The Cruellest Month

The Cruellest Month

A review of The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny

Published on May 1, 2008

The Cruellest Month
Louise Penny

Hodder Headline
$24.95
paper
220pp
0755328957

This is Louise Penny’s third murder mystery featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, everybody’s favourite Sûreté du Québec detective. Once again, the murder takes place in the village of Three Pines, this time at a seance held on Easter Sunday in the (supposedly haunted) old Hadley house. While leading the ensuing investigation Gamache has to contend with the machinations of his enemies within the Sûreté du Québec, including a traitor on his own team, who are out to destroy him and harm his family.

After a slightly confusing opening, the book becomes impossible to put down as Penny cuts skilfully from one plotline to the other and from character to character, keeping the suspense at a high pitch throughout. The characters, many familiar from the previous books, are vivid and engaging; Penny depicts them with great charm and wit. New characters include the enigmatic, pale-eyed Jeanne Chauvet, a self-professed witch, and the medium at the fatal seance.

The contrast between the gritty atmosphere of the SQ and the more whimsical world of Three Pines is well set out, although Penny’s rhapsodic descriptions of the latter can get out of hand: “the village green awash with spring flowers, deep blue hyacinths and bluebells and gay bobbing daffodils, snowdrops and fragrant lily of the valley.” In fact, with each book in this series the real village becomes more stylized and less substantial, in the tradition of Agatha Christie, so it becomes harder and harder to convince the reader that dark and monstrous forces are at work there. Nonetheless, the captivated reader will disregard these criticisms. mRb

Elspeth Redmond is a Baie d'Urfe writer and reviewer.

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