A Fatal Grace, Part 2

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.”

Favorite Quote

Gamache: “I knew then I was in the company of people who loved not only books, but words. Spoken, written, the power of words.”

Conclusion

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.

Discussion Questions

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?”

Hope DellonHope Dellon's first job in publishing was as an assistant to Joan Kahn, the legendary mystery editor whose authors included Dorothy L. Sayers, Dick Francis, Patricia Highsmith, and Tony Hillerman. In 1975 Hope joined St. Martin's Press, and is now an executive editor at both St. Martin's and Minotaur Books. She has been editing Louise Penny since 2006. She also tweets about books and authors and anything else that interests her at @hopedellon.

Discussion on “A Fatal Grace, Part 2

  1. Connie says:

    Thinking about the power of words… spoken but also thought (or written but not sent). In Chapter 18 where Yvette Nichol tells Gamache she’s changed and he tells her, ” Good. Then maybe we can make a fresh start.” That’s followed by, “She slipped her small hand into his. The a**hole believed her.” Trusting Nichol is a tricksy business.

    Also in Chapter 18 is the letter Agent Lacoste writes but doesn’t send to the Surete. That’s a laugh out loud moment and certainly rounds out our view of Lacoste. We see why she’s respected and loved by the team… she’s no pushover.

    By the way, I was puzzled and surprised that Gamache didn’t recognize the name Eleanor de Poitiers. He’s so wide read and learned.

    • Jane Fricker says:

      Connie, I was also a bit surprised that Gamache didn’t put the pieces together sooner about CC’s last name. Of course, had she used a more obvious name like D’Acquitaine, he might have twigged sooner. After a bit of thought, I realized that most people(except for hard-core history buffs) don’t know what the family, or last name, is of most royal figures. For example, I’d bet money that most civilians don’t know that the family name of the royal family in the UK today is Windsor-Mountbatten. (And, the name Windsor is fairly recent–changed from Hanover after WWI). We know Eleanor, married to Henry II(who was an Angevin, but changed the family name to Plantagent) mainly through her ownership of the plot of land in France that was called the Acquitaine, thus Eleanor of Acquitaine. And, of course, CC is not exactly a queen’s name.

      • Connie says:

        Good point, Jane. I guess I just expect Gamache to know everything!

        And wondering why Clara married Peter? Well he was handsome and one of the “Montreal Morrows” as CC noticed. A pretty good catch, til you got to know him:).

        • Jane Fricker says:

          On the flip side of that, Connie, I’ve often wondered what drew Peter to Clara. She’s not from his economic group, which is clearly the reason his mother dislikes Clara so much. As one of the ” Montreal Morrows, ” and being as handsome as he’s described by Penny, he could have had his pick of women. I wonder if he chose Clara just because she was so different from his family. Since she is also an artist, (although of course not in HIS league–very important, that!) so she understands his need not to toil as a traditional business man. Not many wives could take living in near poverty, either, especially not a trophy wife. The more I think about it, I have to admit a bit of grudging admiration for Peter–after all, he did have the good sense to pick Clara, even if he seems selfish and unthinking a lot of the time. He was devastated to find that Ben, his best friend, had not only killed Jane Neal, but tried to kill Clara as well(wonder if Clara ever told him that Ben had planned to make him, Peter, the fall guy for her murder). We also have a scene between Peter Gamache, and Je3an-Guy, when Armand comes to collect the tape of A Lion in Winter, which his second-in-command, Jean-Guy, has been reluctantly watching. Beauvoir says, ” Mon dieu, no wonder you English won on the Plains of Abraham…you’re all nuts.” Peter then responds, ” It does help in war. . . but we’re not all like Eleanor of Acquitaine or Henry.” Penny then writes, ” He was tempted to point out that Eleanor and Henry were actually both French, but decided that would be rude.”Considering Jean-Guy had just called him, at least by association, nuts, this forbearance of Peter seems rather noble. Don’t get me wrong– I’m not forming a fan group for Peter, but I think he does have some good qualities.

          • Jane Fricker says:

            Oh, man, I just now caught another couple of typing errors. I would like to blame it on the keyboard, but I was adding a couple of sentences in the middle of something else and clearly did not do an adequate job of proofing before I clicked on Post Comment. There SHOULD be a comma between Peter and Gamache, otherwise it looks as though I’ve somehow created a composite character named Peter Gamache(!) How the number 3 got into the name of Jean-Guy, I have no recollection. Must’ve been a gremlin. Sorry!

        • Kristien Graffam says:

          Just a short observation about Clara and Peter. I don’t think Clara married Peter because he was a Montreal Morrow, more in spite of him being a Montreal Morrow.

          Also, in this book it strikes me how well Louise makes the case for how important your childhood, and the relations you have with the adults in your life, to how you are as an adult yourself.

          • KB says:

            You have to wait until The Murder Stone to understand why (the idea of) Clara was so attractive to Peter.

  2. Anna says:

    Thank you Hope for that tidbit about the connection between Louise and Yvette.
    You are right Jane, adolescence is often deemed now to extend to age 25 as we know the frontal lobes are still developing. I wonder if “adolescence” is a phase we return to when we have growth spurts, even later in life. I am thinking not just of the midlife crisis stereotype, but those times we struggle and rage against a need to grow and change?
    Linda, her father did tell Yvette to take the unattractive clothes from her closet as he didn’t want Gamache “liking” Yvette too much or in “that” way. One suspects her father is afraid of losing Yvette and so can’t let her grow. I keep seeing the butterscotch lollies as a bit sinister, a bribe perhaps or a way of giving something but not anything important. A form of control?
    I agree with you Marie about the power of words and acceptance. But the truly important moment comes if and when we can accept ourselves, warts and all, regardless of how others see us. I think there are periods in the book when even Gamache struggles a little with this. Thank goodness because as much as I try, I still haven’t managed it.
    I love that line Penny, “Other people ARE god with skin on”. Sometimes we do hear the truth in surprising places, our truth articulated by other mouths. Remember though, there is enormous power in the words we say to ourselves. See Yvette talk herself out of feeling cared for by Gamache.

  3. Judith Barnes says:

    With my first readings I did not notice the patterns that were being established. Now as I experience Three Pines and Gamache a second time, I am more aware of them. In “Still Life” Clara takes Lucy, Jane’s dog. In “A Fatal Grace” Gamache takes Henri. Each book has a reference to Scripture.

    • Jane Fricker says:

      Judith, nice catch on the pattern of similarities in the stories in re pets. Bsides the adoptions of Lucy and Henri, Ruth also takes on the care of Daisy, Ben’s old smelly dog. We don’t get to see a lot of Ruth with Daisy, as apparently, by the time of the end of A Fatal Grace, Ruth is taking her Beer Run, where she sits on the bench at 5:00 every day, because that’s where Daisy is buried, and she is taking time to remember her. I think these examples of the villagers and Gamache taking on the responsibility for someone else’s dog because of death (or prison, as in Ben’s case) give us an important message from Penny. Pets matter–they are part of a family, and it’s important to show that instead of putting the dogs in an animal shelter, they are given a new home, where they can spend the rest of the days left to them in a loving environment. ( I just about started bawling when I thought of Ruth sitting on that bench where Daisy was buried! I do love Ruth so! When I grow up, I want to be just like her!:-)

  4. Debby says:

    I wondered why Gamache could not understand a word Billy said, but his wife had no problem at all.

    I just started reading these books last week & finished A Fatal Grace yesterday. How lovely to find this site today!

    • Jane Fricker says:

      Debby,
      Glad you discovered Louise Penny’s books and joined us in the discussion here. Like you, I thought it was rather amusing that Gamache can’t tell what Billy is saying to him–oh, he can make out words and phrases, but they don’t make sense. In fact, his misunderstanding of what Billy is saying to him gives some comic relief to the scene where the Three Graces are out on the frozen lake. The first comment Billy makes is in response to Gamache’s first plea for help: “Em are ducks.” Shortly thereafter, when Billy points out the snowmobiles to Gamache, he says, “High mechanics boat.” Later, as he is riding with Billy on his snowmobile, and asks Biily where they are, Billy responds, ” Chairs might red glass.” Finally, as Gamache has just decided that Billy had gotten them lost on the lake, Billy yells, ” Loudspeaker,” and Gamache sees that they have reached the hospital. I know it’s probably a sign of my warped sense of humor, but thinking of that ride and how Gamache couldn’t understand what seemed to be gibberish from Billy, just makes me giggle every time.

      • Cathryne Spencer says:

        But somebody, please, what was Billy saying? I figured out what he said in a later book, this must be decipherable too. PLEASE!

        • Nancy Miller says:

          I think it’s funny too….but I don’t have a clue what he’s saying either.

          • Hope says:

            Usually I want everything to Make Sense by the end of a book, but somehow I’m charmed by the things I don’t understand in this one–from El recognizing Clara and saying she loves her art; to the lemon meringue pie; to Billy Williams’s incomprehensible dialogue, which Reine-Marie finds perfectly clear. What do you think about these ambiguities in A FATAL GRACE?

          • Julie says:

            The first thing Billy says made sense to me, if you “listen” to what he said, rather than read it. That was in the curling lesson, I think. He said “Whale oil beef hooked”. I think, in a way, it’s like an accent. Later, we read what Gamache hears, I think, rather than what Billy says. I couldn’t understand any but that first one, but I think it’s kind of a clue as to how to decipher what Billy says. Maybe Reine-Marie just had more of an ear for Billy’s accent, or maybe she’s just smarter than Gamache… and me.

  5. Lizzy says:

    I love how Gamache doesn’t just collect evidence, but he collects emotions. He gets to their heart.

    I knew right away that CC married Richard Lyon because of the connection to Richard the Lion Hearted. That was, after I had the clues about CC!

    I really hated Nicole but near the end, I was feeling sorry for her. But what a twist that it’s not her that’s going to double cross Gamache!

    The Three Graces, oh how I would love to see that painting! There must be an artist somewhere that can bring that to life!

    Crie..can I just say my heart broke at the ending. Why oh why did it have to be her?? Why oh why can’t she be helped???? She has so much potential! I really did not see that coming.

  6. Anna says:

    I think I understand what Billy is saying with Whale oil beef hooked. Say out loud with with a sort of drawl running the the words together. It’s quite funny when he says it in the bistro toward the end of How the Light Gets In. I don’t understand the rest though apart from one other phrase from the latter book, Norfolk and chance!

  7. Jane Fricker says:

    Hope, I too find some of those ambiguities intriguing. I think that Louise Penny must intend for those to remain, at least for the time being, unresolved. I think that’s one way that each reader can decide for herself(or himself, as the case may be) what the meaning might be.

  8. brenda says:

    So many of you have said things that I’ve thought rereading this book. I love that as I reread I pick up more and more things that I’d missed on the first time. Personally I will probably read the entire set a few more times. Aside from picking more up each time I just love the personal relationships.. the love of Gamache and Renie-Marie how easily he’s become a part of Three Pines and how they have accepted him as more then the Inspector
    Thank you again Louise for writing these books for me to enjoy so very much.

  9. Anna says:

    It’s so nice to sit here thinking of us all drawling and laughing alone in our homes but absolutely not alone at all. What a lovely idea this book club is!

  10. Anna says:

    I think Gamache not knowing things and not understanding Billy just makes him as human and perplexed as the rest of us so we connect better. As do his fears. Speaking of which, I love how Louise builds the growing feeling of menace throughout the series. It’s there lurking. The old Hadley place is a metaphor or perhaps objectification (?) of evil waiting.

    • Jane Fricker says:

      I like that comment, Anna, about how Louise Penny is using references to the Hadley House as a metaphor or objectification of evil lurking. I think it’s a growing concern of the villagers of Three Pines, which will see a culmination in the next book, The Cruelest Month. However, I think it’s important to note that at least in the first book, Still Life, we don’t find that the villagers regarded it as inherently evil. I doubt that Timmer Hadley’s friends would have been so willing to sit with her while she was dying if they thought the house was evil. Of course, the actions of her son Ben, by default, did make the house a bit questionable, and the ownership of the house falling into the likes of the Lyon family did nothing to improve it.

  11. Anna says:

    Thanks Jane. I think the fact that the house didn’t start off as being associated with evil or menace is really important. In fact the house needn’t be evil at all, guilt by association and deeds done. I think that is an even stronger metaphor for the Arnot case and the difficulty of determining whether evil always was or whether it grows in otherwise good places.

  12. Anna says:

    I have to say, I am giggling Jane as you describe the house as a bit questionable. I have a vision of the house as a little boy in short pants scuffing its feet and looking out pitiably from under long lashes as if to say ….it wasn’t me that did it! And it’s true. The house didn’t ever DO anything wrong but has become a repository of others fears and is neglected by consequence. I am way of beam seeing some parallels to Agent Nichol here?!

  13. Anna says:

    I mean ‘am I’ a question, not ‘I am’ a statement. Darn wish we could post edit comments!

  14. Jane Fricker says:

    Anna,
    I loved the way your wrote about the Hadley House, as though it were a young boy in short pants shuffling its feet and saying, “It wasn’t me that did it!” Which of course is true. (Although the stairs falling through with Gamache and Beauvoir MIGHT have been the house’s fault!–but really it’s more because someone neglected to do the necessary repairs). I’ve had some other thoughts along the lines of the Hadley House. Don’t we as human beings naturally associate some homes as either good or bad, depending on who lived (or died) in them? Specifically, real estate agents have noted difficulty selling a house where a murder has taken place. It’s as though the prospective buyers think that if they buy the house, they themselves might get killed. As for Nichol being somewhat akin to the Hadley House, as you wrote in your post, I’m not quite sure what you mean. I’m wondering if you mean that Yvette has somehow become the repository for the fears of her family. I would write more on that, but not sure if that’s what you meant.

    • Nancy Miller says:

      Didn’t Ben doctor the stairs so they would give way? I seem to remember it that way.

    • Julie says:

      I kind of like that idea of Nichol being the repository of her family’s fears. Certainly, her father’s fears (and his lies) are at the root of her behavior, and especially of her low self esteem, which seems to fuel her anger and wrong-headedness.

      • Anna says:

        The idea about the comparison with the Hadley house with Nichol is still developing in my head. As Julie said, Yvette has been the reflection of her father’s fears of failure and he fuels that. She is also an expression of the fear of being unattractive and the outsider. So many desire to belong. It is easy to show you belong if there is someone else to collectively exclude, lots of bullying works this way. Of course Nichol doesn’t help herself, something the Hadley house can’t do.

        Jean Guy is afraid of Nichol as he is worried that by trying to help her Gamache will be hurt. That could happen. Not everyone responds to kindness with relief. Some respond with resentment and lash out. They can’t tell if the kindness is real or a form of superiority. Jean Guy is also worried about old evils resurfacing from the Arnot case and Nichol being their spy and representative.

        It is easier to imagine evil residing in the ugly and neglected than in the beautiful and popular.

        I know what you are saying Jane about houses having an association with good or evil. It’s funny. The last three houses we have bought (yes we move a lot!) have definitely radiated warmth and homeliness and it wasn’t just on appearance. One house was already empty, decor was appalling and it reeked of cigarette smoke (gag). It was nothing that I wanted except perhaps location and I certainly wasn’t up for a massive renovation project. BUT, it had an amazing warmth of personality and despite its ugly exterior I wanted to live there. So weird but it worked out and I miss it.

      • Marie G. says:

        Once again – the power of words, a power that can either build us up or tear us down…with effects that can (and often do) last a lifetime!

  15. Terry says:

    Just catching up with book 2 here. Finished it a couple of days ago, it was a re-read but I’d forgotten almost all of it. I love these books, and the characters, so much. I am not a reader who tries to solve the mystery. I just go along for the ride. I enjoy her rich, layered plots, and I worry myself sick about Gamache and the forces working against him. Even though I know that no matter what, except for his death, nothing can really shake him. He has Reine-Marie, his family, his love of music and literature, he’s going to be OK.

    All that said, one thing really bugged me about this book. Maybe I’m picturing the curling event wrongly. But in my mind, I cannot believe that no one noticed JUMPER CABLES ATTACHED TO A FOLDING CHAIR??? Seriously???? They usually have thick cables with orange rubber coating, and the clips are massive, not little bitty alligator clips. I can hardly get my hands around the handles of mine, they’re BIG. Anyone with a single brain cell would see jumper cables clipped to a metal chair and their alarm bells would deafen everybody in the town. And the chair is sitting out on the ice with only what, 2 or 3 other chairs around it, and they are all right in front of the shoreline bleachers stuffed with onlookers? And the cables aren’t short – they run all the way back along the side of the bleachers to behind, where the truck is? This just seems totally incredible to me. What’s wrong with the picture I’ve built in my head?

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