On the surface, this may seem to be a simple, whodunit series of mystery novels, headlined by a charming police inspector. It’s nothing you haven’t heard of. That’s why I reached for it at first after my severe drought from engaging mystery novels since Tana French.
This series actually surprised me quite a bit, when I found there were more than just plot twists and clever tricks that were involved. Because most of the books (and, unfortunately, the murders) are centered around Three Pines, the bucolic village in French Quebec, I became attached to the characters that lived in Three Pines. They develop and mature throughout the whole series, each developing a three-dimensional storyline, although not all of them change in one book. Rather, a few characters remain very static, maintaining a comfortable recognizability while the key characters in the book change drastically. I see large, flamboyant Gabri delivering magnificent, flaky croissants and warm brie, complemented with foamy cafe au laits in almost all books.
Inspector Gamache is not a genius detective, like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. He’s prone to weaknesses and he has a lot to lose: his beloved family, his tight-knit team of colleagues, and whatever strays he has to pick up on the way. But in his humanity, he is humble, unlike arrogant Holmes and unlike Poirot, who was killed by Christie for being insufferable.
The most startling thing about this series is that it forces you to reflect on yourself. Maybe it’s just me, but I see a little of my own ugly deficiencies and faults in each of the characters, and more likely than not, even in the murderers. Inspector Gamache’s approach to murder - in not finding the immediate cause of murder, but in the emotions it was derived from, and in the ages-old hurts - relies heavily on a loose form of psychology. We are all not immune to slights and failures of the past. I saw how careless words or actions, unintended to hurt, could fester in the recipient for decades to manifest in a form of terrible violence. I have to remind myself that I must let go of (and work through) these things, not on my own, but in community of loving people who are willing to forgive.
I’m still working through the series in a chronological order, and the latest novel (The Brutal Telling) has been the greatest. I greatly recommend going in order, although it’s not necessary to do so. Apparently they’re making a TV series out of the books for those of you who don’t want to bother reading 9 books, but who knows if this quietly contemplated murder investigation series will ever translate well into television.
In Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin
Genre: Historical Fiction
In the summer of 1946, New York City pulses with energy. Harry Copeland, a World War II veteran, has returned home to run the family business. Yet his life is upended by a single encounter with the young singer and heiress Catherine Thomas Hale, as each falls for the other in an instant. They pursue one another in a romance played out in Broadway theaters, Long Island mansions, the offices of financiers, and the haunts of gangsters. Catherine’s choice of Harry over her longtime fiancé endangers Harry’s livelihood and threatens his life. In the end, Harry must summon the strength of his wartime experience to fight for Catherine, and risk everything.
Recommended by huonconstellations
The Underrated Book Project is a series of posts that aims to promote books that are under-appreciated, overshadowed, scarcely read or unknown.
I probably shop about 8x more than I did back when I lived in Houston, and my recent unreasonable (?or quite reasonable) obsession is COATS/OUTERWEAR. I really want an oversized coat but I think they only look amazing on stick skinny legged people..hmm to buy or not to buy.