The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

LongWayHomeWithin just a few pages of The Long Way Home it’s evident that you’re in the hands of an accomplished writer. This is the latest novel in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series by Canadian best selling author Louise Penny and if the plot of this tenth title seems a little weaker than its predecessors, the psychological perspectives, strong sense of place and memorable characters are undiminished.

Gamache, newly retired from his post as head of the Sûreté du Québec has moved from Montreal to live in the village of Three Pines with his wife Reine-Marie. It’s a time for reflection and a time for healing after his incendiary confrontation with terrorism and police corruption in the last novel How the Light Gets In. The quietude of Three Pines, a village so small it hardly exits on any map, seems the perfect place in which to achieve the desired calm.

“Armand Gamache looked across to the deep green midsummer forest and the mountains that rolled into eternity. Then his eyes dropped to the village in the valley below them, as though held in the palm of an ancient hand. A stigmata in the Québec countryside. Not a wound, but a wonder.”

But if Armad has come here to make a fresh start, he cannot ignore a personal request from the artist Clara Morrow, one of his neighbours, to use his detective skills and contacts. Her estranged husband, Peter, also an artist but one whose career has been eclipsed by his wife’s success, has failed to make an agreed rendezvous to reassess their marraige. Gamache ropes in his former detective partner and son in law Jean-Guy Beauvoir, to try and trace the missing man. Their search takes them on a journey into the darker side of the artistic world, revealing jealousies and the despair over unfulfilled talent.

A few Three Pines residents familiar from earlier novels make a reappearance in The Long Way Home including Gabi and Oliver who run the bistro which becomes the de facto search team HQ and Myrna the bookshop owner. The acerbic highly talented poet Ruth Zardo gets to show a side of her character hitherto unknown, providing critical insight Into the mind of the artist.

“Peter always had a ‘best before’ date stamped on his forehead,” said Ruth. “People who live in their heads do. They start out well enough, but eventually they run out of ideas. And if there’s no imagination, no inspiration to fall back on? Then what?”

Pride of place of course goes to Clara who makes it clear that although she wants the detective’s help, it’s her husband who is missing so she gets to decide how they find him.

All the elements exist for a very good mystery novel. The most enjoyable aspect of this book for me however lay beyond the discovery of what happened to Peter and related more to the themes that are woven throughout the pages.  Chief among these is the reconciliation and self enlightenment. The main characters in this book are all on a journey of some kind that will take them closer to understanding themselves and what matters most. (In her introduction, Penny says she was influenced by Homer’s The Odyssey and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness).

For Armand, the return to the procedures of detection rekindles his belief that while there is a world of beauty and love it is also one filled with killers and cruelty that he feels compelled to act and to stop. By the end of the novel he, like the village, has found a new sense of calm and of a new beginning.

What Louise Penny does next with this series will be very interesting to see. She hasn’t given any indication that this is the last Inspector Gamache story and having built such a strong protagonist whose ‘brand’ has resonated with millions of readers, why would she? But having retired him to one of the smallest communities in rural Quebec, it’s going to be tough to find convincing mysteries in which he can exercise his prowess.

End Notes
A Long Way Home was published in the UK in August 2014. Thanks to Sphere for providing me with an advance copy via NetGalley.

Louise Penny talked recently to NPR about her latest book. listen to the recording at
http://www.npr.org/2014/08/24/342873734/louise-penny-builds-a-magical-ensemble-in-the-long-way-home

 

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on September 5, 2014, in Canadian authors, Crime and thrillers and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I have a problem with this as a crime novel. I think what she is exploring in relation to the discoveries that Peter has to make about himself and the creative process is by far the most important thing in the book and the murder feels to me as if it’s only there because it’s what her readership and her publishers expect of her. She references Marilynne Robinson in this book but to me it read far more like something from Richard Russo or Elizabeth Strout who both explore the intricate relationships of small communities. There are many stories to tell about Three Pines which don’t require murders and I would like to see her go this way. I have written to her publishers to say this but so far no reply:-)

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    • This could be an indication that she is going further down the mystery path than crime. She has a website, maybe you could put your suggestion/ idea there so she sees it herself rather than rely on the publisher who may filter it out

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  2. I didn’t realize that this is number 10. I’ve been meaning to try the first one for years

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    • I came across her by accident Guy. I’m not sure which book it was, but it could have been seven or eight I. The series. It’s called the Beautiful Mystery, set in a convent and I loved it. Then I started at number 1

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  3. This is a new author to me. I usually love mystery series, so I should give her a try.

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  4. Louise Penny came highly recommended by someone I trust. So, I tried a couple of her books. She left me flat and I have a hard time articulating why. It may be the subgenre. I think I prefer noir and even some of the gritty, more overtly violent crime novels. Penny’s small-village mysteries may just be a tad too polite for me. ( I’m not proud of this. I have never quite understood this dark part of my own reading personality). But then too, I often like what you like. Maybe, I should try Penny again.

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