It is Easter in Three Pines, Quebec, and the locals are discussing Easter traditions and the dangers of hiding edibles outdoors when bears are emerging from their dens. But nevermind! There’s a seance to attend, but there are some abstainers–including the spirits. Jeanne says the village is too happy for them to visit. Oh, but the abandoned Hadley house is available, right? Just because Clara was trapped in the basement and the deceased owner spread malicious lies for years doesn’t mean it is a bad idea. Just not a very good one. To absolutely no reader’s surprise, one of the guests at the seance dies of fright. Or did they? Inspector Ganache is summoned once again to restore the idyllic flow of life in Three Pines. Oh, fine–the name is Inspector Gamache.
This is Penny’s third installment in the series, and the writing is starting to feel more self-assured. However, a couple of stylistic issues remain, the most significant of which is the third-person limited point of view. All along, the reader dips into a variety of perspective of both villagers and investigators. Although there is some emotional benefit, as certain events are more meaningful depending on person, ultimately, it feels like trickery. As there are a number of people actively engaged in deceiving others, it becomes clear the limited viewpoint is supposed to heighten tension at the multiple end denouements, but because we were in those person’s thoughts, it’s disappointing as well. The limitations also mean limited insight into particular characters.
As a personal issue, I still dislike the staccato style, but at least I’m getting used to it.
“She always seemed to be enjoying herself. And why not, thought Clara. After what she’d been through.”
See? Ergh! Smooth those fragments out!
Mystery plotting is likely the weakest part of the book. Ganache is no Poirot, using the little grey cells to piece together the events of the night and the characters of all involved. A cursory search and a coincidental event leads to the solution. But that’s okay, because his grey cells are off-line, distracted by the emotion caused from some malicious newspaper articles alleging his corruption. Mon dieu! Heavy handed and fairly implausible, it didn’t really square with Penny’s world-building of an upstanding guy that everyone admires and loves (except all the people that hate him with a passion). At least this time, we get to see him acting all noble and calm so we can observe how spiffy he is and his groovy, thoughtful brown eyes reading our soul.
But you know why I read this? I mean, besides book OCD? Because the language is frequently lovely. The gentle humor that occasionally peeked through was also delightful.
“Clara have always liked Odile.… She claimed to be working on an epic poem, an ode to the English of Quebec, which was suspicious since she was French.”
The bawdy caricature-based humor present in the first book has improved and become slightly more subtle. Well, except the ducks and Ruth the poet, which are not subtle at all. Duck! (Rhymes with f*ck, get it?) Fowl! I cry fowl!
But read this very clever bit that so nicely blends character, uncomfortable emotion and humor:
“Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir watched as the last of the Crime Scene team packed up… Ripping a length of tape from a yellow roll he stuck it across the door. He repeated that several times more than he normally would. Something in him felt the need to seal away whatever was in that room. He’d never admit it, of course, but Jean Guy Beauvoir had felt something growing… Foreboding. No, not foreboding. Something else.
Emptiness. Jean Guy Beauvoir felt he was being hollowed out. And he suddenly knew that if he stay there would be just a chasm and and echo where his insides had been…
Had he known how the artist Christo had wrapped the Reichstag he might have seen a similarity. Yellow Crime Scene tape smothered the door.”
Still far too much telling instead of doing. But worth reading all the same.