The last weeks of summer were the proverbial “gift that keeps on giving” for reading: Celeste Ng’s family saga, Little Fires Everywhere, followed by Richard Russo’s Chances Are… (tour de force, as expected), which I finished just as Louise Penny’s newest Inspector Gamache novel, A Better Man, landed on my doorstep.
If you’ve read any of my “bookish” posts, you know that I’m more interested in writing about an author’s body of work than any single publication. I love to watch a writer grow and change over time as much as his or her characters do.
I “found” Louise Penny in about 2007. We’d just had our first few trips to Québec and had fallen head over heels in love with the province. As a great fan of place in novels, I wondered if there might be any series set there. I did an online search for books set in Québec and found Still Life, the first in the series. I’ve read every Gamache since, anticipating each new release like a five-year-old in the pre-dawn hours on Christmas morning. They’re among the few I always order pre-publication. Gamache’s struggles to reconcile his personal moral code with the realpolitik that surrounds him are epic. As he grows and changes over the years, those around him do, too—not only his colleagues in the Sûreté de Québec but also his family and the quirky inhabitants of Three Pines, who have become more and more attractive to me with each book in the series.
A Better Man, like most of the Gamache books that preceded it, had me guessing to the very end. We watch a ton of English, Canadian, and Australian TV mysteries (hurray for Acorn!). I’ve gotten pretty good at predicting the outcome of most, but I can never predict how a Gamache novel will resolve. Penny’s stories are good mysteries but more important, they are multi-layered moral tales whose characters’ inner struggles are revealed brilliantly on page after page. Nothing is easy—Gamache ever pursues the greater good but often eschews the safer choice, regardless of the impact on his position or reputation, or his relationship with those around him. He bears the pain of some very risky decisions that have exacted a terrible price yet always represented the higher ground. I am never quite sure where he will ultimately land.
Louise Penny has won so many awards that she surely doesn’t need plaudits from me. But one of the things I love most about blogging is the opportunity just to say a simple “thank you” to the writers who have given me so much joy. I hope we can look forward to yet another Gamache release next August.