Author: Louise Penny
Armand Gamache and his dedicated wife are taking a holiday from the Sutre, from the blight of the Arnot case, the hostilities of buried human emotions, and the complexities of shattered love and brutal murders. Instead, they are returning to a yearly haven, the Manoir Bellechasse, isolated yet still not too far from Three Pines, the inn where each year they celebrate their wedding anniversary and each other. Only this year, something dark and brooding follows them, and the ghosts of family feuds and parental failures continue to haunt Gamache as he comes to terms with murder in his paradise and his son’s unwitting decision to revive the past. What exactly is in a name – the answer is, of course, everything.
Meanwhile, the artistic duo, Peter and Clara Morrow, are being pulled into their own haunted past. As Peter’s antagonistic and wealthy family gets together for the yearly gathering – ironically at Gamache’s rural retreat – Peter feels drawn to rejoin their ranks. The Finney’s, however, are the epitome of dysfunctional, and their petty ugliness rubs raw spots into Peter’s aching soul. With Gamache as witness and victim, the heated feuding and elegant knife twisting continue. Then, one stormy night, a newly anchored statue of the family’s not so beloved patriarch crashes, leaving the world with one less Finney and one more secret.
A Rule Against Murder takes Gamache and our beloved Three Pines residents and flips everything with a change of scene, a sultry summer at an old manor where luxury is waiters bringing coffee with fresh cream onto the lawn for lounging visitors. As air conditioning and other modern conveniences recede, the pealing back of time is both dreamy and raw, sultry and uncomfortable in the way of all revelations. The Manor takes on its own life here. Dare I even say that it functions as a character and the shift from the usual Three Pines winter chill to a surreal, humid summer is addicting, relaxing and tranquil, vivid with the newness and temporality of all vacations. One of Penny’s strongest talents, and one of the most appealing and memorable aspects of the Gamache series, is the transformative ability of atmosphere. A Rule Against Murder takes this strength and runs with it.
The further background on Peter and Clara heightens the characterization and also highlights some of Peter’s own issues, including his hidden jealousy concerning his wife’s improving artwork. The back bighting within his family creates a tension offset by the Gamche’s idyllic anniversary, encouraging readers to probe for hidden motives and murder long before the actual, seemingly inexplicable event. What then follows is a maze which is not truly crafted from evidence, of which there is perplexingly little (how can a secured, several ton statue move, much less conveniently fall upon the very person who had recently promised a family shattering revelation). Gamache uses his expertise, his thoughtfulness, and finally, his own revelations concerning his father’s troubled past and infamous cowardice, to plumb the depths of intent, of scarred emotions, of languishing hurt, of miscommunication (both deliberate and avoidable) to follow the emotions to the final solution. What results is the revelation of a killer that is unexpected but, even more importantly, a web of spreading emotions that improves character development and ends with a note about family in all its fractured imperfection.
It’s not Gamache’s strongest mystery, although A Rule Against Murder is certainly one of the strongest for atmosphere, but it’s nevertheless an addictive piece with a complex conclusion. Labyrinths of both clues and meaning intertwine to create another of Penny’s famous mysteries with a soul, growing not so much Three Pines this time, but Gamache and the Morrows. While Gamache himself remains nearly perfect, the complexity of his insight, begat by wisdom and pain, deepens and expands. And so, as always with this series, we are both comforted and horrified, lulled by the beauty of the world while we are saddened by the weight of the secret burdens we all carry.
– Frances Carden
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