The Cruelest Month

cruelest monthThe 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.

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16 Responses to The Cruelest Month

  1. Lisa says:

    I love these early books so much, particularly because of Armand Gamache himself. Some things happen in the last couple of books though that have put me off the series. I will be very interested in your reactions once you get there.

    Have you seen the TV production of the first book? I haven’t, but a friend who’s a fellow reader of the books enjoyed it.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh no! You’ve given me the “shoals ahead” signal now!

      I’m kidding. No series is perfect. I’ll enjoy it as long as I enjoy it. I haven’t seen any TV production of it. I wonder what it’s like!

  2. Kay says:

    This is my favorite mystery series. It’s a funny thing – this author does have a lot of murders in a small village and it does suspend belief. However, when she takes the characters out of Three Pines (like in the next book), many don’t like those books as well. I do, but as I said, my favorite series. I think her ‘out of town’ books kind of re-center the characters or refresh and then you come back and dig into the local issues again.

    Lisa asked above about the TV adaptation – I saw it and it was OK, but I think that casting Nathaniel Parker as Gamache was my undoing. He was Thomas Lynley to me. Kind of hope they don’t do any other books as TV. I was rather underwhelmed with it.

    • Jenny says:

      My favorite mystery series by far is Dorothy Sayers — no matter what she writes — but especially her books that involve Harriet Vane. Second favorite is Laurie King’s Russell/Holmes series. After that… maybe Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series? This comes down the list a ways, but I am certainly enjoying it! I am having trouble picturing Lynley as Gamache. He isn’t… solid enough.

      • Lisa says:

        At a signing here in Houston, Louise Penny mentioned that Ciaran Hinds was in talks or under consideration to play Gamache, and she thought he would be a good choice. There was this instant hum of approval from the audience. I’ve pictured him in the role ever since.

  3. Rohan says:

    I keep trying this series but without success. I didn’t find the first one very substantial, somehow, and the ones I’ve picked up and put down since haven’t kept my attention. But so many people whose taste I trust really like them — you add to my sense that I should keep trying.

    • Jenny says:

      This isn’t by any means a perfect series. The first one I thought was well-written, and did what so few mysteries do, in that it took the grief of the victim’s family and friends seriously. I also like that it makes Gamache a hero without making him perfect. The series is somewhere in between cozy and gritty — and I’m not one who thinks gritty means substantial. But not every series is for everyone! Don’t read it if you don’t enjoy it, Rohan — life is too short!

  4. Hi, Jenny. This is the favorite author (and series) of my mother, the mystery buff. I hope she will be able to get it on audio, though, as she no longer likes to sit still long enough to read a book. She started taking mystery after mystery out of the library, but switched to audio in order to time her exercise walks with her reading exercises. I’ve got to tell her now what your commenters above said about Nathaniel Parker being Penny’s detective–I have a feeling her response will be much the same, as is mine: “What??? No, he’s Inspector Lynley!”

    • Jenny says:

      I hope the reader for the audiobooks is good — it makes such a difference! When I had a long commute and was listening to a lot of books on tape, I used to follow readers instead of books I wanted to read, because the good readers were so important.

  5. Michelle says:

    I love this series. It is one of those I want to read and reread because they never get old. It’s like slipping into a warm bath. I’m so glad you are enjoying them too!

    • Jenny says:

      I’ve enjoyed it a great deal so far! I think the characterization and growth of the people in Three Pines has been my favorite thing about the series.

  6. Laura J. Bloxham says:

    I love, love, love this series. I found no let down at any point. In fact, there came a point when I wept through several of them. The characters are real people to me. I will not watch a TV adaptation.

    • Jenny says:

      I’m so glad you introduced me to these! I’ve enjoyed the first three so much, and more as I’ve read more of them. Do you think a TV series would spoil them because they’re so real to you?

      • Laura J. Bloxham says:

        Yup. I don’t want actors playing the real people in my head and in the books. I’m protective of them.

  7. Fictionophile says:

    Louise Penny’s Gamache series is one of the finest mystery series I’ve ever read. It is so nice to see others like her novels as much as I do.
    I did NOT like the TV adaptation of “Still Life”. Though I love Nathaniel Parker he was NOT the Gamache I had pictured when reading the book.

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