In Louise Penny’s latest Inspector Armand Gamache mystery, The Murder Stone (A Rule Against Murder in the U.S.), Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie are on holiday at Manoir Bellechasse, a luxury Québec chateau at which they stay annually. This year, though, they find themselves sharing the chateau with the wealthy Finney family, who have come to pay tribute to their father. All is not as it seems, however; tensions run high among family members and soon Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is knee deep in a murder inquiry.
I enjoyed this fourth book in the Gamache series immensely. Gone is the side plot that was explored in the first three books of the series; it was a side plot that actually took away a bit of my enjoyment of the novels (especially when it reached its crescendo in the third novel), so I was delighted with this fourth book, with its intricate mystery and a new side plot that develops Gamache’s character further.
Penny writes in the British mystery tradition of P.D. James and Elizabeth George; Gamache has been a strongly developed character from the moment he first saw life in Still Life. In The Murder Stone we see a more personal side of him in his relationship with his wife, Reine-Marie. In the following passage, Gamache is thinking about the first time he brought his wife to Manoir Bellechasse, over thirty years ago:
And so they’d lain together for the first time, the sweet scent of the forest and kitchen thyme and lilac drifting almost visible through the screened window. But the loveliest scent of all was her, fresh and warm in his strong arms. He’d written a love note to her that night. He’d covered her softly with their simple white sheet, then, sitting in the cramped rocking chair, not daring to actually rock in case he whacked the wall behind or barked his shins on the bed in front, disturbing Reine-Marie, he’d watched her breathe. Then on Manoir Bellechasse notepaper he’d written. My love knows no –
How can a man contain such –
My heart and soul have come alive –
My love for you –
All night he wrote, and next morning, taped to the bathroom mirror, Reine-Marie found the note.
I love you.
We also learn something about his past that gives us great insight into Gamache the man. Armand Gamache is a complex, intricate character: strong, kind, moral, just and like each of us, imperfect. The suspects themselves aren’t flat, hollow characters, either; Penny brings them to life as deftly as she does all the continuing characters. We come to know them, and understand more their goals, their motivations, the reasons why they are the way they are.
One of the wonderful features of the first three novels in this series is the setting of Three Pines; I’d wondered in the past how Penny would be able to continue to credibly set mysteries in Three Pines, which has been as much of a character in the series as any of the human characters. What I’ve discovered with The Murder Stone is that Gamache is strong enough to carry a storyline all on his own; the setting of Three Pines plays a minor role in the novel but this doesn’t hurt the book at all.
If you love character-driven mysteries with complex plots, you’ll find The Murder Stone a very satisfying read indeed. For those new to the series, it’s fully capable of standing on its own, although you’re likely to find yourself searching out the first three mysteries in the series once you’ve finished this one.
For fans of the series, The Murder Stone is pure delight. Gamache is a wonderful character – the author notes in the acknowledgments that she has discovered she’s modelled him after her husband. Armand Gamache is one of my favorite detectives, and I’m eagerly waiting the next book in the series, which is due out this fall.
Related Links and Fun Stuff
The Murder Stone has been nominated in the category of best novel in this year’s Arthur Ellis Awards. The Arthur Ellis Awards are presented for excellence in crime writing. Winners will be announced on June 4, 2009.
Louise Penny talks about The Murder Stone:
Where to buy:
Review copy details: published by Headline, 2008, Hardcover, 320 pages