Sunday, November 29, 2009

Louise Penny pays homage to Agatha Christie

From Chicago Tribune --

Louise Penny pays homage to Agatha Christie --

MCT News Service --
November 4, 2009 --

"The Brutal Telling" by Louise Penny; Minotaur (372 pages, $24.99)

Canadian author Louise Penny's gentle series about insightful Chief Inspector Armand Gamache continues to be an homage to the traditional mysteries of Agatha Christie as well as a riff on those novels.

Penny continues her high standards in this fifth installment. "The Brutal Telling" is laden with dry wit, an involving plot and detailed perspectives about the human condition. Penny knows that mysteries set in quaint little villages run the risk of succumbing to Christie's St. Mary Mead syndrome an unrealistic amount of crime for such a small place.

But Penny uses the limited surroundings in this case the Quebec village of Three Pines to her advantage while poking fun at this genre tenet. "Three Pines had no police force, no traffic lights, no sidewalks ... The place didn't even have crime. Except murder. The only criminal thing that ever happened in this village was the worst possible crime."

The disarmingly charming Gamache is again called to Three Pines when the body of a stranger turns up in the successful bistro run by the popular Oliver Brule. That no one had seen the man, even passing through, is odd for Three Pines. What's even odder is that the body had been moved at least twice. Gamache and his savvy team's instincts lead to a cabin in the woods where the stranger lived for years undetected except for visits from someone who regularly brought supplies. Gamache's investigation leads to the past of some of Three Pines' most prominent residents.

"The Brutal Telling" has frequent laugh-out loud passages coupled with realistic plot twists. Penny avoids loading Three Pines with eccentric residents. Even when a few characters are over the top, the author supplies a veneer of believability such as a cantankerous poet who keeps a pet duck, husband and wife artists jealous of each other's talents and a couple renovating an old home into spa.

While Penny puts Gamache at the center of "The Brutal Telling," she also uses an ensemble cast of characters. Each of Gamache's team is thoughtfully shaped as individuals. And many of Three Pines residents show signs of sticking around for upcoming novels we hope.

The award-winning Penny again shows her skillful storytelling in "The Brutal Telling."

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