Tag Archives: louise penny

Quirky Characters, a Charming Setting and Topical Issues: Louise Penny’s A Better Man

4 May

A Better Man
Take a small rural Canadian village. A bistro serving almond croissants and café au lait. A quirky cast of core characters, with a few new faces mixed in each new book of the series.

Mix in some current topical issues, in this case the effects of environmental change, social media reality and the how impressions can be shaped there by anonymity, doctored videos and the viral nature of opinions. Add other dark aspects of life, like violence against women.

What you get is a somewhat cozy mystery with enough rough reality mixed in that you won’t gag from the sweetness.

It’s a formula that is repeated throughout this now 15 book long series. Armand Gamache, an officer of the Surete du Quebec lives with his extended family in the (fictional) village of Three Pines in Quebec. He deals with various crimes (a rather shocking amount, for such a backwater) as well as issues within the Surete du Quebec. He carries the baggage of decisions he has made in his career in each new book. In this one, he is looking into the disappearance of a woman known to have been abused by her husband. He is helped by his son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and other Surete agents that have appeared in previous books in the series.

I hesitate to make the suggestion, because it is a rather substantial reading commitment, but it really is best to read the series in order. There is enough explanation of the backstories of the major plot developments to get you through each book as a stand-alone, but your enjoyment will be deeper for seeing characters develop over time. Penny doesn’t pull any punches. She is not afraid to write main characters out of the script or involve plot twists that will shock you.

A list of the series in order from the first to the most recent is: Still Life, A Fatal Grace/Dead Cold (same book, different title), The Cruelest Month, A Rule Against Murder/The Murder Stone (same book, different title), The Brutal Telling, Bury Your Dead, A Trick of the Light, The Beautiful Mystery, How the Light Gets In, The Long Way Home, The Nature of the Beast, A Great Reckoning, Glass Houses, Kingdom of the Blind, and A Better Man.  You can find them as ebooks and/or digital audiobooks to checkout from eLibraryNJ, eBCCLS, and Hoopla.

If you require s bit more convincing, take a look at Louise Penny’s web site, which features reviews and more describing the books in detail.

What I enjoy about the series is the morality of Armand Gamache and the plotting that keeps each book both familiar and surprising. And the food! The characters frequently indulge in food and drink at the bistro or at get-togethers at the villagers’ homes that sound awesome.

Written by:
Victoria Turk
Reference Librarian

Top Mysteries of 2013

20 Dec

Whether you like your books gritty and real, calm and cozy or somewhere in between; 2013 was a great year for mysteries. I will admit to being partial to mystery series. Once you come across an author and fall in love with the writing, imagery and the characters you never want the story to end. It was difficult to narrow down this list from the dozens that were true contenders, but overall the following five are ones that struck a chord well after the final pages were turned.

1. How the Light Gets In – Louise Penny


Louise Penny never fails to delight and draw her readers into the world she creates for us. The tale begins with the death of an old woman, as the story unfolds, she is revealed to be the last surviving sister of quintuplets (a la the Dionne quints) whose every existence was filmed, reported and followed. But who would kill someone so harmless, who, in later years, along with her sisters, shunned the constant spotlight and chose instead to live quietly, under an assumed name? Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to takeover this potentially high profile case. Meanwhile, Gamache, while trying to expose corruption at the highest level finds himself vulnerable professionally and personally, having been betrayed by his deputy whom he regarded as a son. Penny draws us into an explosive conclusion carrying the darkness into the purity that is Three Pines.

2. Just One Evil Act  – Elizabeth George


Beginning where her last book ends (Believing the Lie, 2012), Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers steps in to help her friend Taymullah Azhar find his daughter, Hadiyyah, kidnapped from his home by the girl’s mother. However, nothing is as first appears. Taymullah, never married Hadiyyah’s mother, he is in fact still married and has a family from whom he is ostracized. He was also never named on Hadiyyah’s birth certificate. As weeks turn into months with no clue as to her whereabouts, Hadiyyah’s mother returns claiming that Hadiyyah’s been kidnapped while in Lucca, Italy. Barbara requests a leave of absence to help find Hadiyyah and begs DI Lynley’s help as well. Through several surprising plot twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat, it begs the question, how well do you ever truly know someone? In addition to an absolutely wonderful mystery is George’s amazing depiction of Lucca, Italy, she brings every aspect of this town to life in a way all her own.

3. Question of Identity – Susan Hill


Susan Hill provides another addictive entry in the Simon Serrailler series. In the peaceful town of Lafferton, the heinous murder of an old woman shocks the entire village. The killer, however, is just beginning, several more murders follow the first, sending the town into panic. The ‘signs’ carved on the victims’ bodies point to a series of murders years ago. The suspect in that case was acquitted for lack of evidence and subsequently disappeared. Leaving the people of Lafferton to question how well they know their friends, neighbors and even their own families.

4. Sound of Broken Glass – Deborah Crombie


Friendships and professional relationships are put to the test, when DS Talbot spends the night with the witness in a murder case, who may also be a suspect. Talbot’s reluctance to tell her boss and injured colleague causes a rift in their relationship and the investigation. Andy Monahan had a fight with the victim, Victor Arnott, a barrister, shortly before he was killed. Found in a seedy hotel naked, tied up and strangled with a scarf. Shortly after, another barrister, Shaun Francis, is found murdered in the same manner. The only tie between the two men is Andy. An errant piece of gossip brings to light a case of underhanded legal maneuvers that destroyed lives leaving one person seeking revenge.

5. An Old Betrayal –  Charles Finch


Charles Lenox, formally a private detective, now a Member of Parliament, making a name for himself. Called in to help his former protégé, the ailing John Dallington, Lenox, slightly bored with the tedium of Parliament, jumps at the chance. The case involves the blackmail of Queen Victoria’s secretary tied into a case of long-standing revenge that leads to murder and mistaken identity. Back at Parliament, the honor and integrity of Charles’ secretary is also called into question by a barrage of insidious gossip and thereby could besmirch Charles’ own integrity. Charles and Dallington make a fine duo in this seventh installment to the series.

Written by Rosary Van Ingen, Librarian, Head of Circulation

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