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Pickle Me This

August 25, 2015

The Nature of the Beast, by Louise Penny

11-lrg-the-nature-of-the-beastIf you’re like me, you’ve always thought the one thing missing from the bucolic idyll of Three Pines in Quebec’s Eastern Townships (apart from a cell phone signal) was arms dealers and old Cold War conspiracies. Or maybe you never knew that you were missing these, but while their arrival into Louise Penny’s fictional village initially seems a bit incongruous, you will quickly suspend disbelief and just settle into her latest title, The Nature of the Beast, enjoying the ride.

After finding her previous release underwhelming (and it was always going to be a challenge to follow up the amazing How the Light Gets In—interestingly, too, her books set in Three Pines [no matter how unfathomably!] always seem to be her most compelling), I was so pleased to be swept away by a new Chief Inspector Gamache novel. Although in this one, Gamache is Monsieur instead of Chief, retired from the Sûreté du Québec and living with his wife in Three Pines. Which should really be the last place a homicide inspector goes to retire. It means he’s still in the centre of things when the body of a young boy prone to telling tall tales is found in woods, that horror yielding another more deadly discovery.

Gamache remains a part of the murder investigation, but the dynamics are different now as Isabelle Lacoste has taken his place as Chief Inspector, Gamache’s son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir her second-in-command. The interpersonal relations are one of the most compelling aspects of the narrative, the web widening to include all the residents of Three Pines we’ve become familiar with over the past decade, and a few we haven’t met before. Matters complicated by the arrival of CSIS agents, a mysterious physics professor from McGill University, and old stories about arms deals to the Soviets and Saddam Hussein, a draft-dodger who wrote folk songs with appalling lyrics, and a serial killer whose evil continues to haunt Gamache to this day. Plus a Neil Young soundtrack, references to classical literature and the Book of Revelations, and a wonderful line, an allusion to Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, in which Gamache tells Jean-Guy that he “is a brave man in a  brave country.”

Weapons of mass destruction in Three Pines? It’s all a bit nuts, as are the connections between plot points, but the characters are so realized and convincing in their actions and motivations that it works. As do the arguments about good and evil and courage and bravery that Penny and her characters have been grappling with through the entire series. And it’s a relief to find, as the novel suggests, with Gamache making plans for his future, that they’re not finished yet.

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