appreciate his approach. It’ll bring you back, even when the likes of CC threaten to sour the relationship.