BOOK REVIEW: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

2277378Title: The Cruelest Month

Author: Louise Penny

Book Length: 310 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Crime,

Read Start Date: June 27, 2022

Read Finish Date: July 31, 2022

Number in Book Series: 3

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Welcome to Three Pines, where the cruelest month is about to deliver on its threat.

It’s spring in the tiny, forgotten village; buds are on the trees and the first flowers are struggling through the newly thawed earth. But not everything is meant to return to life. . .

When some villagers decide to celebrate Easter with a séance at the Old Hadley House, they are hoping to rid the town of its evil—until one of their party dies of fright. Was this a natural death, or was the victim somehow helped along?

Brilliant, compassionate Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is called to investigate, in a case that will force him to face his own ghosts as well as those of a seemingly idyllic town where relationships are far more dangerous than they seem.

My Review: In this third installment of the Armand Gamache series we are back in Three Pines again. For such a small town, there is certainly a huge crime rate! The whole cast of characters is back and we get to learn more about their characters.

For example, Clara Marrow is an aspiring up and coming artist, having been recently discovered (in the second book). She is working on a masterpiece to be shown at a gallery and everyone loves it. It is truly fantastic. In a bout of jealousy, her husband Peter tells her the colors are off, and Clara obsesses over what needs to change. I was pretty annoyed at Peter for this — the painting was wonderful and didn’t need any changing, but he was such a jerk and basically sabotaged Clara’s success. Peter is also an artist and relished the spotlight, which has now has shifted to his wife. I spent most of the book really disliking Peter as a character — this feeling was only slightly changed when Peter redeems himself at the end.

We also learn more about the Arnot case and why Gamache took on his superiors. Essentially, Arnot was commanding his officers to not only look the other way in Native Canadian’s murders and other crimes i.e., they do not try to solve the cases, but eventually the police start committing the murders themselves. Gamache discovers this horrendous corruption and brings down Arnot and the other perpetrators. There are still some officers loyal to Arnot and they are trying to bring down Gamache — little does Gamache know that some of the people closest to him are the ones trying to take him down. The conspiracy is mounting, false stories are beginning to hit the newspapers and Gamache is trying to avoid them while solving the murder in Three Pines.

Along with our old friends from books past, we meet several new characters. Among these is Madeleine, who has moved in with her old school pal Hazel and Hazel’s daughter, Sophie. Madeleine’s boyfriend Monsieur Beliveau, and also Odile and her boyfriend Gilles.

I really love how rich, deep and complex these characters and their backgrounds are. These people feel very real to me and it is one of the reasons why I love this series so much.

Speaking of the murder, Gabri and Olivier decide to have a séance at their bistro on Good Friday led by a Wiccan, Jeanne, who has been lured to the town by an ad sent to her by the killer stating that the town is home to spiritual power. The séance does not go well (there are no spirits because the psychic Jeanne says that the village is “too happy”) and the participants decide to have another one at the Old Hadley place. In case you don’t remember, the Old Hadley place was the scene of the murder in the first book, was the home of the murderer in the second book, and in general the people of Three Pines think the house is evil or houses evil / is haunted. So, of course, what better place to hold a séance?

It seems fit then that the place where the villagers direct their negative energy has killed one of their own — newcomer Madeleine dies of fright during the séance, scared to death by the house itself. It is soon discovered that she was given a diet drug known to cause fatal heart attacks. Enter Gamache and his team to try to solve the case. Who wanted Madeleine dead? Everyone seems to love her — both women and men alike.

The dynamics on the team are, as always, interesting. We have Beauvoire, who most certainly loves Gamache like a son loves a father. Nichol, who everyone loves to hate is back again. I can’t figure out whether she is on Gamache’s side or not — this is still a mystery. Although she is loathsome character to be sure, her background is just as deep as the other characters in this book. Lacoste and Lemieux are also back again — and Lemieux is definitely a hidden fly in the ointment.

Can I say again how much I love Penny’s world building?

I am starting to see a pattern here — by the third book it is pretty clear that one of the new characters has committed the murder. Each has a motive, but which one did the deed?

You should definitely read to find out!

Other Books in this Series:

Book #1: A Still Life is the first book in the series where we are introduced to Armand Gamache and the village of Three Pines.

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: The discovery of a dead body in the woods on Thanksgiving Weekend brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his colleagues from the Surete du Quebec to a small village in the Eastern Townships. Gamache cannot understand why anyone would want to deliberately kill well-loved artist Jane Neal, especially any of the residents of Three Pines – a place so free from crime it doesn’t even have its own police force.

But Gamache knows that evil is lurking somewhere behind the white picket fences and that, if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will start to give up its dark secrets…

You can find my review of Still Life here.

Book #2: A Fatal Grace is the second book in the series.

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder.

No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter—and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death.

When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he’s dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder—or brilliant enough to succeed?

With his trademark compassion and courage, Gamache digs beneath the idyllic surface of village life to find the dangerous secrets long buried there. For a Quebec winter is not only staggeringly beautiful but deadly, and the people of Three Pines know better than to reveal too much of themselves. But other dangers are becoming clear to Gamache. As a bitter wind blows into the village, something even more chilling is coming for Gamache himself. 

You can find my review of A Fatal Grace here.

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