Sunday, May 12, 2013

F is for A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

Today I am featuring A Fatal Grace (2006) by Louise Penny for my submission for the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme. This is the second in a series of mysteries set in a small village in Quebec. We meet our victim as this book opens, although she does not die until we are about 60 pages into the book:
Had CC de Poitiers known she was going to be murdered she might have bought her husband, Richard, a Christmas gift. She might even have gone to her daughter's end of term pageant at Miss Edward's School for Girls, or 'girths' as CC liked to tease her expansive daughter. Had CC de Poitiers known the end was near she might have been at work instead of in the cheapest room the Ritz in Montreal had to offer.
The victim of murder in this novel is a very self-centered and hard-to-like person who has a higher opinion of herself than anyone else does. She has recently come to live in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, and has already alienated many of the residents.

The investigator is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Surete de Quebec. He has been in the village of Three Pines previously to investigate another death, and thus is already familiar with the members the community. Gamache is a likable character, a dedicated policeman yet compassionate. I have often said that I prefer a fairly normal protagonist, especially as a police investigator, and am growing tired of flawed and damaged policemen. In this case, Gamache is a little too perfect for me, but still an interesting character.

The other members of the police team are also interesting, as is the intrigue that is going on within the police department, as is gradually revealed. The townspeople of Three Pines are well developed as characters. I like the interior dialogue of some of these characters that is shared with the reader.

I can see some similarities to the Gregor Demarkian series by Jane Haddam. In both, you get a few chapters at the beginning setting up some of the characters that will be involved in or affected by the events, providing some idea of where they fit in. The difference is that many of the characters in the Louise Penney books are continuing characters, while in the books by Jane Haddam, usually it is a new set of characters or suspects with each novel.

Other reviewers have compared the Three Pines Mystery series to the writing of Agatha Christie. I can see the comparison, since both sometimes feature very convoluted crimes that are almost impossible to solve, or even believed to be possible. And the very capable sleuth eventually figures out the solution, with some red herrings and false starts. I think, however, that many readers enjoy this series more for the characters and the setting than the mystery.

This is a true police procedural. Clues are followed up on and evaluated. We learn about the autopsy and the technical feasibility of the crime. Gamache depends a lot on his evaluations and understandings of the community and the victim and her relationships, but evidence and motive is most important.

The Crime Fiction Alphabet is sponsored by Mysteries in Paradise.  Please visit this post to check out other entries for this letter.


Also, this is my eleventh book for the Canadian Reading Challenge.


This is a hugely successful series. The first book in the series, Still Life, won many awards: the New Blood Dagger (2006) of the Crimewriters Association (UK), the Arthur Ellis Award (2006) of the Crime Writers of Canada (Canada), the Anthony Award (2007) (USA) and the Barry Award (2007) (USA). This book won the Agatha Award for Best Traditional Mystery, 2007 (USA). There are eight books in the series, so far. The eighth, A Beautiful Life, also won the  Agatha Award for Best Traditional Mystery, just recently. The ninth, How the Light Gets In, is due out in August, 2013.

I would recommend this series, at least the first one, just on the basis of the awards and the reviews I have read. Ultimately it depends on what you want from a book; this is not a light book, and it has its dark moments. The overall message is positive.

31 comments:

  1. Tracy - I am a real fan of this series. I think one of the reasons is the set of characters that Penny creates. Both the case of 'regulars' and the various new characters who are involved in each mystery are well-crafted. I love the setting too. And this mystery is nicely plotted too. I'm glad you featured this one.

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    1. Margot, I enjoyed this one. Fortunately I have the next two or three in the series and can continue on and see how I like it.

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  2. This is perhaps Penny's most bizarre murder -- an electrocution and a rather grisly one at that. However, I have yet to read TRICK OF THE LIGHT or THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY so she may have surpassed herself in terms of biazrre murders. You also get to learn a bit about the arcane sport of curling in FATAL GRACE. Always seemed like a combo of shuffleboard and bowling on ice to me. Still can't believe it's an Olympic sport (seems more like a game than a sport), but it's very popular in Canada and Europe if not the US. Minnesotans I think get into curling more than any other state. Must be all those descendants of Norwegian immigrants.

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    1. John, I have always been interested in curling from the Olympics, so at least I knew vaguely what they were doing. I could never participate in such a cold sport. That is interesting about Minnesota and curling.

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  3. I've not read any Louise Penney but I do have a book on my shelf to try. Anyone likened to Agatha Christie is going to pique my curiosity. I'm glad you liked it Tracy.

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    1. Sarah, I will be interested to see what you think, whenever you get to it. The series is kind of hard to define.

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  4. I'm a big fan of the Jane Haddam books Tracy so that has attracted my attention, along with Agatha Christie. I read the first one in this series, but didn't rush to continue, so perhaps time to give Louise Penny another go. And that cover is beautiful....

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    1. Moira, the same thing happened to me when I read the first one. It just did not push me to read the next book. This one, on the other hand, left something hanging that I would like to see resolved. So I may get to book three sooner.

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    2. Moira, forgot to say... I am also a big fan of Jane Haddam, although I have not read the last two or three yet. I read the first eighteen books in three months a few years ago. Just fell in love with the series.

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  5. "I am growing tired of flawed and damaged policemen" - Hear, hear! Me too. It feels like such a breath of fresh air these days to read about a female investigator or one who is sunny and pleasant and doesn't have too many issues going on in their personal life. I love the Camilla Lackberg books for that reason, worth a try if you haven't read any of those.

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    1. Marie, I have read Lackberg's The Ice Princess, and have the next two to read. I am interested to see what those will be like.

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  6. Love this series. My mom's actually reading this one now and I'm having a hard time not spoiling it for he.

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    1. Carol, I am enjoying the series too, so far. I probably would not have picked it back up if it were not for the Canadian Reading Challenge.

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  7. I've tried numerous times to get into Still Life. I will try it one more time. Thanks for the review.

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    1. Keishon, there are some readers that this series just does not appeal to. It is sort of cozy, but not. I liked this book better than the first one.

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    2. So it would be okay to skip the first book then? I've also heard some readers not liking the first one and enjoying the second book better. This series looks like something I would enjoy. I'll give it another go.

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    3. I think it would be fine to skip the first one. I read Still Life in 2009 and my memory of the story and characters was nil, other than I knew it was in a small Canadian town.

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  8. I haven't touched this series in over a year, but I really liked the first three or four books when I read them. Thanks for reminding me to get back to them!

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    1. I can't believe she already has 8 books out and a new one coming. Seems like only yesterday when I read about the first one. Hope I continue to like the series.

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  9. Tracy, the cover alone is enough to make me want to read this book although I have never read anything by Louise Penny. Besides, I also liked your description of Armand Gamache, the fact that he is not a "flawed and damaged policem(a)n." I'm getting tired of them too.

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    1. Prashant, it is a nice cover. I had not even noticed that much, which is unusual for me.

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  10. Tracy, I 've never tried this author, but might give her a go on the basis that one extra book isn't going to ramp up the TBR mountain too much higher.

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    1. Col, I mentioned that this is like the Jane Haddam series. Both are not cozies, but they have elements that feel like a cozy. Really hard to categorize.

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  11. I don't read mystery but I do follow and enjoy your reviews! I should make an effort to try a thriller once and a while!

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    1. Thanks for the comment and I am glad you enjoy the reviews. There is a broad range of thrillers to try. Too many, I will never catch up.

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  12. I haven't read anything by Louise Penny. Trick of the light is sitting on my shelf for sometime, I will give it a try soon, more so because of the comparison to Agatha Christie. I can't miss a writer compared to Agatha Christie. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  13. Valli, I think you will like it and the series is definitely worth trying.

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  14. Sounds really great TracyK - once again, a new author for me. I've read very little Canadian crime fiction so am very intrigued by the results of your Challenge so far - thanks very much.

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    1. Sergio, I already had books by this author before I started the challenge. But I have discovered some very good mystery authors that I would not have run into without the challenge.

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  15. I've only read the first book, but I'm excited to move along to this one.

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    1. Ryan, I know you will like it. I am hoping to get to #3 soon.

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