It’s early spring in Quebec, and the ice-packed rivers are thawing. The combination of thick ice and thaw, snow and refreezing, is creating treacherous conditions, including an imminent threat of flooding. The situation is so bad in Montreal that dynamite is being used to break the ice-jams. In the village of Three Pines, on the Bella Bella River and near the Vermont border, the residents are sandbagging.
It's also Chief Inspector Armand Gamache’s first day back on the job at the Quebec Surete. No one can quite believe he came back; no one can quite believe he accepted a demotion to return to head of Homicide, replacing his own son-on-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir who’s leaving the force and moving with his family to Paris. As if to punctuate the bad feeling against Gamache, Twitter is alive with hate and personal attacks, including a clearly faked video.
A member of Gamache’s team reports that a young woman is missing. She’s married to an abusive husband; waiting for to arrive at home, her father is frantic. The abusive husband denies any knowledge of his wife’s whereabouts; he says she’s likely run off with her lover. The couple lived not far from Three Pines, and part of the land is sliced open to relieve the pressures from the flooding. They find the woman’s suitcase in the mud. Then they find the woman’s body.
It looks like an open-and-shut case, but nothing is ever what it seems in the Quebec of Armand Gamache.
A Better Man by Canadian author Louise Penny is the 15th in the Inspector Gamache series, and it’s a winner like its predecessors. Gamache is experiencing change and upheaval on all sides – his family, his job, what he thinks he knows about his colleagues – and Penny tells her story on several levels.
It wouldn’t be a Gamache novel without help from his friends in Three Pines. Artist Clara Morrow is having an existential art crisis, brought on by vicious attacks on social media. Crazy and profane poet Ruth Zardo tries her hand at helping everyone’s social media problems. Gabri and Olivier are still running the bistro, handing out lattes and warm brioche (it makes one wonder how the characters avoid gaining weight with each successive novel). Ruth’s duck Rosa is still around, keeping her mistress company and shocking visitors with her four-letter quacks.
With a sub-story about the evils of social media, A Better Man is another great Inspector Gamache novel.