Thursday, May 2, 2013
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache (of the Surete) is pulled into a strange case while taking a leave of absence. An amateur archeologist, bent on discovering the grave site of the founder of Quebec, is found murdered in the basement of the Literary and Historical Library, an old and treasured library of books in English. The local police ask Gamache's informal assistance. Although he tries to stay out of it Gamache cannot help himself. His mind churns endlessly, searching for answers.
Meanwhile, he is haunted by memories of a recent confrontation with the kidnappers of a young subordinate. Bits of the final scene and the hours before it play in his mind like a tape, stopping and starting seemingly without his control. His broken memories gradually reveal to us the mistakes he made and the consequences of his actions, as well as those of others in command, until we finally get the full picture.
But that isn't all. A previous case has been kept alive in his mind as well. The partner of a convicted man remains unconvinced of the guilt of his friend. He writes a note to Gamache every day, asking "Why did he move the body?" When Gamache finally decides the case deserves another look, he sends Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir in to Quebec to investigate quietly, informally. Neither man is particularly convinced that they got the wrong guy, but Beauvoir is willing to do his best to find out.
These three cases run alternately through the book, to the setting of Quebec and particularly Old Quebec City. I did have to pay some attention to the description of this lovely city and to think about visiting myself some day. Or at least looking at it in Google Earth. For Ms. Penny seems determined to impart some of her own love of the city to the reader.
We learn, too, of the uneasy alliance between the French and English in Quebec, where the English are a decided minority. Although their fighting times are long over, memories seem to span generations.
An interesting introduction, for me, to Chief Inspector Gamache. I felt I got to know him a little in this long book, to know his heart, as well as that of his mentor and a few of his subordinates. The case of the dead archeologist turns out to take many different turns, while Gamache does a great deal of reading at the Lit and His and beyond. I am wondering how he behaves in more familiar stomping grounds now.