Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Louise Penny Interrupts the Gamaches’ Vacation
Though most genres are governed by guidelines and suggestions rather than rules, I think it’s safe to say police procedures have at least one holy axiom to abide by: the main character is never allowed to have a fulfilling vacation without murder. In Louise Penny’s A Rule Against Murder, Chief Inspector Gamache becomes yet another victim of the genre’s rule.
The fourth book in A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery series, it can very much be read as a standalone without fear of missing out on anything, other than some elements pertaining to character development. If, however, you’d like to check out the previous entry into the series, you can always have a look at our The Cruelest Month review.
The story opens with Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache celebrating their wedding anniversary at the remote and very exclusive Manoir Bellechasse, intent on simply enjoying the country air and all of the lodge’s amenities. However, their peace in the middle of the woods is disturbed by the arrival of the Finney family, wealthy, cultured, respected, and full of demons.
A terrible summer storm hits, and once it clears up it seems like one of the family members died in an accident, supposedly crushed by the newly-erected monument to the family’s patriarch, long gone from this world. Chief Inspector Gamache, however, suspects foul play, and despite his promise to his wife which he was bound to break anyways, he embarks on the investigation.
Pretty soon his line of reasoning is given a concrete foundation, as it becomes increasingly apparent the family is plagued with all sorts of interpersonal issues. Beneath their veneer of bourgeoisie, many of the family members are hiding dark secrets and resentments, only complicating the case further and further as it goes along, much to the chagrin of Reine-Marie Gamache.
None Beyond Suspicion in A Rule Against Murder
Personally-speaking, I’ve always had a soft spot for murder mysteries taking place in isolated locations, an art which, it seems to me, has been fading away since the glory days of Agatha Christie and the whodunit genre. Nevertheless, I’m glad authors like Louise Penny are still around to breathe some new life into old and beloved conventions.
In terms of the set-up, A Rule Against Murder very much reminds me of a classic detective story, with a limited cast of suspects where nobody is above suspicion, including the staff working at the lodge. Louise Penny does a fairly good job, in my opinion, at keeping most of the suspects equally-suspicious until the revelation in the climax.
As was also the case for the previous novels, watching Chief Inspector Gamache do his thing, chatting up suspects while trying to pull the smallest bits of information from them and following any other clues, is intriguing from start to finish. I found it quite difficult to stop reading when he was in the process of unravelling a thread, my curiosity as to where it would lead next always being at its peak.
For the most part, I would say the important story lines and plot points do get resolved in the end, even though we are left with a couple of questions, especially in regards to certain side plots. However, personally I didn’t think these little imperfections affected the main story in any real capacity… but it would have been nice to have all the possible closure.
Additionally, I do want to point out the climax to be one of the better ones I’ve read in this series (so far, at least). Without spoiling anything, we’re treated to a race against time in an attempt to save someone used by the killer like a pawn, and every second of it feels not only exciting, most importantly, uncertain.
Into the Souls of the Residents
While Chief Inspector Gamache novels have always been notable for the captivating investigations they offer, they do have another major element which makes them uniquely enjoyable in my book: the depth and complexity of the characters involved. Indeed, Louise Penny has always paid close attention to the people she brought to life on her pages, and I think her abilities have only improved with time.
For starters, we get a closer look at the Gamache household, so to speak, and become better-acquainted with Reine-Marie who becomes more than a background fixture to colour our protagonist. I quite liked how Penny made her instrumental to catching the killer, and I have the feeling we’ll be seeing more and more of her as the series progresses.
The family under investigation is composed of some rather profoundly-developed suspects who we are slowly made to see as nuanced people rather than potential murderers. Each member of the family has his or her distinct voice and distinguishing features, and the more we learn about their inner dynamics, the more they feel like real people we can’t judge too hastily.
In the process of exploring these people’s lives, Louise Penny also takes the opportunity to explore the subject of nurture, and the tremendous impact it has on shaping us as people, dictating our thoughts, beliefs and behaviours. While the topic certainly isn’t anything new, she makes a good and interesting case for one’s family being their central influence, with all the good, bad and ugly it entails.
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Finally, it wouldn’t be a Chief Inspector Gamache novel if Louise Penny didn’t take the time to show us some of the lesser-known beauty in Quebec, this time taking us into the nature of its eastern hidden valley. Though she doesn’t spend too long on her descriptions, her love for and knowledge of the locale shines through in every sentence.
The Final Verdict
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny is a quality addition to A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery series, presenting a logic-defying murder, a complex cast of characters, and a thought-provoking exploration of family-related themes.
If you’ve enjoyed previous books in the series, or are looking for a truly solid police procedural which, in a certain sense, brings us back to the glory days of the whodunit genre, then I strongly recommend you give the book a shot.
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.