The Murder Stone

THE MURDER STONE
By Louise Penny

The Murder Stone is the fourth Inspector Gamache novel in as many years from Louise Penny and completes a seasonal cycle. The previous books have featured murders taking place on Thanksgiving, Boxing Day and Easter. In the present installment we find ourselves at the classy Manoir Bellechasse on a stifling hot Canada Day weekend. The Manoir is playing host to a dysfunctional family reunion that takes a turn for the mysterious when a freshly-unveiled statue of the patriarch falls, with fatal result, on one of his progeny. As luck would have it, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his wife are also guests at the Manoir, celebrating their anniversary. It seems crime doesn’t take a holiday.

Penny now has her formula down pat, which in the case of a murder mystery is not a criticism. The divine Agatha became the world’s bestselling author by giving readers what they expect, and Penny is heir to the same tradition. There is the usual cozy attention to the domestic details of menu and gardening, not to mention the demarcations of an upstairs/downstairs world where, yes, good help is hard to find. The mystery is a conservative form, a sort of comfort fiction, and Penny wants to reassure us of such timeless verities as we follow a team of twenty-first century detectives piecing together whodunit while drinking tea out of fine bone china and munching on crustless cucumber sandwiches.

In other words this is another thoroughly enjoyable, well-crafted mystery in Penny’s signature style. Murder in a Gamache novel is something “deeply human,” not a distinct event but the eruption of repressed, long-festering emotions. And so the Manoir Bellechasse is a house full of guilty secrets, a traditional setting that loads the table with platters of red herrings. The solution misses a bit of elegance, but the puzzle fascinates and it will be a strong-willed reader indeed who doesn’t pick up speed toward the end, trying to match wits with the avuncular Gamache. A losing proposition for most (including this reviewer), but a challenge fit for the Golden Age of crime.

Notes:
Review first published in Quill & Quire, September 2008.