Mimi Jones Hedwig

Writer, Editor, Animal Advocate

Book review blog

A BETTER MAN by Louise Penny (#15 in the Chief Inspector Gamache series)

Posted by mhedwig on September 8, 2019 at 5:20 PM

A Better Man sadly continues, in my humble opinion, the decline in quality of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache/Three Pines series. I listened to the first eleven or so; maybe the problem with sentence fragments that bugged me so much in this book existed in the earlier books but it didn’t come across in the Audible narration:   “He saw her face as she fell, backward. Off the bridge. Arms pinwheeling. And then the splash.”


"And in each tightly.Controlled.Word.”


Also I was driven mad by the strange and unnecessary tic: “This’s” for “this is.” I mean, what’s the difference in sound? Why invent this silly new contraction? “This’s Monsieur Godin’s bank account,” “This’s just complicating things,” “This’s new, and admissible.” “Can you tell me what this’s about?”


The story begins with a threat of a hundred-year springtime flood that threatens the village of Three Pines and Montreal, but that threat dissipates  midway through the book. The three detectives -- Jean-Guy Beauvoir in charge for this one last case before he leaves the force to take an executive job in Paris; Armand Gamache acting as his second-in-command; Isabelle Lacoste, back, nearly recovered from her shooting injury,  as head of homicide -- are investigating the murder of a young pregnant woman who was pushed off a bridge into the icy floodwaters of the Riviere Bella Bella. The policemen are unanimous in their belief that her abusive, drunken husband killed her, but have a lot of trouble amassing admissible evidence. 


I found the police procedural parts tediously detailed and frustratingly circular.The action in the climactic scene is clumsy and confusing. A not-very-well-integrated subplot is a smear campaign on social media against Clara Morrow's artwork that has dire consequences for her commercial and critical well-being. Social media also continues to attack Gamache (#gamachesux). I couldn’t help but wonder if Louise Penny has experienced social media deprecation of her recent work (if so, unfortunately, I can understand why).


The Three Pines villagers appear in this story as caricatures: Ruth and her by-now-tiresome profanity-spouting duck; the gay B&B owners, slovenly Clara, ample Myrna. The village itself has taken on the quality of a snow globe, hermetic, frozen in time, predictable (except for an unbelievably high number of murders). 


I am sorry to feel this way. Ms. Penny has written some fine, moving books. And her personal notes and interviews convey that she has suffered a lot lately with the dementia and death of her husband followed by the loss of a beloved dog, and finds great consolation among her familiar and, to her, much beloved characters and setting. But her latest efforts are not working for me as a reader.


For a middle-aged foreign detective with a much-loved wife and family, in a beautiful exotic setting, I have defected to Commissario Guido Brunetti and Venice in Donna Leon’s series. That series retains its vitality and variety – though any long-running series risks sliding into a rut, which Louise Penny herself says in her introduction to this book she knew to be a danger and tried to avoid. Regrettably, I don’t feel she succeeded.


Categories: Fiction