The Murder Stone
An Armand Gamache Mystery by Louise Penny
Review: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec has solved his previous cases in the fall, winter and spring in the idyllic Three Pines village of Quebec's Eastern Townships. But now it is a scorching summer and he is on vacation at the nearby historic Manoir Bellechasse to celebrate Canada Day, July 1, and his thirty-fifth anniversary with his beloved Reine-Marie. Murder, however, as everyone knows, never vacations, so he has no sooner settled into the inn and its amenities than he is called upon to solve the most puzzling "How" of all the murder cases in his career as a several ton statue topples from its marble pedestal to crush its bloodied, mud-covered victim, but leaves the pedestal unblemished.
In straying just beyond the bounds of Three Pines, Penny has maintained the picturesque setting of rural Quebec, but introduced a whole new set of characters in the wealthy Finney family led by its acerbic-tongued matriarch, Irene, and her second husband Bert Finney who may or may not have married her for her money or for a couple of secrets they share. Her daughter, Mariana Morrow, is cruelly nicknamed by her siblings as "Magilla the Gorilla" for her attachment as a child to the cartoon show of the same name. Mariana is a single mom to her uniquely strange10-year-old child, Bean, of undisclosed sex, a secret she and the child refuse to share with others. Irene's pretentious and cruel son, Thomas Morrow, has come from Toronto with his snobbish wife, Sandra. Irene's estranged daughter, Julia Martin, of Vancouver, has recently divorced from her jailed embezzler husband and claims to know her father's secret. Peter and Clara Morrow, the artists and year-round residents of Three Pines and by now fast friends of the Gamaches have reluctantly joined the gathering but can't wait to get home for the annual Canada Day celebrations and the clogging event that Reine-Marie is just as reluctantly dreading. A more distrustful, despicable and dislikeable family it would be hard to find. Their initial view of the Gamaches before Peter and Clara arrive is as "the shopkeeper and his cleaning woman wife."
But their view rapidly changes when a family member is found impaled into the earth by the statue of Irene's first husband, Charles Morrow, for whom the family have reunited to provide a reluctant tribute, lest mother disinherit them. Gamache quickly takes charge, bringing his team of "alpha dog" Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir and Agent Isabelle Lacoste, "the hunter of their team,' to the lodge to begin their procedures of analysis, interviews, debate and meditation to discover who among the family or the staff at the inn might have committed the crime. Everybody is more or less of a suspect – even Gamache's friends peter and Clara and the enigmatic child clutching his book of mythology, firing half-eaten marshmallow cookies to stick on the dining-room ceiling or listening to his chock-a-block bedroom of clocks ticking, ticking, ticking. Credible motivations abound from the past as well as the present. But it is the means of the murder that challenges the Gamache team beyond anything they have faced previously. The solution, however, like the Devil who did the deed, is found in the details of "Such a small thing. Imagine that giving away a murder," and in the words of a poem that speak prophetically of slipping "the surly bonds of earth" as Gamache battles his fear of heights during a fierce summer storm to rescue another potential victim and shackle a murderer.
As always, Penny is meticulous in finding memorable descriptions. Chef Veronique, for example, "was huge and beefy, her face like a pumpkin and her voice like a root vegetable. And she had knives. Lots of them. And cleavers and cast-iron pans." Another character stands with "his hand to his brow to block out the sun, as though in a permanent salute." And a third, "went through life with his shields raised, repulsing attack by food or beverage, or people." Little wonder shields are raised when their father, Charles, dispensed advice to them such as, "Never use the first stall in a washroom." Penny uses words to depict settings like a landscape painter uses his brushes and colours. Dialogue flows without a glitch and there's humour, too, in Gamache referring to a pet duck as a Clouseau-like "minkey" or Beauvoir decrying that, "here in the middle of nowhere … it was like trying to conduct a modern murder investigation in Fred Flintstone's cave." On the serious side there is the murder in a "greedy and even cruel" family wherein the victim admittedly was "the cruellest, the greediest of us all." There is a gripping, underlying story as well about Gamache's father, Honore, a conscientious objector during the War, and now Mrs. Finney firing the epithet, "Coward," at Gamache like bullets from a machine gun even as he and his own son, Daniel, tussle over the naming of a new baby after the old man, while Reine-Marie patiently interacts.
Truly, another flawless performance, The Murder Stone has been nominated for Best Novel for 2009 for the Arthur Ellis Awards.
(Editor's note: The Murder Stone is published as A Rule Against Murder in the US.)
Special thanks to M. Wayne Cunningham (firstname.lastname@example.org) for contributing his review of The Murder Stone.
Review Copyright © 2009 — M. Wayne Cunningham — All Rights Reserved
Reprinted with Permission
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
A Trick of the Light
Macmillan Audio (Unabridged CD Audiobook), August 2011
ISBN-13: 9781427213204; ISBN-10: 1427213208
Location(s) referenced in The Murder Stone: Quebec
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The Murder Stone by Louise Penny — An Armand Gamache Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: January 2009
List Price: $24.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
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