I’ve got to that stage in The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny (London: Headline) [p. 220] where I want to finish so that I know the outcome but I’m enjoying it so much that I don’t want it to end. According to Headline’s blurb it’s ‘a dazzling story of greed, betrayal and murder’ and it is, but it’s so much more. The Brutal Telling is the fifth novel featuring the wondrous creation that is Chief Inspector Gamache and his team of detectives from the Sûreté du Quebec. I really wish I’d read her earlier novels, and I probably now will, but Penny fills in gaps about the characters and the place so easily and subtly that I feel as if I already have.
Penny’s style takes a bit of getting used to. Her syntax. Is. Fragmented. But you get used to it. It certainly helps to build the atmosphere. Here’s an example. At this point, Gamache is mingling with the suspects at the Brume County Fair and has just taken part in the Wellington Boot Toss competition. Of course, his real reason is to get closer to the suspects, to observe how they interact, to inspect their relationships. He questions a carpenter and his wife known to locals as ‘Old Mundin and The Wife’ and meets their son Charles, who has Down’s Syndrome. Gamache wants to inspect Old Mundin’s workshop:
‘Is it okay if we take Charles? Old asked Gamache. ‘It’s hard for The Wife to watch him and look after customers.’
‘I insist he comes along,’ said Gamache, holding out his hand to the boy, who took it without hesitation. A small shard stabbed Gamache’s heart as he realized how precious this boy was, and would always be. A child who lived in a perpetual state of trust.
And how hard it would be for his parents to protect him.
‘He’ll be fine,’ Gamache assured The Wife.
‘Oh, I know he’ll be, it’s you I worry about,’ she said.
I think what I like most about the book is the way that Penny delineates human frailties as an aspect of the everyday rather than, as is often the case in crime fiction, as a special characteristic or failing that must be overcome. For Gamache, his team, and every one of the suspect villagers in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, human life is flawed, imperfect. Life is something we endure.
I like too, the way that the omniscient narrator slips into everyone’s thoughts and feelings to reveal their suspicions and their guilt and guilty secrets, which adds to the feeling of impending doom. Penny isn’t afraid to cut away to ‘white’ to leave a clue hanging, and she is confident in taking up a clue from where it left off, giving the reader credit with understanding and intelligence. The narration follows the fractured way thoughts cohere so that we don’t get a chronological retelling or uncovering but a gradual revealing, piece by piece.
Here’s a link to Louise Penny’s official website http://www.louisepenny.com/