Tenth Gamache novel Penny’s masterpiece
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