(Image from Barnes & Noble)
(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for The Brutal Telling, it may inadvertently spoil plot surprises from earlier Armand Gamache mysteries. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)
Everybody in Three Pines—a quaint Canadian village near Montreal—knows Olivier Brulé. The townspeople flock to his bistro for scrumptious food, stimulating conversation, and the warmth that always radiates from its owner. So beloved is Olivier that when the body of a stranger who has obviously been beaten to death shows up in the bistro one night, no one believes he has anything to do with the murder. Like everyone else in Three Pines, Olivier insists he's never seen the dead man, who appears to be a vagrant, before. Only, he has.
When Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the Sûrete du Québec, arrives to investigate the crime, he discovers that Olivier's story is full of holes. Not wanting to believe his friend capable of murder, Gamache digs deeper. What he finds at the home of the supposed vagrant is unlike anything he's ever seen before. Unfortunately, the priceless antiques hidden within provide Olivier, a well-known collector, with a compelling motive. The bistro owner is not the only suspect, but he's beginning to look like the most likely one. No one in Three Pines wants Gamache's conclusion to be true. And yet, it's becoming obvious that Olivier has been keeping some big secrets from his friends. Did gentle Olivier really beat an elderly man to death? If not, then who did?
There's one thing I've come to realize about Canadian author Louise Penny—she's not afraid to tread on her readers' tender feelings toward her characters. Or to pummel their bleeding hearts. I've been shocked by plot twists in previous Armand Gamache mysteries, but none of the other books has done me in quite like The Brutal Telling (Book 5). It is, well, brutal. My husband just raised his eyebrows at my strangled cries, so as soon as I finished the novel, I fired off an email to the one person who I knew would understand my pain: Kay at Kay's Reading Life. She reminded me that there is more to all the characters in Three Pines than meets the eye and that each has come to the town for a reason. Penny, herself, describes the hamlet as "this solid little village that never changed, but helped its inhabitants to change" (224). This complexity is what keeps me coming back to the Armand Gamache series. I love the richness of its setting, its characters, and its plotting. Usually, I wait a few months between Penny books; not this time. I marched right down to my library, snatched a copy of Bury Your Dead (Book 6) off the shelf, plunked down in my chair, and devoured it. Am I satisfied with what I learned? Yes, but still heartbroken. Is Olivier a murderer? You're just going to have to read the books for yourself ...
(Readalikes: Other books in the Armand Gamache series [Still Life; A Fatal Grace; The Cruelest Month; A Rule Against Murder; Bury Your Dead; The Hangman (novella); A Trick of the Light; The Beautiful Mystery; How the Light Gets In; The Long Way Home; The Nature of the Beast; and The Great Reckoning])
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language and violence
To the FTC, with love: I bought a copy of The Brutal Telling from Changing Hands Bookstore (my local indie) with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.