Book Review: A Rule Against Murder

09Feb13

penny_rule

Title: A Rule Against Murder

Series: Chief Inspector Gamache Mysteries, book 4

Author: Louise Penny

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: Minotaur

Length: 322 pages

Library: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh–South Side

Challenge: 2013 Literary Exploration Challenge, Mystery category

Summary: Inspector Gamache and his wife take their yearly vacation, only to stumble into a murder that takes place during a family reunion.

Analysis

Normally the fourth book in a series is not the best place to start. However, readers who have never had the Louise Penny experience could pick up this volume and enjoy it immensely. The layers of meaning, from having absorbed the first three books in the series, would not, admittedly, be there. Taking the murder out of Three Pines, however, and placing it in neutral territory, makes it possible for a newcomer to read and enjoy Gamache’s mental gymnastics.

The hard-working Inspector and his wife, Reine-Marie, are treating themselves to their yearly vacation at Manoir Bellechasse. Most of the fellow guests at the inn are there for a family reunion, although from the way they snipe at each other, it’s difficult to see why. Long-held resentments and toxic patterns of behavior abound, so when the Gamaches’ dear friends from Three Pines, Peter and Clara Morrow, show up, it explains for those familiar with the series just what the heck Peter’s deal is (and, to an extent, Clara’s). It’s no surprise at all that somebody gets killed under these circumstances, and it’s up to Gamache to sort it out (poor fellow, even on vacation!). A subplot, involving a new grandchild and an old scandal, add richness and depth to Gamache’s character, endearing him to old and new readers alike.

What makes these books sing is Penny’s loving, attentive detail to the history and culture of Canada. History, geography, literature, culture: it’s all there, a setting beautifully woven together with love, so much love that these details are frequently more interesting than the actual plot mechanics. Gamache will eventually find the murderer, we’re certain, but we are having so much fun getting there, so much fun learning about these people and their ecosystem, that we are not overly worried about it. We are, instead, learning about food, about manners, about native plants and animals, in a way that simply picking up a book on Canadian history would not deliver.

Penny also has a great gift for depicting her characters’ interior landscapes. The novel is populated with wounded, broken souls, some of whom are coping with it gracefully while others…not so much. Gamache is not so much solving a murder as he is healing the broken, a phenomenon made all the more touching because his own internal territory is not without pain. Penny understands people’s best and worst aspects, and shows how there is always a choice, and a chance, to move from a place of torment to one of grace and healing.

The chances are good that you will walk away from this novel wanting to read the others in the series (start with Still Life), learn more about Canada, or both.  Penny has given us a great gift, a fictional world so rich and evocative that you’d want to move there. Yes, even with all the murders going on. Introduce yourself to Inspector Gamache and the village of Three Pines: you won’t regret it.

Recommended for: Literary fiction fans who also like mystery, people for whom character and setting are very important, people who like to learn about other cultures, people interested in the psychology behind murders.

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