The Nature of the Penny

Penny Book

I’m in the last third of Canadian author Louise Penny‘s 11th Armand Gamache mystery set in the idyllic hidden village of Three Pines. “The Nature of the Beast” again lets us spend time with that gentle, wise Chief Inspector, his younger colleague Jean Guy, and the various friends and personalities who make up the tiny village which, like Brigadoon, can’t be found on any map.

Like all of Penny’s fans, I couldn’t wait for this one’s publication. I’ve read and re-read the ten earlier books, and was eager to immerse myself in her world again, and if you haven’t discovered her, I highly recommend you do. Start at the beginning, and know that in each subsequent book, the character development grows more intense, the plots more rich and satisfying.

If you have read her, I wonder if, like me, you’ll be a bit puzzled by this new book. Penny has never been afraid to expose the evil that exists in the individual heart, to have the incorruptible Chief Inspector fearlessly tackle corruption at the highest level of his department or government.

In this book, though, she flings us into a kind of James Bond-ian situation which sits a bit uneasily with this reader, at least. It seems so unlikely that it’s almost comic-bookish. Or maybe I’m just really out of touch with the modern world.   bond

Meanwhile, all the familiar faces are here: the gay odd-couple, flamboyant Gabri and trim Olivier, who together run the Bistro, where villagers gather daily for cafe au lait, croissants, and meals so appetizing they could come straight out of the pages of “Gourmet.” The retired-but-still-analyzing Myrna, whose bookstore seems more like cozy library than sales place. Clara, the brilliant artist, cookie crumbs or croissant flakes ever in her hair. And of course the aged, crazy (or maybe not) poet Ruth and her  pet duck, walking into anyone’s home and business any time day or night and making herself at home. Especially with their liquor.

But even these haven’t, so far for me, come as alive as in previous books. They almost seem more types than creatures, even if the ‘types’ are categories unique to Three Pines.  I’m reminded of Agatha Christie’s emphasis on plot at the expense of character development.

Finally, Penny’s long-entrenched habit of concluding a conversation or character’s train of thought with witty, often poetic, comment has become almost annoying, a bit like the “ta-dum!”, “so there!” drum crash at the end of all too many Broadway (and other) songs. I find myself wishing her editor had suggested she limit these omniscient insights to a single character, most likely the wonderful Gamache, instead of having them stray so randomly onto almost every page.

Anyone else notice this? or am I just being picky? Because it’s so much easier to comment on and criticize than to create. And I, for one, hope that Louise Penny will long continue creating.

And now, enough commenting on someone else’s work and back to my own…

woman writing

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