Friday, October 30, 2009

A Trio of Pennies...or rather Penny's

Since I've been slacking a bit on my reviews...o.k., I've been slacking a lot. I'm behind. So, I'm going to review three books together today. They all share a common theme - Armand Gamache. I listened to A FATAL GRACE, THE CRUELEST MONTH, and A RULE AGAINST MURDER on audiobook, all read by Ralph Cosham.

FIRST LINE (A FATAL GRACE): "Had CC de Poitiers known she was going to be murdered she might have bought her husband, Richard, a Christmas gift."

In A FATAL GRACE, the very snooty, very unpopular CC de Poitiers has moved into the old Hadley house of Three Pines with her husband and daughter, Crie. And when CC is electrocuted to death during a curling match, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his murder investigation team return to the small village at Christmastime to find a killer among a long list of suspects.

FIRST LINE (THE CRUELEST MONTH): "Kneeling in the fragrant moist grass of the village green Clara Morrow carefully hid the Easter egg and thought about raising the dead, which she planned to do right after supper."

THE CRUELEST MONTH shifts the season to Easter and to celebrate the holiday, a group of the Three Pines residents decide to hold a séance in...yep...the old Hadley house. But when the séance results in the death of Madeleine Favreau, the question becomes "did she die of natural causes or did someone murder her?" While Chief Inspector Armand Gamache investigates to discover the answer to this question, he must also face the past that haunts him and the present force that opposes him. It is Mother Nature who makes April the cruelest month for plants and animals, but human hands are entirely responsible for Gamache's cruelest month.

FIRST LINE (A RULE AGAINST MURDER): "In the height of summer then guests descended on the isolated lodge by the lake, summoned to the Manoir Bellechasse by identical vellum invitations, addressed in the familiar spider scrawl as though written in cobwebs."

And in the third of the trio, A RULE AGAINST MURDER, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache finds himself in a new setting investigating a murder. Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie, are celebrating their wedding anniversary at the luxurious Manoir Bellechasse at precisely the same time that the Finney family comes for a family reunion. In the midst of a summer rain storm, Julia Finney-Martin is crushed to death by a massive statue that not only fell from its pedestal but left no marks in the fall. Gamache must interrupt his anniversary vacation to determine not only who killed Julia and why, but first he must determine how the murderer knocked the statue over without leaving any physical trace on the pedestal.

I will start off by saying that this series is among my favorites on audiobook. While I own each book in hardcover, I have also listened to each on audio. Ralph Cosham is astounding. His portrayal of Penny's colorful cast is rich and poignant. Penny's writing coupled with Cosham's voice creates a magical presentation of the Three Pines series. In my mind, I could not have imagined a more appropriate sound for Gamache. And Cosham interprets the novels in such a way that Penny's dry humor powerful emotion radiates and from the speakers. This is definitely an audio series worth listening to.

I previously reviewed Louise Penny's first novel STILL LIFE and her most recent novel THE BRUTAL TELLING. And what is most important to know about Louise Penny's series: she is consistently amazing. In every book the characters come to life. You can see them and hear them and smell them. And they "touch" the reader in ways that the characters of many great writers never achieve. For me the most astonishing part is the way Penny creates an atmosphere that allows me to cheer for my friends, to cry with them, mourn with them, celebrate with them, LAUGH with them...fear with them, because she's allowed me to be a part of that community.

Penny also has a special talent when it comes to suspense. Her plot development builds suspense through many twists and turns right up to the very last minute and this is an element that is further enhanced by the audiobook because you can't look a couple lines ahead to see the twist happen. In A RULE AGAINST MURDER, until Gamache actually SAID the name of the murderer, I was convinced it was someone else. He was standing looking at the murderer and talking to the murderer, and I completely thought it was someone else. It's better than being caught completely unaware at Christmas.

Often we'll talk about visiting other worlds through our books, but never has it felt more real for me as a reader than in Louise Penny's tales of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Opening the front cover is like opening the front door and stepping into the warm, inviting town. The greatest sadness comes at the end when I close the back cover and know I've stepped back out of this world. But the welcome mat is always out at Three Pines, so I'll go back to visit over and over again.

I've spoken about these three novels in very broad strokes, but as I mentioned at the beginning Louise Penny is consistently amazing; she fills each and every novel with brilliant characters, strong emotion, witty humor, puzzling plots. And every book is still distinct, exquisite, and magical. If you have not read this series, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you do so. Order a book, visit your library, but get your hands on a Louise Penny Three Pines novel!

All five books in the Three Pines Series are available from St. Martin's Minotaur. In additon, the audiobooks are produced by Blackstone Audiobooks.


Kaye Barley October 30, 2009 at 10:55 AM  

Terrific reviews, Jen!
I've never been much for audio books, but you've pretty much convinced me to try these.
I've read all the books in the series and have re-read the first three. I've mentioned before - I think Louise Penny is one of the best writers writing right now. And she is also one of the nicest people you'd ever hope to meet, don't you think?

Jen - devourer of books October 30, 2009 at 1:58 PM  

Okay, I didn't get to my Louise Pennys during the Readathon and I think I'm going to have to return them to the library unread so I'm going to buy one. Which do you think I should get to start out with (I know we had this conversation before, but I can't find it...)

Jen Forbus October 30, 2009 at 2:04 PM  

I couldn't agree more! Louise Penny is smart and funny and quite possibly the kindest human being I've ever and she are running a darned tight race. And if you try the audios, let me know what you think.

STILL LIFE is the first book, if you want to start at the very beginning. This is a series you can, for the most part read of order if you want to...or need to because you have a hard time finding a book. What I would recommend, though, is no matter what you read A FATAL GRACE before THE CRUELEST MONTH. They have a story arc that runs across the two books, so THE CRUELEST MONTH won't make as much sense if you read it before A FATAL GRACE. As with any series, it makes the MOST sense if you read it in order, but other than those two (books 2 and 3) I think you can read in any order and still get the overall effect.

Jenn's Bookshelves October 30, 2009 at 10:31 PM  

Ok, ok, you've sold me on this series! I've seen you recommend these books on twitter and I've held out long enough. Once I finish the current series I'm listening to (I'm on the last book) I'll start this one!

Kailana October 30, 2009 at 11:22 PM  

I am going to do a few multi-posts like this so I can get through all the books I haven't reviewed yet.

Jen Forbus October 31, 2009 at 8:30 AM  

Yay Jenn! I can't wait to hear what you think!

Beth F October 31, 2009 at 10:14 AM  

I pretty much didn't have to read beyond "this series is among my favorites on audiobook"!! I have the first one on my MP3 player. I know I have to get going on it.

S. Krishna October 31, 2009 at 11:19 AM  

I've never read anything by Louise Penny, but I've seen a lot about her. I need to pick up one of her books!

Jen Forbus October 31, 2009 at 4:32 PM  

Awww Beth, you made my day! Thanks for that comment. And I hope all of you will come back and tell me what you thought of Louise's books. I'd really like to know! :)

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