Paul Halter, John has gotten a crack at the Boileau-Narcejac writing team, and TomCat has introduced us to Dutch authors like Libbe van der Wal. (An internet meme like the Alphabet of Crime Fiction could totally be inspired by this.) Then, I was asked the intriguing question of whether I knew of Canadian GAD-school authors. I couldn’t think of any, but John came to the rescue and offered a suggestion: Louise Penny.
It is very difficult to capture the Canadian spirit— although we’re similar to Americans, Canadians are very different in many ways. It’s a pleasant surprise when an author succeeds in writing Canadiana. In a mystery, it’s doubly pleasant: Canadians are sorely underrepresented in mysteries of the GAD school. Too often, the Canadian cousin is just a neighbour of the aforementioned cousin (probably deceased), trying to get a piece of the family fortune. Basically, Canada is too often used as an easy excuse for why Bob has been away or where outlaw Mickey Finn has been hiding out. (Canada is not alone in this club— Australia comes to mind as a country that plays a similar role a little too often.)
|An alternate title: A Rule Against Murder|
It’s summertime, and Inspector Gamache (with his wife Reine-Marie) are spending a vacation at the isolated Manoir Bellechasse in the beautiful province of Québec. All the other rooms of the Manoir are occupied by the Finney family, a group of Anglos who have come to commemorate the memory of the late patriarch, Mr. Morrow. His children found their father distant, unloving, and unwilling to give them anything but advice. Naturally, the family reunion is rather strained, and before long a violent storm hits. Once the storm subsides, a dead body is discovered, murdered in impossible circumstances!
Yes, “impossible circumstances”… You know what that means! It’s an impossible crime! The execution is really neat. It’s an interesting variation on an impossible situation posed in Catherine Aird’s His Burial Too, where a statue crushes a person to death. But how was this accomplished? The statue was heavy, and the pedestal it sat on showed not the slightest trace of scratches, scuffing, or the like. So how was it done? The solution is extremely clever, and the killer’s identity was well-hidden. Also, the clueing is extremely fair and rather deft— it was only once I found out who the killer was that I was able to deduce motive, and from there on, I suddenly grasped how it was done.
I mentioned a similarity to the book His Burial Too, but there is one significant difference between it and The Murder Stone: Louise Penny’s book does not sag. Catherine Aird had a wickedly ingenious means of committing the crime, but the investigation got so routine and dull. Louise Penny easily keeps up your interest, with a complex plot (which doesn’t feel like it’s circling around unnecessarily) and interesting characters.
There’s also an excellent sense of humour throughout the novel, such as when nobody can figure out the sex of a child, Bean, but will not ask. (This humorous situation becomes darker later on in the novel, when you find out that the child’s mother has been purposely withholding this information from her family and especially her mother, using it as a sort of biological weapon.) Then there’s an inspector, Beauvoir, who simply cannot cope without the internet, Google, and cell phones, grumbling about having to jot notes down with pens and paper. He’s also a particular target for blackflies (I sympathise).
Overall, I highly recommend giving Louise Penny and The Murder Stone a glance. It’s very well-written, with a good impossible crime that is well-resolved. The clueing is fair, and Mrs. Penny perfectly captures the Canadian spirit in her writing (without it being overwhelming or incomprehensible to non-Canadians), be it through the kindly Inspector Gamache or descriptions of the awe-inspiring Canadian wilderness.
Oh, and there’s one more impossible crime novel by Louise Penny: Dead Cold. Will I read it? Oh, yes. (And, here’s a fun fact I just discovered a few days ago: a book by Louise Penny is the community read this year from the library, and the author herself will be coming to the city in September!)