Fifteen years ago, Louise Penny published Still Life, the first book in a new cozy murder mystery series. Still Life introduced readers to a mystical Québec village called Three Pines and to a cast of quirky characters. Each book can be read independently and enjoyed but to fully understand the main characters, I encourage reading the series in order.
THE BRUTAL TELLING: Inspector Gamache Series #5
It’s midnight. Olivier Brulé leaves The Bistro, but instead of turning toward home, he slips up the hill turning onto a hidden trail leading deep into the forest. He spots a faint light in the distance. He has arrived, as he does every two weeks in the dark of night, with a load of groceries, at the Hermit’s hidden cabin.
“They sipped Orange Pekoe tea. A treat, Olivier knew, reserved for the Hermit’s honored guest. His only guest.” After sharing a familiar and terrifying story together, Olivier heads home with an object the Hermit has given him to cover the cost of the supplies. He has been careful, as always to avoid detection. He doesn’t want anyone, especially Gabri, to know about the Hermit.
Early the next morning the phone rings at Olivier’s home. A passerby has spotted a body on the floor in the Bistro!
Mon Dieu, Olivier, the man’s been murdered!
But who is he?, Gabri whispered.
It was the Hermit. Dead. Murdered. In the bistro.
I don’t know, said Olivier.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team, once again, arrive in Three Pines. Who was this stranger? Where did he come from? How did he get in the Bistro? Everyone hopes the murderer is also someone unknown; it is unthinkable that someone in this tight-nit village is capable of such violence.
The townsfolk wonder about the newcomers that have purchased an old rundown estate overlooking the village. Their plans to create an upscale resort has upset the village and threatens the future of the Bistro and Gabri’s Bed and Breakfast. The discovery of the body in Olivier’s Bistro only intensifies the unrest and distrust. It is obvious the murder occurred elsewhere and someone deliberately staged the body.
The resort’s groundskeeper, clearing overgrown horse paths, leads to the discovery of the Hermit’s cabin and the bloody scene of the crime. What they find inside the cabin is even more baffling than the murder and again raises questions about Olivier’s honesty and character. Could this beloved resident of Three Pines have a dark side? Gamache struggles to separate his deep feelings for Olivier with his uncanny ability to recognize when someone is not telling the truth or withholding information. He so very much wants to exonerate Olivier but every new clue in someway implicates him.
The atmosphere of Brutal Telling has a markedly different feel than previous books in the series. There’s the usual engaging dialogue tucked here and there but we begin to realize we don’t know our lovable characters as well as we thought. It is as though, the author, allows us to learn everyone’s inner thoughts. Sometimes, it doesn’t reflect the happy-go-lucky exterior we have come to know and love. Other times we see that the characters we thought were curmudgeons are really caring and thoughtful people. Could a Saint also be a Sinner? You will be forced to reflect on those times when you have done or said something you would rather the world didn’t know about.
The ending will shock you. Major hint. Read the next book, Bury Your Dead.