Tenth Ga­mache novel Penny’s master­piece

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Nick Martin

AMYS­TERY novel so in­trin­si­cally linked to Cana­dian art could eas­ily toss around the word “master­piece” too lightly. But it needs to be used at least once more — this is Louise Penny’s master­piece. Her tenth In­spec­tor Ga­mache novel, The Long Way Home, finds Ar­mand Ga­mache, long-time em­bat­tled head of the homi­cide di­vi­sion of the Sûreté de Québec, en­joy­ing re­tire­ment in Three Pines, the idyl­lic vil­lage deep in the Que­bec woods near the Ver­mont bor­der, where all or part of the pre­vi­ous nine Louise Penny books have taken place. Be­fore we go any fur­ther, be warned that if you haven’t read the pre­vi­ous nine nov­els, you won’t have a clue what’s hap­pen­ing or who any­body is in The Long Way Home — it’s not a stand-alone novel, bril­liant as it is. And read­ing any fur­ther with­out hav­ing read the pre­vi­ous nine, you will en­counter far too many spoil­ers. One of the few po­lice of­fi­cers in de­tec­tive fic­tion with a happy per­sonal life, Ga­mache has re­tired to Three Pines with his wife Reine-Marie, both their chil­dren sim­i­larly hap­pily set­tled. His for­mer side­kick Jean-Guy Beau­voir has over­come his own demons and is now their son-in-law. Three Pines has al­ways seemed to ex­ist in a par­al­lel uni­verse, an hour or so from Mon­treal, a place where trou­bled souls find refuge, where French and English, straight and gay, sin­gle and cou­pled, all live in har­mony (with the oc­ca­sional ex­cep­tion, of course: when some­one gets mur­dered). And there’s al­ways the au­berge, the bed and break­fast with its roar­ing fire and sub­lime food, with warmth and cheer straight out of a Krieghoff paint­ing, that ev­ery Louise Penny reader has fan­ta­sized about vis­it­ing. Still re­cov­er­ing in body and spirit from pre­vi­ously bat­tling ter­ror­ists and now newly-re­tired in the wake of thwart­ing the premier’s death squad — se­ri­ously, Penny has al­ways made such events seem plau­si­ble — Ga­mache wants only tran­quil­ity. But then neigh­bour and friend Clara Mor­row comes to him for help in find­ing her miss­ing hus­band Peter. Read­ers will re­call Peter Mor­row from other Ga­mache nov­els, a fine but stag­nant artist who couldn’t han­dle it when Clara’s own long-hid­den artis­tic ge­nius sud­denly re­ceived in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion and eclipsed his own. Re­luc­tantly, Ga­mache and Clara Mor­row lead an ex­pe­di­tion in search of Peter Mor­row, at var­i­ous times in­volv­ing all the key char­ac­ters whom Penny’s fans have grown to love: Myrna (the psy­chol­o­gist who runs a used book store), Ruth (the foul-mouthed iras­ci­ble poet), Is­abelle La­coste (the bril­liant young homi­cide of­fi­cer) and even ar­chiv­ist Reine-Marie get in on the sleuthing. The trail leads to the art cen­tres of Europe; to Dum­fries in Scot­land; to a fic­tional ver­sion of the On­tario Col­lege of Art in Toronto; and then deeper and deeper into Que­bec. It fi­nally leads to iso­lated vil­lages and tiny for­saken is­lands on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, ac­ces­si­ble only by pre­car­i­ous sin­gle-en­gine flights or fer­ries brav­ing rocks that have sunk hun­dreds of ships. And, of course, where tor­tured artists come to seek their muse — at the edge of the world. Penny ac­knowl­edges up-front her debt to The Odyssey and Heart of Dark­ness. Never mind — she’s taken those themes as old as lit­er­a­ture and made them her own. This is the best Ga­mache that Penny has ever writ­ten, a mes­mer­iz­ing character study and mys­tery that will once again make Penny’s read­ers wish they could know th­ese peo­ple and share a glass of cider and a warm baguette with them in Three Pines. Nick Martin is the Free Press ed­u­ca­tion re­porter, and har­bours fan­tasies of re­tire­ment

in Three Pines... spring to fall, at least.

The Long Way Home

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