Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: 1 May 2007
Format: Paperback, 336 pgs
Source: Personal Library
Ms. Penny introduces us Chief Inspector Armand Gamache from the Surêté du Québec in this first book of the series. The setting is a picturesque Canadian village which is named "Three Pines", whereby everyone seems to know one another in this rural, quiet countryside. Their crime rate is near to nil, since it is a small community and the villagers feel there's no need to even lock their doors; they are that trusting. Unfortunately, that trust is shattered when a dead body is found from what seems to be a tragic hunting accident. Inspector Gamache and his team are called to investigate this case.
The villagers are shocked to learn that Jane Neal is dead. Jane was a retired schoolteacher and was well liked to the villagers. She is a quiet but observant lady, and her best friend Clara Morrow felt life had played a cruel joke to them all. After all, who would want to kill a quiet, retired schoolteacher? Inspector Gamache, however thinks otherwise. For starters, the arrow which is believed to have killed her on the spot, was never found. And reports have shown that that shot was meant to kill, but the question is, who and why? Before Jane's death, she had submitted her drawing to be considered for an exhibition. Now Jane was not an exhibitionist by nature, and not even Clara has been to her living room, so it is perplexing that she'd decided to submit her work, even if it is hideous in anyone's eyes. Surely she has a message to convey, and died because of it?
This book is simply a page-turner. I was drawn by the mystery as well as the characterisations, in particular to Inspector Gamache. He is a very observant and patient man; he is always calm and detailed in accessing each situations and his team respect him not only of his position but also as a person overall. Even when trainee Agent Yvette Nichol is assigned to his team and apparently has sabotaged his plans a few times, Inspector Gamache gave advice to her like a mentor, and on occasions even gave her chance when she somewhat sabotaged a few of their plans. I have to confess I was never warmed up to Agent Yvette; she was too arrogant and stubborn. The relationship between Inspector Gamache, Yvette and Jean Guy Beauvoir, who's Inspector Gamache's second in command, is another factor which makes this mystery such an interesting read.
Back to Inspector Gamache again. What I liked about him is he was a thoughtful man, above all. He believed in his instincts, and he was not intimidated nor affected by how's the systems work. And most of all, I liked it that he discusses his cases with his wife and hear her views. This not only reflects how close their relationship is but also deep down what kind of a person he is - humble, respectful and not afraid of being different.
Can you tell I really enjoyed this book? Yes, I think Ms. Penny had written this fine story like a piece of art; the plot and details all planned and laid out beautifully, challenging her readers to find out the flaws (in this case the mystery) if scrutinised carefully. I was in awe with the story overall. And then there's the characterisations, with Inspector Gamache on the top of the list. Last and not surprisingly, this first book of the series was the winner of the New Blood Dagger, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Anthony, and Dilys awards. Of course I'll be sure to check out the rest of this series.