It is a challenge to write this review as the story flows onward as a continuing plot from Bury Your Dead. You cannot go back to read The Brutal Telling and Bury Your Dead if you have read this book. The solutions to both earlier books are revealed early in this book.
In the book Chief Inspector Armand Gamache returns to the village of Three Pines to investigate another murder.
After years of struggle and insecurity in her painting Clara Morrow has been given a solo show at the Musee d’Art Contemporain in Montreal. Clara is almost paralyzed going to the opening of the show. She finds it almost impossible to consider herself and her portraits worthy of such attention. For much of her life her work has drawn criticism rather than praise. The show draws very favourable critical attention.
At the vernissage for the show Gamache and art dealer, Francois Marois, study Clara’s portrait of the sarcastic iconoclast poet, Ruth Zardo. Initial observation shows a portrait of Ruth as an aged Virgin Mary worn and angry. Yet study of the painting shows to Gamache, through a single dot of white in her eyes, hope still lives within her. Marois, less certain, asks whether instead of hope it might be “merely a trick of the light”.
The next morning Peter and Olivier discover the body of a woman in the garden of Peter and Clara. To Clara’s shock it is Lillian Dyson, her best friend as a child, whose cruel nature had fractured their friendship. Clara cannot understand why Lillian is at her home. They have been estranged for over 20 years. She does not even recognize a photo of the deceased Lillian.
As a young woman Lillian had been a gifted but mean spirited art critic for La Presse, a prominent Montreal newspaper. She is remembered best for a brilliantly vicious sentence in a review that destroyed a young artist:
“He’s a natural, producing art like it’s a bodily function.”
It sent a shiver through me reading that line. It echoes through the book. In writing book reviews I hope I never savage an author whose book I have not liked with clever biting language. Of the bloggers I read I do not detect such a cruel spirit. There may be negative reviews written but they do not seek to eviscerate the author.
The art world has many jealousies and intrigues between artists, critics and dealers. There are many potential suspects. The investigation takes the team deep into Lillian’s life both long past and the present.
At the heart of the story are the injuries we inflict and the wounds we suffer in life. Everyone must cope with hurt caused and received. Within the book each of the characters is hurting in their own way. What do we do about the hurt we have caused? Can you forgive those who have caused hurt when they seek forgiveness? What happens when forgiveness is denied?
Gamache and Beauvoir still cope with the consequences of the battle in the factory that left each of them badly injured before the start of Bury Your Dead. Neither has fully recovered from the psychological trauma.
It is a dramatic book without a bullet fired or a bomb exploded. Penny brilliantly explores the psyches of her characters. Few mysteries probe so deeply the personalities of the characters.
In the end there is a gathering to solve the murder that rivals the meetings Nero Wolfe held to expose the killer.
There are threads in the story, both personal and professional, that will obviously carry over to the next volume of the series.
It is an excellent book. It does not equal the wonders of Bury Your Dead but it is a worthy successor. I shall be watching for notice of the next in the series to be published. (Sept. 17/11)
****The book is my 3rd book in the 5th Canadian Book Challenge at the Book Mine Set. I have now reached the Kluane Bras d’Or Lake level.