Monday, December 10, 2018

"Kingdom of the Blind" by Louise Penny

Armand Gamache, former head of the Surete du Quebec, receives a letter from a notary, asking him to come to a farmhouse about 20 minutes from Gamache’s village of Three Pines. Once there, he discovers that Myrna Landers, owner of the bookstore in the village, has received the same letter. As has a young man from Montreal, a building contractor. The notary explains that they have been asked to be executors of a will of a woman known as “the Baroness.”

The Baroness has left millions in capital and real estate to her three children. The problem is that the Baroness was a cleaning lady, who had not amassed anything close to the sizeable fortune cited in the will. Her three adult children have heard the stories – a family feud buried under longstanding litigation that goes back to 19thcentury Vienna and has somehow survived the collapse of the Habsburg Empire and the confiscation by the Nazis. The litigation is still ongoing, but is there any fortune left?

Then the Baroness’s oldest son is found dead. What at first appears to be an accident turns out to be murder, and Gamache and his son-in-law (and chief of homicide) Jean-Guy Beauvoir find themselves investigating financial management firms, old Austrian wills, and what looks to be a very contemporary case of fraud.

Gamache has another issue on his hands. A dead form of fentanyl is about to hit the streets of Montreal. It is the drug supply that Gamache has allowed into the country in the previous novel, Glass Houses, to break up a huge drug supply ring. But some of the drugs disappeared, and the Surete is undertaking an internal investigation of Gamache with the end of destroying him. Gamache has to find the drugs before a disaster of death hits the streets.

Louise Penny
Kingdom of the Blind by Canadian mystery writer Louise Penny is the 14thin the Armand Gamache series, and it maintains Penny’s consistently high quality of work. The reader is hooked into the story from the outset, and the story just won’t let go.

Penny is a master of characterization. She helps us crawl inside her characters’ heads, and it is from there that we watch each new development unfold. And the regular cast of characters from Three Pines make their contributions to the story (and the case being investigated), especially crazy poet Ruth Zardo, artist Clara Morrow, and Ruth’s duck Rosa. At the center of the drug case is Amelia Choquet, the former prostitute and all-around bad girl that Gamache recruited for the police academy and who’s been dismissed (and almost arrested) for drug possession.

And it wouldn’t be a Gamache novel without snow. A lot of snow.

Kingdom of the Blind has a kind of valedictory feel to it. Penny explains in an afterword that she didn’t think she would write another Gamache novel after the death of her husband. The way the novel ends, it could be the last, if Penny so decides.

Or perhaps not. We hope.


Top photograph: A scene in Freleighsburg, Quebec, a village not unlike Three Pines.

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