Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Questions for A GREAT RECKONING

  1. “The worst was coming. But so was the best. The snow angels were coming,” Gamache reflects in the first chapter. Aside from evoking the chill of November, what expectations do these lines raise about the story to come?
  2. What do you think of Gamache’s decision to invite Brébeuf to teach at the academy? What does the invitation, and Brébeuf’s acceptance of it, say about the two men?
  3. In what ways is the map significant to Gamache, the villagers, and the various cadets? What significance does it have for you?
  4. How do you feel about the character of Amelia? Did you see the final words in the book coming, and did they change your view of Gamache or Amelia in any way?
  5. What are the most important things Gamache teaches the cadets? What does he learn from them?
  6. How does the relationship between Gamache and Beauvoir evolve throughout the story? Do they generally behave in the ways you’d predict, or do they sometimes surprise you?
  7. In what ways are the cadets similar to and different from one another? How did Leduc play upon their strengths and weaknesses?
  8. “The innocent are often upset when the world doesn’t live up to their expectations,” Lacoste says of Amelia. Can you think of examples of this in the outside world?
  9. Louise quotes from a poem by Jonathan Swift: “Come hither, all ye empty things,/Ye bubbles raised by breath of kings.” What do you think is meant by the “bubbles raised”? What are the bubbles?
  10. How do you respond to the scene in the chapel in Chapter 39, when Gamache talks to the cadets about what happened with Leduc?
  11. How do the emotions of both jealousy and loyalty affect the characters’ actions? In Chapter 41, what is the meaning of the line, “The friendship. The friendship”?
  12. “Few writers in any genre can match Penny’s ability to combine heartbreak and hope in the same scene,” said Publishers Weekly in a starred review of Bury Your Dead. Did you laugh or cry at any point during A Great Reckoning, and if so, what made you do so?
Printable Version: A Great Reckoning Reading Group Guide [PDF]

44 replies on “Reading Group Guide”

loosing my mind, as for some reason I can’t figure out what went on with Paul Gilinar…please help out…..

Loved the book but confused about age of Amelia’s father in relation to Amelia.
Gamache was 5 when his parent’s were killed by her father who was a 16 year old driver and was eleven years older than Gamache. Yet Amelia is now only around 18.
She is much younger than Gamache’s own children who are already in their late 20’s.
Only have the final book in the series left to read and it is sad to know that there are no more. They are very absorbing and beautifully written

Does anyone know what the title of the song that is played at the end of the audio book?

I just finished AGR (have read them all, in order, and love the books). I had two questions. (1) How did Brébeuf manage to get Leduc in a position where he could shoot him without any resistance? Did I miss an explanation? (2) How did the mediocre map maker get killed? He “walked off a cliff” but was murdered. Did I miss that, too?

Hi, Sonia – I’m so pleased that Louise acknowledged Paul’s contribution. To us in the Bistro, he’s a godsend (or should that be Louise-send?). Do come over and chat with us there – we have pages upon pages of discussion of every book in the series, but mostly now, we are hanging out and waiting for the next one. When we hang out, we talk about other books we love, the series in general, what Louise shares with us on her FB page and newsletter, and of course, life and all its ups and downs. Here on the Reading Guide page, it’s more hit and miss if you will find anyone, but of course, the discussion is strictly on the book at hand (except for those of us who come over from time to time to try to lure someone into the Bistro, hahaha)


I’m so pleased to have just discovered The Bistro! I wanted to share with the world that I’d just finished reading “A Great Reckoning” and lo and behold right in the acknowledgments, there is Louise thanking Paul Hochman “who built the virtual bistro”, and well, here I am! And here are all of you! So happy to have a place where we Louise Penny fans can “get together” and discuss our beloved Gamache series! And of course, “A Great Reckoning” did not disappoint! And just a little side note, Gracie IS a dog, right? 🙂

Mary, if I waited for something cogent, I’d never have anything at all to say, hahaha. Please come back, or come visit us in the Bistro, even if all you have to say is “Hi – anyone home?”

Thanks for the discussion. I like the Penny books so much.
I have been going back over the AGR text to look for the connection between LeDuc and the outside partner, when he was desperate and made the error to communicate. Gamache later describes the key event to Charpentier and Brebeuf(maybe), but, prior to the murder chapter, I cannot find any indication of Leduc making contact, and such contact being known to Gamache.
I am mostly surprised missed it! (but still loved the book!) Cheers.

Thanks, Barbara and Julie — you’re very kind to welcome me! Since it’s been a while since the book was published, I didn’t know when or if anyone was looking at the comments anymore. Glad to know I didn’t miss something obvious. I’ll certainly post again if I have anything cogent to say or ask.

I found the series last year. I just finished TGR yesterday!
I need to get some exercise in now. Reading the books while the snow piles up outside makes me feel like I’m in 3 Pines but can’t live on croissants and café au lait all winter!

Mary – thanks for getting us back into the book! I feel we’ve been adrift a bit, and in the Bistro, we’ve been first sidelined by Michael’s passing, which sobered us greatly, and then by the election news. We need to get back to the book, and to “normal”.

That said – I can’t imagine what Leduc might have done had someone actually have shot themselves. Did he think the odds were such that it couldn’t happen? Was he adept at guiding people’s attention elsewhere while he made sure there was no bullet? After all, he didn’t want anyone to die, he just wanted them to think that they might – he wanted the psychological effect of “playing” Russian roulette, without the inevitable outcome. But there is no mention of anything like that that I can see.

To go down that road, if it had happened, I’m sure not every cadet would have covered for him. Unless he did have somewhat of a plan, and figured if it happened, he would jump into action and have the remaining cadets help him move the body and therefore make them complicit in the crime. Or, the minute someone came running, blurt out that this “crazy person” just burst into his room and shot himself, and in their shock, the other cadets would go along with this. Not a good plan, though, as the box, and other paraphernalia was there – it wouldn’t take anyone as skilled as Beauvoir or Gamache to see that it couldn’t be the truth. Bottom line – I just can’t imagine that this scenario could have ended well for him. Maybe he was a bit of a “danger junkie” himself? Maybe he was taking the chance because that was the danger to him? So many maybes, and I certainly don’t have any answers.

I also wondered what The Duke would do if one of them actually died. I’m sure he would have all involved swear the student had committed suicide.

Hi, Mary. A good question, one that I did not think about. I also re-read after you posted but I, too, missed the plan if there was one. I don’t think they could have covered. I would think it very difficult to explain a cadet shot in the head. Would they have said the person came into the room with a gun and committed suicide? Leduc may have never thought of that. Maybe he thought he could get away with anything.
Please join us in The Bistro. We discuss many things and always enjoy discussing, Gamache, Louise Penny and also books by other authors. Look forward to seeing your posts.
I need to check this site more often. Didn’t see your post for some days.

What do you think Leduc would have done if one of the cadets had actually killed himself or herself “playing” Russian Roulette ? Here they all would have been in his rooms with a dead body! Did he think they would all cover for him even if that happened? If so, what could they possibly have said? I re-read hoping to find a mention of his plan, but didn’t see one, maybe I missed it.

Cathryne, Yes, killing himself in front of Gamache was selfish. I had not thought of that aspect but was focused on Gamache. Being able to discuss with others certainly adds to the understanding of and pleasure in the books. As I have said, I never read as closely nor as critically as I have learned to do. I had usually read with the intent of researching a specific idea. Thanks all who have influenced me.

# 12 Laughter——- I thought the scene when Isabelle and the receptionist at McDermont and Ryan was really funny. ” Both speaking apparently unintelligible English.” It was much like me with my Southern Drawl and an out sourced customer service employee. Neither understands the other.
Gracie’s appearance. What is she? A groundhog, teapot pig, ferret, skunk, and she doesn’t have trotters. I laughed as various versions of her popped into my brain.
When the cadets were following Gamache and he had to be sure to show himself until they finally spotted him. It reminded me of losing the lead car on a trip with a group when I was a teenager.
When the car came for us the second time, we had stopped and were waiting for them. Remember this was many decades before GSP or cell phones. They had not given us a map or written directions. Lesson learned.

Barbara, I’m glad that you said Gamache hired Brebouf in hope, as a prayer, for his friend’s redemption. I didn’t think that at all, though I think Gamache still loves the friend he used to know. I, too, was deeply moved by the scene when Brebouf killed himself and Gamache would not turn his back. It seemed like a last act of generosity on Gamache’s part and a last act of selfishness on Brebouf’s part.
You said they were still bonded and I agree. I loved the story of the handkerchief.

The horror, the unbelievable horror of that act Gamache witnessed joins the other almost unbearable memories Gamache carries in his mind, those places described as …what? places he was willing to visit and yet could still keep his humanity, his happiness, his calm. Like the memories of the trial described in The Nature of the Beast.

Did anyone else think Gamache hired Brebouf in hope of providing him with a chance of redemption? His hiring always seemed somewhat odd to me, but I accepted the reason Gamache gave, somewhat reluctantly.

Did he want Brebouf there as a lure for the unknown conspirator?

You’ve started me thinking, Barbara, a good thing.

#12 I seldom cry when reading a book unless a pet is involved or two people in love but unable to marry reunite years later and both are free to marry then. However, I did cry when Brebouf
killed himself. The words : He had not turned his back on Michel, broke my heart. He had not given up on his dear friend. He hired him at the Academy…… a hope. a prayer, for his friend’s redemption. They were still bonded. Beautiful and touching.

When I first read # 4, I was certain that Amelia’s identity was stated in one of the early chapters. Not so. I don’t know why, but I read the entire book knowing Amelia’s identity. I thought Gamache accepting her into the Academy was just another expression of his fairness and forgiveness. I say forgiveness because, even though she wasn’t even born ,some people would still have harbored ill feelings toward her.

Good point Barbara. It is easy to interpret events from our perspective and impose what we think we would do but harder to truly see it from someone else’s point of view. As much as we all think we would behave a certain way the external pressure to conform or belong is huge as we all know. Amelia needed the Academy far more than even she probably realised and it must have been shaming to be placed in such a difficult position. Survival needs change a person, even a strong one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *