Canadian mystery novelist Louise Penny pens the Inspector Gamache series, featuring the smart and deeply introspective Armand Gamache, his family, colleagues, and friends in the quirky village of Three Pines. The eleventh in the series, The Nature of the Beast, gives readers a break from the intense pressure of recent books – wherein intrigue, danger, and despair prevail – to focus on a knotty puzzle of a plot that is rooted in history.
Here’s the set-up: Nine-year-old Laurent Lepage is a boy of great imagination and dramatic flair. As a result, when he discovers a gigantic monster of a weapon hidden in the woods near Three Pines and rushes into the local coffee shop with the news, the only person who believes his story is the one who is hiding it. Within a day, Laurent is dead, the victim of a tragic bicycle accident.
Or is it an accident? Of course not. And with Armand Gamache and his son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir on the scene, the unfortunate murderer is not likely to get away with it. At the same time, local couple Antoinette and Brian Fitzpatrick, are putting on a newly discovered play – a touching and powerful play, authored by a notorious serial killer. That these two plot threads come together in an unexpected way is only to be expected.
Also to be expected: that amorality and depravity will lie at the heart of the mystery, and that characters – even those we know very well – will reveal depths not previously apparent. As Gamache, Beauvoir, and former colleague Isabelle Lacoste tease apart the threads that connect the present to the past and reveal the sinister plot, Penny keeps the reader turning the pages until the last question is answered.
Or are they? Penny is a master of leaving a few threads dangling – I hope with an eye to bringing these characters back in future books! And while many are likely to be hoping for the return of the evil John Fleming (currently imprisoned but clearly plotting to gain his freedom), I am very interested in the CSIS “librarians.” Mild-mannered and bookish, Mary Fraser and Sean Delorme are much more than they appear at first meeting.
The Nature of the Beast is a solid entry into Penny’s series, and well worth reading. Compared to other books in the series, it lacks the intensely personal elements seen in (for example) the Edgar nominated How the Light Gets In (a nail-biter) or The Long Way Home (reviewed here).