(A warning to readers - a review of this book cannot help but be at least a partial spoiler of the previous book, How the Light Gets In, because of the major events that took place at the end of that book and are reflected in this book.)
Armand and Reine-Marie have both retired. They have moved to Three Pines to live among the friends made during earlier investigations amidst the beauty of the lovely Quebec countryside.
Armand is gradually unwinding. The tension from being the being the head of the provincial homicide unit is ebbing. The turmoil from the crises he endured and the mistakes he has made is gradually easing.
Physically he has almost fully recovered from the gunshot wound he suffered in How the Light Gets In.
The Gamaches have fitted easily into the life of the village. On Friday nights their neighbours go to the Gamache home bearing food to share at a barbecue.
Most days either a breakfast or a lunch is enjoyed at the bistro of Gabri and Olivier.
Coffee or a drink are savoured without work pressing upon them.
Each summer morning Armand walks up the hill overlooking the village and sits on a bench and reads a few pages of poetry but never beyond a bookmark in his slim volume.
Clara Morrow has taken to joining him on the bench. Her conversation is superficial. Something is causing her great distress. Eventually it spills out.
She had asked her husband, Peter, to leave a year ago and stay away for a year. He was to return after the year and they would decide whether to resume life together. She had a meal ready the night he was to return but Peter did not come and has not been in contact and the uncertainty is more than she can endure. What has happened to Peter? She cannot believe he would ignore his commitment to come back.
Clara wants Armand to help her, not find out for her, what has happened to Peter. In a beautifully written exchange Penny says:
“You like Peter,” she finally said. “But I love him. Laugh if you want but it makes a difference. I’ll be able to find him.”
“If love was compass enough,” said Armand quietly, “there would be no missing children.”
Clara persists. His assistance is welcome but only if he will agree to her being in charge of the search. After a lifetime of being in command Armand hesitates and then agrees.
It is Reine-Marie who is left with a silent ache. She has finally relaxed for Armand is no longer in danger. No more nights wondering if he will come home. The past she had thought behind them returns with a new investigation that has unknown risks.
Armand’s former aide, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, now his son-in-law joins Armand and Clara. Used bookstore owner and psychologist, Myrna Landers, rounds out the seekers.
The search will take them into what is at the core of an artist. Peter is talented but Clara is brilliant. He had technical skill. She had magic. Clara sent him away when she realized he was jealous of her.
It is immediately clear Peter set out on a quest to become an artist not just remain a technician. Following Peter’s path is difficult and takes the investigators and readers on a journey to unexpected and amazing places.
What makes the book special is its exploration of what makes an artist great and the source of inspiration. There is a fascinating examination of an artist’s muse. Poet and resident curmudgeon, Ruth Zardo, explains the genesis of a poem through a quote from Robert Frost:
A poem begins as a lump in the throat. A sense of wrong. A homesickness, a lovesickness.
By the way it is an entertaining mystery. (Oct. 7/14)
****Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011); (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In and Comparing with The Gifted