Tuesday, May 04, 2010

It's Black Fly Season ... So: Giles Blunt, Louise Penny

The late-April snow surprise melted in time to cut three inches off the lawn on Saturday, and we opened all the windows on Sunday, celebrating warm weather finally blanketing the ridge. I didn't see much weather on Monday -- too much desk work -- but today showers and finally thunderstorms crashed against the house.

That means tomorrow will be a heavy day for black flies, the tiny biting insects that raise huge welts on tender skin. It's almost impossible to evade them; I caught one of them in my hair during Sunday's tramp, and it came into the house with me and jabbed my neck. I'm still rubbing the welt, two days later.

Vermont has a mercifully short period that's intensely "black fly season" -- say, most of May and the first half of June. By then, mosquitoes are more the norm. But the itty-bitty biters get worse as you go north, fueled by a hunger that has to be assuaged in an ever-shorter season. I've sampled them in the Atlantic provinces of Canada, as well as in Quebec's wild woodlands. They're actually dangerous if you get enough bites.

That's what takes BLACK FLY SEASON by Giles Blunt (2005) into the horror range, all too close to the feeling in the Hitchcock film "The Birds": Enough of the small bites (or pecks) can be deadly. And into a bar of good old guys, 250 miles north of Toronto, comes a red-headed woman with enough black fly bites to almost excuse what seems to be wrong with her -- that, and the bullet she's carrying in her brain.

So I pulled out a copy of this award-winning author's salute to the season, and I'm looking forward to grazing through it again next week.

Meanwhile, still focused on Canada -- Dave and I finally found a not-so-good-condition copy of Louise Penny's October 2009 volume, THE BRUTAL TELLING. I know, that doesn't sound like something to celebrate, but you've got to understand the life of a bookseller: We bought our share of gorgeous copies of this book when it first came out, carefully examining each to make sure they were flawless, and we appreciated hugely Louise Penny's signature in them, during her Vermont visit. But then we had to set them aside to keep them in pristine condition for collectors, and in an unreasonably short time, they'd been collected right out of here. We looked at each other in dismay: No shabby copy around, that we could drag happily into bed or prop on the sofa cushions.

Well, that's why we were so cheerful about snagging this worn one last week. I won the toss for first reader (Dave's been on a Robert Crais tear anyway), and I kept sneaking down to the kitchen yesterday and today, using the time spent waiting for the kettle to boil as "I can use this for reading THE BRUTAL TELLING" -- and if I spent extra time reading in the kitchen, Dave was kind enough not to complain much.

Savor this one. I did. A chapter or two at a time, I rambled and wondered: The story is drenched in sorrow, and the plot and characters are so rich that struggling to figure the killer and the motives becomes a form of homage to Louise Penny's depth. In the village of Three Pines, familiar from the four earlier Armand Gamache investigations, terror and horror might have been vanquished after so much pain and the arrival of "newcomers" armed with paint and plans.

But the dearest figures from the earlier books, Olivier and Gabri, owners of the bed-and-breakfast and bistro that have knitted the village and the Chief Inspector's team together, are likely suspects when a bludgeoned body is found on their premises. And for each layer of the past that Chief Inspector Gamache pulls away, something bleeds and something releases a foul, rotten gas.

Penny's gift of braiding beauty and nightmare just earned her the Agatha Award for Best Mystery for THE BRUTAL TELLING. Check out her web site, www.LouisePenny.com, for news of more awards and the announcement of her fall 2010 book, BURY YOUR DEAD. If you haven't yet read this series, this summer is ideal for catching up, to be ready for the September release: STILL LIFE, A FATAL GRACE, THE CRUELEST MONTH, and A RULE AGAINST MURDER are the preceding titles, in order. Do read them from the start -- it's the best way to see how Penny expands her vista with each one.


Anonymous said...

I think that we have some things in commum.
Literature, cinema and a delicious coffee... It's all, isn't it?

Beth Kanell said...

Obrigado! Yes, good coffee, books, films ... most of all, appreciating a book well written, which gives us deeper enjoyment of life.