In the town of Three Pines, in the province of Quebec, a group of friends, most of them artists, are having a get-together. One of them, Jane Neal, has, after a long life of painting, finally agreed to submit a work for a local art show, and it has, somewhat controversially, been accepted. The next day though, Jane is found dead in the snow, shot through the heart by a hunting arrow.
Is this an accident? (No, obviously). Enter Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, homicide detective with the Sûreté du Quebec. He clearly suspects foul play but can he prove that it wasn’t an accident? And can he find the killer?
Louise Penny is a multi-award winning writer for this series of eight books, four of which (I think) are set in the same town. I’ve seen a number of good reviews on the web for her work, so I decided it was time to pick up one of her books. So, given the prize-winning talent on display here – why did I have real trouble getting to the end of this mystery?
Well, let’s see what we’ve got here. On the surface, this ticks a number of boxes for the classic mystery.
A detective who stands apart from the crowd?
Yes. Gamache is an introspective sort, interested in art and poetry.
A finite set of suspects?
Yes. Jane was shot by an arrow, so one of the townsfolk who know how to shoot an arrow. Not sure why, when the hunting accident theory is being favoured, no-one suspects an out of town hunter, but that’s an acceptable choice, plot-wise. Maybe the nearest town is miles away.
An odd choice of murder weapon?
Bow and arrow is pretty odd. Although the only use of its oddness is to limit the number of suspects.
A last chapter reveal?
Well, penultimate chapter. Gamache does work out who the killer is – as does someone else – but the killer does oblige by going a bit nuts at the end and trying to kill some people. It does save on finding evidence, which might have been difficult.
One or two, I suppose, but they were a bit vague. By the end of the book, I think, it’s pretty clear, if you’ve been paying attention, who the killer is, but there is a nice misdirect towards the end.
So, all of that would seem to indicate that I should have really enjoyed this book, so why did I find it all a bit of a chore? After all, this is one of the books that I mentioned in this post.
First, let me say, I do understand why people love these books, but to me, it seemed to be overwritten. The plot didn’t seem to be enough to fill the pages – a large portion is spent before murder is proved (as opposed to accident) despite the forensics pointing out early on that the arrow shot could not have been an accident. Gamache even gets temporarily suspended over his insistence that it was murder. Similarly, the crucial evidence in the victim’s house is not seen until the last quarter of the book… for no particularly good reason. I’m pretty sure that in the case of any suspicious death, you can’t prevent the police from entering the victim’s home… unless of course you need to pad the plot out a bit. I wasn’t quite sure about the plot involving the novice detective involved in the operation – I can’t see, given how it pans out, how she even got a job in the first place.
If you’re the sort of person who likes books written in a poetic (for want of a better word) style – I gather Donna Leon writes in a similarly vein – then you might like this. But for me, even looking past the writing style, this wasn’t my cup of tea. I wouldn’t be averse to giving another book in the series a go – after all, this was Louise Penny’s first book, but I don’t think it will be for a while.