Carol Ann recommended Louise Penny’s Quebec-set Armand Gamache detective series a few months ago. We like a lot of the same authors and books, so I immediately was intrigued. Since then, I’ve noticed we circulate a lot of Louise Penny books, and I’ve had even more folks gush about how much they love the books. I only got around to trying a Gamache book recently, and I am so glad I did! (As always, thanks for the great recommendation, Carol Ann! 🙂 )
I have read that the Gamache series doesn’t have to be read in order, so when I was looking for a gateway book into the series, I decided to just go with the plot description that sounded the most interesting to me, rather than trying them in chronological order. I was immediately grabbed by the description of The Hangman. A jogger finds a man hanging outside a hotel in the charming rural Quebec village of Three Pines. Was it suicide–or murder? The fact it was a novella that, at 85 pages, could easily be consumed in one sitting also made it an attractive first read.
And I ended up really enjoying it! Gamache is a likable, competent detective protagonist, refreshingly devoid of the overly mannered quirkiness found in a lot of more modern fictional detectives. The mystery was a deceptively simple one that quickly got more twisted, but it was also not gratuitously gory. It was also realistic without being overly gritty in tone. Oh and the setting–in rural Quebec–was a unique one, and Penny’s evocation of it was wonderfully atmospheric. (The book was set in November and made me grateful for Arkansas’s substantially milder Novembers.) And since it is a novella, it’s easily read in one sitting.
After I read the book, I discovered that The Hangman was apparently a special project of Penny’s, commissioned by ABC Life Literacy Canada, and written to engage adults who struggle with reading. I think it’s really wonderful that Penny participated in this project–anyone who has worked in the library can attest how difficult it can be to find good, engaging non-kids’ books for adults who struggle with reading–and I never actually picked up on the fact the story was intentionally simplified. I’ve read other reviews that confirm Penny’s regular Gamache mysteries are generally more complex in character, plot, and language than The Hangman is. That intrigued me because, again, I enjoyed this one very much and am looking forward to trying more of her work. I already have The Kingdom of The Blind, one of her more recent Gamache mysteries, checked out.
If you’re curious about sampling Louise Penny, I think this novella is a good starting point for introducing the general tone and making you want to know more about the characters and setting. However, we have the whole Gamache series–all 15 books, in addition to this novella–in the system, so you can definitely start at any point.
Recommended for those who enjoy P.D. James’s and C. Alan Bradley’s work.
Are you a Louise Penny fan? Which Armand Gamache book do you recommend starting with? Who are some of your favorite modern detective fiction writers? Tell us in the comments! As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog to find more information on this item or to place a hold.