Writing: 2 Characters: 2 Plot: 2 (on scale from 1-5)
In this installment of the Inspector Gamache series, he tackles the drug cartels and the fentanyl crisis (which we are reminded frequently kills 50 people for every kilo sold) all out of the seemingly peaceful sanctity of Three Pines. Meanwhile, a disturbing, hooded figure takes up residence on the Village Green and silently stares, bringing a sense of forboding to the sleepy town. Modeled after a Cobrador, or Conscience with a capital C, everyone in the Village feels certain it has come for them.
This is a hard review to write. I’m a huge Louise Penny fan – I loved the first 11 books in the Inspector Gamache series and eagerly preordered the 12th, pouncing on it as soon as it arrived. Perhaps those high expectations are part of why I found this book so absolutely dreadful. Had it been any other author I would have stopped reading after the first couple of chapters. The writing is simply bad. It reads like a first draft. Characters that I loved, that had wonderful depth in previous books, have become caricatures of themselves. I literally do not like these people any more.
The structure is a big part of the problem. The book opens at the murder trial with Gamache on the witness stand. We don’t find out who was actually murdered until 50% of the way through the book. It is 75% of the way through the book before we find out who the accused murderer is. There is very little action (until the very end) and the dramatic tension is maintained not by what is happening but by what we as readers aren’t told. Multiple chapters end with Gamache and Beauvoir looking at a new piece of startling information and exchanging serious looks – but the reader isn’t let in on the secret. About 60% of the book alternates between repetitious hand-wringing (about the drug crisis, the scary guy on the green, or Gamache’s approach (or apparent lack of approach) to solving the problem) and bland filler about food and drink (and by the way, for a novel focussed on how terrible the drug crisis is, our heroes drink A LOT!). That is just sloppy writing!
The last chapters in the book, where the action finally comes to a head, reminds me of the old Louise Penny. I enjoyed reading that, but it in no way made up for the hours I spent slogging through the rest. I know that Ms Penny’s husband died, and I know that writing was her escape during a very, very, difficult time and I feel bad giving it a bad review, but I can’t pretend something is good when it is really very, very bad! I wish she had gone back and and done some editing before releasing. I will certainly give her the benefit of the doubt and give the next book (if there is a next book) a try, but this book was truly awful.