BookBrowse Reviews A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

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A Great Reckoning

A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel, #12

by Louise Penny

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny X
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2016, 400 pages

    May 2017, 416 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book



This novel in a beloved mystery series mixes old characters with new and is a satisfying addition from author Louise Penny.

Canadian author Louise Penny's twelfth entry in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, A Great Reckoning, opens where her previous mystery, The Nature of the Beast, leaves off with Gamache retired from the homicide department of the Sûreté du Québec and living with his wife, Reine Marie, in the peaceful village of Three Pines. Readers soon find however that he has been convinced to return to the workforce, taking command of the Sûreté Academy, the school that prepares new cadets to join the police force. Mysteries abound in this well-constructed complex novel, but at its core there are two: What is the origin and purpose of a WWI-era map found walled up in the Three Pines bistro, and who is responsible for the dead body discovered at the Academy?

As with Penny's previous books, A Great Reckoning is liberally sprinkled with red herrings, eccentric characters and the occasional dose of humor. Fans will be pleased that the residents of Three Pines whom they have come to know and love over the years are well-represented, playing a large role throughout. There are a lot of mystery series out there, but what has always made this one stand out are its recurring characters, utterly unique and yet familiar: bistro owners Olivier and Gabri; artist Clara Morrow; bookstore owner Myrna Landers; and of course the irascible poet Ruth Zardo and her duck Rosa. Long-time series readers encounter them as one might an old friend. In addition, setting the mystery in part at the Academy allows the introduction of several new equally intriguing players, which provides an opportunity to grow the series in future books.

The Great Reckoning is a perfect balance of old and new. This novel however, is not a good entry point to the series, which is worth getting into from the very first book, Still Life. Much of the plot here revolves around actions and events that occurred in earlier volumes, and without that background, most readers will likely feel they've missed something important. Gamache's decisions, too, only make sense in context, and those new to the series will lack that point of reference. I also think readers who haven't started from the first book might miss or misinterpret a lot of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) interactions between the characters. Their personalities are a large part of the author's success, and encountering them for the first time here may lead to misconceptions.

Readers who have kept up with the series, however, are in for a real treat. The novel is every bit as entertaining as Penny's previous works. The writing is lush and descriptive, creating beautiful scenes in exquisite detail.

The flurries had stopped in the night, leaving just a thin layer barely covering the dead autumn leaves. It seemed a netherworld. Neither fall nor winter. The hills that surrounded the village and seemed to guard it from an often hostile world themselves looked hostile. Or, if not actually hostile, at least inhospitable. It was a forest of skeletons. Their branches, gray and bare, were raised as though begging for a mercy they knew would not be granted.

The author's emphasis on quality writing and character development necessitates more setup on the front end of the narrative. The action doesn't get rolling until perhaps a third of the way in. These sections are so well written that the book never drags – I advise readers to set aside uninterrupted time to read the last 50 pages, as they likely wouldn't want to be disturbed as the book speeds to its conclusion.

Three Pines itself has always seemed somewhat of a throwback — a preternaturally quiet place isolated in time and space. In some respects the plot enforces this feeling; Three Pines doesn't have Internet access, it's a long, confusing drive to get there and it isn't registered on any map of Canada, making it appear almost mythical. Nevertheless, Penny goes out of her way to make the story relevant, addressing issues such as racism and gun control that strongly echo current social discussions. There are at least five different mysteries of varied seriousness embedded in the book (at the lowest tier: what is that little creature Reine Marie rescues and subsequently adopts?). While the major whodunit is exceptionally satisfying, I found one of the other plot lines less so.

Penny might just be my favorite mystery writer, and A Great Reckoning is certain to become a favorite entry in the series; it's highly recommended to those who've read the previous novels.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in September 2016, and has been updated for the May 2017 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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