Friday, September 18, 2020

Book Review A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny


Review A Great Reckoning

It is difficult to begin a commentary on Louise Penny’s 2016 A Great Reckoning. There are just so many threads to connect. It clearly wants to find the good memories while continuing to root out decay and the evils of old wounds. As Beauvoir says toward the end of the novel, “. . . the world is a cruel place, but it’s also filled with more goodness than we ever realized. And you know what? Kindness beats cruelty in the long run. It really does. Believe me”

The key to the plot is that Armande Gamache has moved once again out of semi-retirement to take on the task of commanding the Surete Training School, whose students have been exploited and trained in cruelty by the corrupt police administrators of the past. The murder of one of the old professors at the school that Gamache has kept on staff in order to find final evidence of his corruption links four young Surete cadets as well as Gamache to the murder and to the search for secrets found in an old map. In this case it is a 100 year old orienteering guide found secreted in the walls of the Three Pines Bistro. The map connects a stained glass church window that honors young WWI war dead in Three Pines’ St. Thomas church and that prods a search to find the mapmaker and the identity of the young war victims. All is ultimately connected to the town, its quirky bunch of inhabitants, to Armand Gamache’s career and his family, and personal devils, and finally to the evils of the Surete itself.

The ending is moving and Penny leaves a solution to a final lurking question until the very last words. All told one of the very best in a series of very fine books that go well beyond the province of detective mysteries. Penny is in the league with P.D. James and Iris Murdoch when it comes to integrating philosophy, poetry, history, music, food, and brilliant evocation of nature and place into her work.  I mention Murdoch because we learn that while writing this book, she was dealing with early onset dementia in her husband, which is of  course a reversal but still a moving comment on how one moves on and creates in fiction as well as life.    

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