Recap (Starting with Chapter 22)
Clues and questions and suspects continue to pile up for Gamache and his team. Having learned that CC de Poitiers, who claimed to be the daughter of Eleanor and Henri de Poitiers, invented both her name and her past (Eleanor de Poitiers, better known as Eleanor of Aquitaine, actually died in 1204), Gamache needs to find out who CC really was. Are there any significant clues to be found in the video cassette of The Lion in Winter that turned up in CC’s garbage after the murder?
Meanwhile, Gamache is astonished when Clara proudly shows him the Li Bien ornament Peter gave her for Christmas, which is exactly like the ball CC supposedly used as the basis for her garbled philosophy. The glass ball is painted with three pine trees, the word Noël, and a single capital letter, L. Was it the picture of the trees that prompted CC to buy the monstrous old Hadley house in Three Pines? Awkwardly, Peter is forced to confess that while he meant to buy Clara something for Christmas this year, he actually found the ball in the Williamsburg dump.
When Gamache meets Émilie Longpré—age 82, captain of the curling team, and one of Clara’s Three Graces—and her dog, Henri, on an early morning walk, she tells him about an encounter with CC at Mother’s meditation center, where CC arrogantly proclaimed that since she was calling her own book and company Be Calm, Mother would have to change the name of her center or perhaps close it altogether. After breakfast, the tiny Émilie gives Gamache & co. a curling lesson that convinces even Beauvoir, who has always scoffed at curling as a sport, that it’s a lot harder than it looks. And Gamache, who finally grasps what it meant when the 78-year-old Mother loudly “cleared the house” at the curling match, suddenly knows how the murderer got away with it.
The questions about CC’s mother keep circling back to the Three Graces. Do they know who the L of the Li Bien ball was, or could it possibly even be one of them? And what might 92-year-old Kaye Thompson, who was sitting next to CC at the match, have seen as she was murdered?
When Saul’s photos are developed, they somehow do not include any shots from the time of the murder. And as eager as Saul seems to be to start a new, better life in Three Pines, he still has one undeveloped roll of film that he hastily throws in the fireplace when Gamache and his team visit him at the chalet he has rented.
With the help of an idea from Clara about the discarded video, the case seems to be coming together, when a raging fire breaks out at Saul’s chalet, and the unlikely trio of Gamache, Beauvoir, and Agent Nichol try to rescue him. Émilie finally tells Gamache the heartbreaking truth about CC’s mother, and the Three Graces prepare to pay the price for what they have done. And then Gamache suddenly realizes there is one last horrible secret in CC’s family.
The book ends at New Year’s, with Reine-Marie’s first visit to Three Pines. Both of them know that the plots against Gamache are growing more sinister, but as they drive home:
In the rearview mirror Armand Gamache could see Three Pines. He got out of the car and stared down at the village, each home glowing with warm and beckoning light, promising protection against a world sometimes too cold. He closed his eyes and felt his racing heart calm.
“Are you all right?” Reine-Marie’s mittened hand slipped into his.
“I’m more than all right.” He smiled. “I have everything.”
Gamache: “I knew then I was in the company of people who loved not only books, but words. Spoken, written, the power of words.”
I am not sure how many times I’ve read A Fatal Grace, but I still find it as extraordinary as I did back in 2006. I think it’s magnificent on so many levels: as a complex and masterful detective story, as a glorious character study, and as an exploration of universal hopes and fears. I love that it can be hilarious one minute and heartbreaking the next.
I also love the way Louise focuses on the power of words, from the literal handwriting on more than one wall, to the hidden meanings of names like Mother, Elle, and Crie (what kind of parents would name a child that?), to the ways that words can kill or heal. I also marvel that someone like me, who is at least as much of a skeptic as Jean-Guy Beauvoir, can find myself wondering about such mysteries as lemon meringue pie.
1. There are so many clues hidden in plain sight in A Fatal Grace, I lost count at 6 or 7 (all of which I missed the first time through). Did you spot any of them, and did you solve any of the various puzzles before Gamache did?
2. What do you make of Gamache’s relationships with the different members of his team, from Beauvoir to Nichol?
3. How do you feel about The Three Graces?
4. Near the end, Gamache says, “This whole case has been about belief and the power of the word.” I’ll say. What are the ways in which words have power?
5. Speaking of belief, what do you make of the apparent brushes with God: the beggar who loved Clara’s art (which Em maintains she had never seen); Gamache finding God in a diner eating lemon meringue pie; Em’s road worker with the sign saying “Ice Ahead”; Billy Williams, etc.?
6. Do you agree with Gamache in Chapter 33 that “when you’ve seen the worst you appreciate the best?”