Book review: Kingdom Of The Blind, by Louise Penny

Louise Penny PIC: Jean-Francois Berube
Louise Penny PIC: Jean-Francois Berube
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The premise of this novel is an intriguing one. A group of three people, including Louise Penny’s usual central detective character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec provincial police force, and Myrna Lander, another regular character and a bookseller, are summoned to a small village in a rural area of the Francophone Canadian province.There, they are told that they have been named as executors of the will of a woman who none of them know or have ever met. Within a short space of time, the woman’s son is found dead and the plot kicks off.

A friend of mine who has read most of Penny’s books told me that she has one criticism: they start off “cosy” – for non-crime aficionados, think Miss Marple and Midsomer Murders – lulling you into a false sense of security, then suddenly turn gruesome and graphic.

This effort, Penny’s 14th novel, is no different. The village location – many of Penny’s books are set in the mystical community of Three Pines – is beautiful and comfortable. The old lady’s death does not, initially, appear to be suspicious and the requests in her will are quirky and odd. Yet, gradually, more unsavoury elements creep in: Gamache’s dismissal of police cadet Amelia Choquet and her shocking fall back into drug use and street walking sets the scene, and by the end, the violence turned my stomach.

A subplot featuring opioids and the resolution of a backstory involving Gamache’s suspension, which happened in an earlier book, adds extra interest.

I loved the setting: the snow, the blizzards and the rock-bottom temperatures which make your nostrils freeze over. I lived in Quebec for a while as a child and the descriptions of the rural areas, plus the gritty depictions of downtown Montreal, where the prostitutes roam the red light district of Rue Ste Catherine, make me nostalgic for la belle province.

Yet for many a non-Canadian reader, the constant Quebecois references may be distracting, while the French peppered throughout the novel, although absolutely typical (I visited friends’ houses where entire family dinners would be conducted half in one language, half in the other) may be jarring for someone looking for a more traditional crime novel. For Penny fans, however, this will be a welcome return to Three Pines and its inhabitants. - Jane Bradley

Kingdom Of The Blind, by Louise Penny, Sphere, £19.99