Saturday, September 03, 2016

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #12: A GREAT RECKONING, Louise Penny

Although the pre-launch event for Louise Penny's newest book took place, as usual, in her home area of the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada, the brief book tour for A GREAT RECKONING began officially last week in Naperville, Illinois, followed by Wichita, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; and St. Louis, Missouri. And although stops in the Carolinas and Washington, DC, will wrap up the events, this "heartland" opening confirms what has taken place over the arc of Penny's dozen titles featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sureté: Both the author and the books have become global in appeal, and the voracious readers of America embrace both the Chief Inspector and the enchanting village of Three Pines that draw him into its warm welcome.

As A GREAT RECKONING opens, Gamache officially concludes his brief retirement (he's not yet 60) and completes selecting the young protegées for the next stage of his career: In an effort to root out the evil that's permeated the Sureté through both the monsters Gamache has already expelled from it, and the oddly twisted and malicious new recruits entering the police force, Gamache is taking over the Sureté Academy itself.

And so resolves the quandary that the immediately preceding books had asked: What would this wise, strong, and above all kind leader choose for his next act?

But of course, nothing is simple. And the dossier of the last student Gamache finally OK'd, Amelia Choquet, makes up one part of the mystery here -- for we know, as readers, that although Amelia herself is unaware of it, Gamache has found an imperative connection with her: pierced, tattooed, irreverent, and angry young woman though she is. The author will force us to wait a very long time until we know what that connection is. But in the meantime, Amelia and three other cadets are forged into the task force that Gamache needs, to approach two other mysteries: the existence of map that shows the village of Three Pines (you need to immerse in the book to grasp why that's so strange; readers of previous volumes already can guess), and a violent murder in the Academy.

You can, of course, plunge directly into A GREAT RECKONING without having bonded to the preceding books in this very popular series. Penny skillfully lays out many of the details that press forward from the earlier titles. Still, the books are all linked, all moving forward (the author says she never goes back to re-read the completed ones, pulling instead always ahead), and readers who already know Gamache's second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, the Chief Inspector's great-hearted wife Reine-Marie, and Inspector Isabelle Lacoste will great the turns of character and plot with added emotion, as here:
Gamache had survived, of course. And Isabelle had not had to deliver the final message.

"And I won't run away now," he said. "We stay the course."

"Oui," she said.

"We've seen worse, haven't we, Isabelle?" he said.

She smiled. "We have. At least the cadets aren't armed and shooting at us. Yet."

Gamache gave a single gruff laugh. "I've asked the chief of police to quietly take all the ammunition from the armory. The weapons will stay, but there'll be nothing to fire."

Her smile disappeared. "I was joking. But you're seriously expecting trouble on that scale?"

"I was not expecting a murder," he said. His face as serious as she'd ever seen. "The cadets must be safe."
Penny's efforts in A GREAT RECKONING (the title comes from a Shakespeare line, with connections to a long-ago murder) diverge from much modern crime fiction: She depicts evil, and names it as such, without using a brush dipped in blood or gore. Instead, she shows how the loss of innocence and trust, especially when inflicted by malicious elders on eager youth, is a form of evil that good people must take arms against. Gamache's own weapons are his experience and wisdom, his loving sense of responsibility, and his insistence on kindness -- in itself an amazing choice of weapon, as even he must admit.

So there will be no need to check the lock on the door, turn on more lights, call a friend in order to disengage from the suspense. Instead, the pages must turn in order to learn whether Gamache can use this fierce sort of love as a demand that evil yield up its violence and seek forgiveness.

And when all three strands of mystery in A GREAT RECKONING finally resolve, we readers have faced some new aspects of courage.

(For more reviews from Kingdom Books, click here.)

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