Three Pines Revisited
The bleak, snowy winters do not hamper the warmth of the people of Three Pines, the fictional Canadian village, that Louise Penny created for bestselling novels about Armand Gamache—the cop who rose over fourteen books to become the Head of the Surete in the French Canadian city of Quebec. In the last book, Glass Houses, he was suspended from his post, ironically for doing his job too well, because he stepped over some inconvenient lines.
In the latest, Kingdom Of The Blind, he is still off-duty, but has not stopped working on the case that led to his suspension. Meanwhile, his wife Reine-Marie and his friends in Three Pines keep him sane. The popular watering hole of the village is run by Gabri and Olivier, who provide excellent food, wine, hospitality and emotional support to all those who gather at their bistro, including the batty, old poet Ruth Zardo and her pet duck.
When this book opens, Gamache has received a mysterious invitation from a lawyer—who happens to be dead– to come to an isolated farmhouse a few miles away from the village. He drives there in terribly inclement weather to be confronted by a derelict structure that looks like it could collapse any minute. If that is not disconcerting enough, Gamache’s neighbour Myrna Landers (owner of the village book shop) turns up too, having being summoned by a letter by the same lawyer. The two are joined by an oddly-dressed young construction worker, Benedict, who had also got a similar letter. The three are completely mystified to learn, from the late lawyer’s son, Maitre Mercier, a notary, that they have been named as executors of the will of a dead woman none of them knew.
The woman, Bertha Baumgartner, worked as a cleaning lady but insisted on being called Baroness, claiming to belong to European aristocracy. She left her three children huge sums of money, that she could not possibly have had. Out of curiosity, the three of them agree to take up the assignment. A storm makes it impossible for Benedict to leave, so he stays back to enjoy the generosity of the Gamaches. Then, the oldest Baumgartner son is found dead in the house that finally falls down, and murder is suspected.
Meanwhile, the problems from the last case are still in existence—the drugs Gamache had to let into the country in order to break a huge narcotics ring, threaten to hit the streets any day and kill thousands of people, unless they can be traced before that happens. Gamache has to descend into the Montreal underworld to hunt for the missing drugs, as his trusted deputy and beloved son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir faces pressure from higher-ups to betray Gamache and save his own career.
Penny writes with love and empathy for her characters, whether it’s the beleaguered Gamache, Beauvoir or the scrappy young woman, Amelia Choquet, whom the senior cop pulled off the streets, and inducted into the police force, in spite of her past as a hooker and junkie. If Gamache is capable of incredible kindness, he is also equally capable of cruelty, as he takes unpopular decisions to stop the impending disaster.
Kingdom Of The Blind is a wonderful book by a writer who expertly blends into a story of violence and destruction, her ingredients of lyricism, philosophy and pointers on how to live better. If Three Pines actually existed, it would be a tourist attraction for fans of Louise Penny’s books.