The Cruelest Month is the third I’ve read of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache series, set in the small village of Three Pines near Montreal. In this book, set on Easter weekend, a psychic happens to be visiting the village on her spring vacation. In something of a busman’s holiday maneuver, Gabri, the owner of the bed-and-breakfast, convinces the psychic to hold a séance. “Just for fun,” he wheedles (any little show livens things up for business, doesn’t it?) But the séance becomes far more serious than anyone had guessed or planned when the dead are invited into the circle, but one living guest never leaves it.
This book was slightly more complicated than the other two I’ve read. In the previous two, there have been hints about why certain factions in the Sûreté of Québec are against Chief Inspector Gamache — why he will never advance further in the force, and why he, his family, and his team are now in real danger. In this book, those hints are much more fully fleshed out, and we get some substantial answers and relationship-building in Gamache’s team — including a possible traitor.
The other plot line, of course, is the murder of Madeleine Favreau. Once again, Louise Penny doesn’t disappoint. Having the murders all take place in one tiny village is absurd in one sense, of course — how many creative murders can one tiny québecois village sustain, year in and year out, anyway? — but it suits a novelist’s purpose perfectly. We see characters and relationships grow and develop, whether for good or for ill. Even eccentric characters like the poet Ruth Zardo are not caricatures. The only thing Penny risks by having her regular characters become so interesting is having her reader lose interest in the actual murder itself. I’ll admit that in this book, it was down third or fourth on my list of things to pay attention to!
If you haven’t tried the Gamache series, I’d really recommend picking up the first of these, Still Life. They are interesting, compassionate, thoughtful mysteries that have held my attention. See what you think.