Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Louise Penny has created an unforgettable protagonist through A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery series, and in The Brutal Telling, the fifth book, the titular inspector returns to his favourite idyllic village of Three Pines. Yet another murder has shaken the community, this time the victim being a complete stranger found on the floor of the local bistro. The stories presented to the inspector are full of holes, and he soon finds himself wrapped in a spiderweb of mystery.
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Louise Penny Blesses Three Pines with Another Murder
Idyllic little villages serve two functions in their existence: they provide a peaceful retreat to those tired of the city life, and they serve as the backdrop for countless unforgettable murder mystery novels. In Louise Penny‘s The Brutal Telling, the fifth novel in A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery series, the titular inspector returns to the Quebec village of Three Pines to untangle its most complex web yet.
Though this is indeed the fifth book in the series, you can read them in any order wish, even going backwards from the most recent one, if such is your fancy. If, however, you’d like to check out what the previous chapter had in store as well, you can always have a look at our A Rule Against Murder review.
Moving on with the plot of the novel, we are once again brought back into the unique world of the small and peaceful (except for the occasional murders) Quebecois village as yet another crime shocks the community. This time, however, the victim is a total stranger nobody seems to know, whose body was found in Olivier’s Bistro, beloved by most people in town.
It seems at first as if finding any leads will prove problematic, but it takes no time for suspects to make themselves known, namely Olivier himself, whose story is full of holes and inexplicable factors. From there on out, the investigation only increases in complexity, leading the Chief Inspector Gamache to a cabin in the wilderness with priceless antiques and the dead man’s blood.
What are you afraid of?
I’m afraid of not recognizing Paradise.― Louise Penny, The Brutal Telling
With the trail of clues leading him not only deep into the woods, but also across the continent and back into the lives of Three Pines residents, Gamache without a doubt is faced with his most challenging and obscure mystery yet. Though he has been successful in his career so far, there’s a chance he may have found a threat to match his investigative abilities.
Long-Buried Answers in The Brutal Telling
So far, every novel in this series has had its own unique character and premise to it, none of them blending together in my memory, which in my opinion, is an extraordinary feat for a mystery series spanning this many novels. In my opinion, The Brutal Telling makes no exception to the rule, with the mystery this time being centred on the deep past.
Indeed, the murder Chief Inspector Gamache investigates only marks the beginning of a long chain of events which leads him digging up many unsavoury secrets from the past. I’d like to point out none of the discoveries he makes feel forced, nor do they appear out of thin air for the sake of the story. There is proper build-up and everything remains within the confines of what’s logical and believable.
As a matter of fact, the pace at doses at which we’re fed new information about the past is perfect. On one hand, it always leaves us wanting for more and curious for what’s to come, and on the other we are given enough time to process the significance of the discoveries to try and link them to the case at hand.
Needless to say, the vast unearthed grave of secrets leads the inspector to unmask numerous people in the village who have tried to conceal their tainted past, people we see from time to time and are given a chance to bring into the light along with our protagonist. Even if you’re not able to crack the ultimate truth of the case, there are still many opportunities to do some thinking along the Chief Inspector.
Better to accept the wretched truth than struggle, twisting to make a wish a reality.― Louise Penny, The Brutal Telling
Just like in all the previous entries in the series, watching Gamache do what he does best is nothing short of a pleasure, with his adventure even having a little more movement this time around, taking him out of Three Pines for a certain amount of time. Watching him methodically strip the lies from a core of truth is as exhilarating as anything a thriller could offer.
The Sins of the Past
As those of you who have read some of the previous novels in the series will likely agree, Louise Penny is the kind of author who doesn’t simply seek to tell a murder mystery from start to finish without adding any extra elements into the mix. There are quite a few interesting reflections in The Brutal Telling, perhaps even more-so than in previous novels.
To begin with, no matter how small the village of Three Pines might appear to be, it still holds many layers of mystery and secrecy, and Penny peels away a little more of it once again. The descriptions of the setting as well as the people inhabiting it are once again a highlight of the book, playing a visible role in helping the reader become immersed in the story.
Most unhappiness comes from not being able to sit quietly in a room.― Louise Penny, The Brutal Telling
As I’ve said it in previous reviews of novels in this series, as someone personally living in the province of Quebec, I’m in quite a good position to ascertain the accuracy of Penny‘s depiction of local life. For what it’s worth, every one of those descriptions hits the bullseye, almost feeling like passages from a non-fiction book.
The principal theme explored in the story is the way in which the consequences of wrongdoings in the past can surface at any time and destroy the innocent and guilty alike. Thankfully, Louise Penny is the sort of author who never beats us over the head with a point, but rather allows the natural progression of the story’s events to do the talking for her.
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Thankfully, everything is topped with a noticeable dose of humour which prevents the heavier topics from feeling too cumbersome over the course of the entire book. At the same time, its presence is never so pronounced as to take away the gravity of the themes and the importance of the personal reflections we’re pushed to make.
The Final Verdict
The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny is a fantastic addition to A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery series, equaling the previous novels in quality, if not exceeding them. It offers a compelling and complex mystery populated with characters captivating in their own ways, with plenty of food for thought to go along with it.
If you’re a fan of the series, are looking for a solid detective mystery or would like to see what Louise Penny is all about at her best, then I highly recommend you add this book to your collection.
Louise Penny is a Canadian author who has taken to writing mystery novels where the events unfold in the province of Quebec, following the inspector Armand Gamache. Some of her better-known novels include Still Life which earned her the 2005 New Blood Dagger Award, A Fatal Grace which was the winner of the 2007 Agatha Award, as well as six additional Agatha Christie awards to this day.