A Rule Against Murder, Part 2

Recap (Chapters 12-32)

The family and staff absorb the news about Julia Martin’s death at the Manoir Bellechasse.

Elliot the young server rages at the news of her death, and threatens to quit. He’s told he can quit his job, but leaving the Manoir is out of the question while they investigate the murder. Pierre the matre d’ tries to show duty and diligence by continuing to show the guests professionalism and respect a trait his father would appreciate, he thinks. The power struggles get worse with Elliot, much to his chagrin. Colleen the gardener, who found the body, seems undone by the event. The shock only aggravates her loneliness in this very beautiful yet remote setting.

Mrs. Finney spooks the entire family by bursting into tears at dinner. Never has there been this display over emotion over any of the Morrow children. Bert Finney is trying to show his support to his wife, but the gestures are swallowed up and unseen by a grieving mother.

Peter seems lost, while Clara feels trapped and miserable. She tries to offer solace to the family, but finds herself either dismissed or the one to be comforted. Peter looks unkempt, messy, and distracted, while Clara looks serious, pressed and buttoned up a complete role reversal.

Marianna acts completely unmoved. She stuffs her face with food during her interview with Beauvoir as if nothing had happened. Thomas and Sandra vie for who gets to be interviewed first and by the most senior officer to boot. Gamache has to remind them that this isn’t a competition.

Bean retreats further into her imagination. She makes a constellation of stars made from half-eaten marshmallow cookies on the Manoir ceiling. In a rare moment of joyous spontaneity, Sandra joins her in the mischievous but fun activity.

Beauvoir is repulsed by this family and the country setting, filled with stinging insects. He is horrified when he learns from his interview with Marianna Morrow that she has purposely kept Bean’s gender a secret from her family, in order to drive her family crazy. He chalks it up to the “insanity of the Anglos.”

In a moment of misery, he stumbles into the kitchen and sees the gigantic Chef Veronique. He is mesmerized by her, and inexplicably drawn to her like a magnet. From that point on, he looks for reasons to be alone with her. He imagines staying at the Manoir forever, if only to be near her.

Agent Lacoste is drawn to the murder site. She can’t imagine how Julia Martin could be killed in such an impossible way. She begins her careful, quiet, meticulous investigating, and orders searches of all of the grounds, and the Manoir rooms.

Reine-Marie is dropped off in Three Pines to stay while Gamache and his team continue their investigation at the Manoir. They interview each family member, the crane company man who mounted the statue, as well as the artist of the statue himself. They gather evidence, including some crumpled notes and a sheaf of letters from Julia’s room.

The early evidence is conflicting and downright inconclusive. It seems unlikely that someone outside of the Manoir could have committed the murder, as the setting is completely remote. To complicate matters, the Morrows say different things about Julia: Mrs. Finney calls her the kindest, most sensitive of all of her children, while Peter characterizes her as “the cruelest, the greediest, of us all.” Thomas says it was a reunion, “a happy time,” and no one wanted to kill her. Beauvoir gazes out the window, silently reminding him of that lie.

Gamache, doing his best to lead the investigation, takes a moment to call his son Daniel. He has a moment of weakness and tells Daniel what he promised he wouldn’t: that he disagrees with the choice of the baby name, and naming him after his father is a mistake. He tells Daniel that life is hard enough without giving a child a name that will lead to abuse or bullying. Daniel is hurt, and the phone call ends badly.

In a painful twist, the Morrows make the connection with Armand Gamache’s name – and his father, who we learn was a national disgrace during World War II. He discouraged Canadian involvement in the war, even after the world knew Hitler had to be stopped. He had gained a following and his name was forever associated with the word “coward.” A word that the Morrows say to Gamache’s face with disdain.

The interview with the crane company reveals nothing helpful or useful – even the crane operator can’t imagine how the huge statue could have fallen. The interview with the sculpture artist doesn’t reveal anything conclusive, except that Bert Finney knew his best friend, Charles Morrow, better than any of his children did.

David, Julia’s ex-husband, now doing time in a correctional facility for his national investment fraud, is also interviewed. David is grief stricken, but he also reveals an interesting secret that defined the hatred that Peter felt for his sister.

After some further digging, Agent Lacoste learns that the Morrows are not actually what, or who, they seem:

Thomas Morrow: called the most successful of the bunch, he is actually the least successful. He has worked at the same firm since college and has not moved up the ladder, nor does he make much money.

Sandra Morrow: makes more than her husband Thomas. She’s doing well at her job, but has hit a glass ceiling. They’ve been living off of the inheritance from Thomas’ father, and it’s about to run out.

Peter Morrow: A prestigious artist, he refused the inheritance money, and he and Clara lived hand to mouth for years. His shows were successful in the past, always selling out, but he hasn’t had a show in a while. And he hated his sister Julia. He secretly played a cruel trick on her that had disastrous effects, causing the family to be forever ruptured.

Marianna Morrow: The interloper sibling who seems a cross between a hippy and a slob is actually by far the most successful of the bunch. She’s a self-made millionaire from a brilliant architect design she came up with in school. Furthermore, her creation was to help the poor – a single family home that was energy efficient and also handsome in design. She travels the world and speaks multiple languages.

Julia Morrow: had claimed on the witness stand during her ex-husband’s trial that she knew nothing about his investment fraud. But she was raised by a shrewd businessman for a father. How true could this be?

Bert Finney: Charles Morrow’s best friend. Everything he told the officers turns out to be true. He was an accountant who worked for his best friend Charles Morrow. But he lied about one thing in his past – that he was in captivity in Burma during World War II, one of the most inhumane, and unsurvivable places to be during the war. Yet he had survived. Who was this man, and why would he choose to be with this impossible family?

The staff, it turns out, is laden also with secrets that begin to come to light. Elliot is from the same neighborhood as Julia and her ex-husband in British Columbia. Elliot and Julia had made some sort of a connection – perhaps a flirtatious one – before she was killed. He was the one who wrote those notes to her. Pierre the matre d’ had worked in a graveyard before taking on the job at the Manoir Bellechasse. He was raised in a wealthy family before his father lost everything in a bad investment when he was quite young. And Chef Veronique turns out to be a Canadian national treasure – a former nun and celebrity chef with a highly popular cooking show back in the day. One day she simply up and left the monastery, and the spotlight, and completely disappeared. Since then she’s been at the great Manoir Bellechasse, where she could live a simpler life, away from scrutiny. Children all over Quebec had adored her – Beauvoir included.

As the Morrows begin to suspect one another, as every family member seems to have motive – most likely the need for money – the Gamaches head to Three Pines to celebrate both Canada Day and their wedding anniversary, July 1. Children play in the sunshine, lamb is roasted, bees hover over spilled Coke, and for a while, the Gamaches revel in the summertime celebration. It is during this visit that Gamache suddenly puts a few crucial pieces of information together. Reine-Marie sees the look on her husband’s face, and knows he is close to solving the murder.

Gamache races back to the Manoir, only to discover that Elliot is missing. Search parties begin looking for him, and in the midst of the confusion, Gamache tries to hunt down some final pieces of information with a couple of phone calls. But he is almost too late – the murderer has struck again, this time kidnapping Bean. In a heart-stopping climax, Gamache, the murderer, and Bean are at the top of the steep copper roof of the Manoir. One or all of them might not leave with their life.

The Morrows, each and every one of them watching with horror from the safety of the ground, now understand who killed their daughter, their sister. It all pointed back to Julia’s husband. The murderer took Julia’s life in a blind moment of rage, for everything he and his family lost in one of David’s early investment failures. And for the money and privilege she represented.

Gamache barely manages to save Bean’s life and his own. They are all brought in to safety, and the murderer, exhausted, confesses. The family and the staff discuss the clues, and the Morrow secrets are now out in the open. As old wounds are discussed, some amount of understanding and healing begins to seep in to this family, who have for so long misunderstood one another, as well as their father’s intentions.

Peter and Clara leave the Manoir, and Peter has a new understanding of his father. Bean seems to be doing fine despite the scare, and the Gamaches feel certain that this wonderful yet strange child will thrive. We learn a bit more about the Morrows, their pain, and how Bert Finney could survive such horror during the war. Gamache and Daniel make peace, and Armand and Reine-Marie look forward to the day they will meet their grandchild.


Julia Martin was killed in a moment of passion and rage. One of the commentators in Week One of the re-read discussion wisely made the point that A Rule Against Murder is just as much about fathers and sons as it is about family, and it’s true – we see the sons still existing in the long shadows of their fathers. The murderer tried to live a life his father could respect, but in the end, he murdered to avenge his failures. Fathers, alive or dead, shape us all, A Rule Against Murder says. But in Gamache’s case, he finds moments to choose the length of the shadow. To choose its shape.

Nothing was as it seemed with the Morrows – their successes, their hostilities, even their pain. Louise Penny shows how disfunction was introduced into the family, and given an environment to flourish. Irene Finney was beset with a physically painful disease unbeknownst to her children which made touch impossible, and it made her seem remote and unloving. Charles Morrow withheld his wealth from his children, and tried to instill a spirit of gamesmanship and risk so they could learn to become self-reliant. Instead it backfired, and created an atmosphere of intense competition between the siblings, and the life-long bruises began. Even with Bert Finney, we learn that he didn’t marry Irene for her vast fortune, but simply because he loved her his entire life.

A Rule Against Murder, also known as The Murder Stone, was published in the U.S. in January 2009. It is a layered, sensory-filled murder mystery in one of its most classic forms. The symbolism and subtexts alone are fascinating and plentiful. But A Rule Against Murder, to me, also represented prescient timing: the Bernie Madoff scandal had just broken, and Julia and David Martin represented the kind of devastating damage that can be done when avarice, an absence of ethics, and opportunity form a perfect storm. It’s not often a fiction publication can tie into breaking headline news, let alone one of the top news stories of the decade. It was impossible at the time to flout it too much when pitching, as a publicist never wants to point too much to a single motive when pitching mysteries. But five years later, it’s fun to think about, and remember the context when this extraordinary book came into the world.

Thank you so much for joining me in re-reading A Rule Against Murder. I look forward to seeing you on the discussion boards!

Favorite Quotes

“The Canadian wilderness didn’t give up her territory or her dead easily.”

“You can’t get milk from a hardware store.”

Discussion Questions

1. Louise Penny’s books are about duality, and they also explore the power of choice. The Milton poem, “The mind is its own place, and in itself / can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.” How is this illustrated in respect to the characters’ lives? Do you also see instances of this in the first three books?

2. Peter says that each member of the Morrow family has a personal talisman, or mantra, to arm them from one another. Is this unusual and cause for concern? Or do you find this quite natural and normal? Do you have a charm of your own that you use to give yourself “power and protection?”

3. We never find out if Bean is a boy or a girl by the end of A Rule Against Murder. Gamache says, “‘Bean is a seed. It’s an old allegory for faith. I have a feeling Bean is a very special child.'” Bean at first seems strange and joyless, but as we go further, we discover that Bean is actually full of imagination, and capable of much joy. What does a lack of gender seem to imply, in regards to identity? Do you think this is a comment on childhood itself?

4. What do we think Bean will become, and does it matter whether or not we find out his or her gender?

5. A carryover from Week One – what are your favorite sensory passages, and favorite humorous moments?

Sarah MelnykSarah Melnyk is a Publicity Manager at Minotaur Books. She has worked as a publicist for Penguin USA, Harcourt, and Storey Books in Vermont. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Discussion on “A Rule Against Murder, Part 2

  1. Karen Gast says:

    Re the duality: I believe this is … well, common to all of us within ourselves and in our life situations. It only becomes noticeable and even shocking in instances such as the end of this story. I really couldn’t believe this murderer had the capability of that kind of cruel and (to me) truly hasty action. He was obviously in his own created Hell, but I hadn’t realized it at all.

    Talismans and mantras are not at all unusual, but I certainly don’t expect to find them in families against one another! This is an “if only” story for me, that is if only the mother had been more open with her children perhaps they would have grown up with some empathy for each other and others. If only dad hadn’t accidentally created the competition for affections, the siblings would have gotten to know and like each other, at least to some degree! Perhaps, however, that is just the way most lives go. If only …

    • Jane F says:

      . Louise Penny’s books are about duality, and they also explore the power of choice. The Milton poem, “The mind is its own place, and in itself / can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.” How is this illustrated in respect to the characters’ lives? Do you also see instances of this in the first three books

      I agree with Karen Gast, that we all have a duality within ourselves. This is not really a secret, either. Everyone knows there is a “dark side” to their personality. What’s important is the choices we make, everyday, whether to choose to do good, or to embrace our baser instincts. Shakespeare famously had one of the characters in his play Julius Caesar say, “the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves”. If our actions were truly predestined, then we would not have such responsibility for the choices we make. As for the Milton quote, I think that is spot on. Especially in this book, we see how character’s choices have either turned their world into a heaven or hell. For Armand Gamache and his beloved Reine-Marie, they can make a heaven even out of a smallish room in the manoir which the Morrows foolishly describe as a “closet”. For the Morrows, no world, no matter how beautiful, is ever going to be enough to make a heaven for them, since they are living in their own hellish minds, and they continue to make the kind of wrong choices that guarantee their continued unhappiness.
      As for how we could see examples of this in the first three books, I think there are plenty of examples. In Still Life, Jane Neal had created her own “long room” out of her house, and made life a heaven for herself. Myrna is another example of someone who chose a different path than the one she’d been following and also therefore created her own private heaven. Olivier and Gabri have both found Three Pines to be the fullfillment of their dreams, so for them it’s a heaven as well.
      Ben Hadley, on the other hand, in spite of his benign appearance, was living a hellish life. Fearing that he was going to be financially cut off by his mother, he murdered her, and then Jane Neal, his former school teacher, just because he feared she had figured out that he really had no alibi. And for people truly living a hellish life, I don’t think anyone comes close to Yolanda and her family. Sorry, this is all I have time for right now. Will come back to this later.

      • Meg R says:

        Jane, You reminded me of something that has just jarred me when I reread this book and made me a little ??? – haven’t come up with an adjective that just nails it yet.

        This is book 4 of this series. In each, we’ve seen a number of repeated similarities.

        A. SETTINGS: (Primary Places: remote or isolated & Time: Major Holiday)

        1, Still Life – Three Pines (3P’s) & Thanksgiving
        2. Fatal Grace – 3 P’s & Christmas to New Years
        3. Cruelest Month – 3 P’s & Easter
        4. Rule Against Murder – Manoir Bellechasse & Canada Day (July 1)
        (Definitely a Penny pattern here! Book 5 takes place around Labor Day!)

        1. Still Life – Timmer Hadley, smothered
        – Jane Neal – shot with bow and arrow
        – Clara Morrow – attempted but failed
        2. Fatal Grace – CC’s mother El – strangled
        – CC de P- electrocuted
        3. Cruelest Month – Madeleine F – poisoned
        – Lilium (either Nature or Ruth’s assistance)
        – *genocide of Cree peoples – no law enforcement, alcohol poisoning, individual & mass shootings/
        4. Rule Against Murder – Julia Morrow Martin – squished by giant Daddy statue
        (Definitely a varied methodology, but the most *egregious of all of these has been barely mentioned.)

        There has been a repeated character trait that has run through each of the “doers” of these crimes (for the most part) and in a number of other characters.

        We see, time after time, someone who feels entitled to do whatever he/she wants because Life hasn’t given them what they wanted or expected when they wanted. I’m sorry, know my own prejudice is coming out, but I have very little if any patience with some one who has had a very privileged life doing a whine-and-moan about how “unfair” Life is because one doesn’t get what one wants – when one wants it; because Mummy & Daddy didn’t love me enough or pay enough attention. This petty, immature, self-absorption really becomes tiresome. Granted, not all of these “offenders” have experienced ‘privileged’ lives, but it seems as if we’ve been over run with “Me-First” characters who 1) have little or no empathy for others 2) demonstrate little if any evidence of self-reflection 3) feel entitled.

        1. Still Life – Ben Hadley, Yolande -Jane Neal’s niece, her bullying son (?), Peter Morrow, Yvette Nichol,
        Jean-Guy Beauvoir
        2. Fatal Grace – CC, Peter Morrow, JGB
        3. Cruelest Month – Hazel Smith, Michel Brebeuf, Peter Morrow, R. Lemieux, seemingly -Y. Nichol, JGB,
        Arnot and Francouer
        4. Rule Against Murder – Sandra Morrow, Thomas Morrow, Irene Finney, Peter Morrow, Pierre Patenaude,

        One can understand the self-absorption of a tweener, teen and even some twentiers, but most of us do manage to grow out of this stage as we face and deal with our own lives. We begin to understand that the universe does not revolve around us and that we’re very, very, very minor players in it. No, I have not lived a sheltered life. It’s officially on record in the Library of Congress oral history project somewhere – my mother’s voice clearly stating that she didn’t want me when I was born, wanted to give me back (not sure to whom), but she was not prepared then for motherhood at all. Evidently something changed for her after that because she managed to produce 12 more offspring. To this day, she like Irene Finney, is not a physically affectionate person and seems incapable of saying ‘I love you.” – but – that’s her nature. She can’t or won’t change and has done the best with what she had/has. That was her life and her choices and I and each of my sibs have made our own. We haven’t wallowed in pity parties because we didn’t have a Donna Reed or June Cleaver for a mom. We’ve accepted her for who and what she is and tried to live our own full and rich lives. I have very little if any patience with someone who doesn’t even try to make the attempt to take responsibility for one’s own actions, words etc.

        I’m finding that I have less patience and interest in these self-absorbed folks and want to read/ hear more about the Gamache family, Ruth, Clara, Myrna and Gabri & Ollie than people who don’t really care about others. Yes, I understand that this is fiction and “the bad guys/gals” and conflict are necessary parts of a mystery story plot. It just seems to me that we’ve been inundated with one kind/type of ‘villain.’

        • Julie says:

          Meg, there is a lot to what you say – especially about the whine of people that life owes them something more. However, I find that all people have some of that in them – that there are times when we can all feel that way, and it’s how we act, that sets us free from some of the patterns that we’ve seen in the books.

          However, I think what Louise Penny is getting at with each of the books, is that murder always starts in the same way. Yes, her murderers are all alike – because, in her mind, they are all alike. The seeds for murder are sown long before the act – in some slight or hurt that seems very small at the time. But allowed to fester, it becomes very large and finally, takes over the life of the person (host?) and kills. Since her theory is that this is where all murder comes from, there is bound to be the same kind of murderer in every story.

          • Linda Maday says:

            To me, most murderers ARE alike. It’s usually the execution of the plan that varies. (Pardon the pun.)

          • Meg R says:

            There is truth to what you’ve said, Julie, but that “seed which festers and grows” can be many things other than parental or a CYA action to mask the initial murder. Hazel’s motive was the only non-familial one that we’ve been offered – Oh, yes, and then there’s the extermination of the Cree people. We haven’t been given Arnot’s reasons for those atrocities.

          • Julie says:

            That’s very true, Meg – they DO all seem to be filial, when in life of course, the seeds can come from many sources. As for the Arnot case, that one is going to be, for me, inexplicable. Much as I can’t forgive Peter, but can understand him – I cannot begin to even understand Arnot and the idea that there are still many people on the Surete force who are Arnot sympathizers.

        • KB says:

          It is interesting to see how so many of the murderers are caught in their own hell of “poor me”, when many have so little to pity themselves for. Ben Hadley appears to have had a loving mother who was thoughtful and kind to others. Where was his slight that made him live in the hell he created for himself? The denoument of Still Life led us to believe that he lied about injustices perpetrated upon him from quite a young age.
          It was easier to understand how Crie got to where she was. Her mother sought to create a heaven so that she would be revered and adored, but missed all that was important, fulfilling, healthy and sane in her relationships in order to focus on “Li Bien”, which was the height of superficial and meaningless, sick and twisted. She created a hell for her family.
          Hazel found her heaven in “helping” others. It created all of her self worth. When there was no need to help, she fell into her hell of becoming invisible.
          Other characters act as foils as they clearly choose heaven: Clara, Myrna, Jane and Gabri. Still others show the duality within their own characters: Ruth (who is in her own hell much of the time, but comes out of it to choose to help others), Peter (who wants to have his wife’s faith, but just can’t manage it, especially after her success makes him jealous and insecure), Jean-Guy, even Nickel.
          It is the duality that makes the characters rich and interesting and keeps me coming back to see what the characters choose and how the story will evolve.

        • Cathryne Spencer says:

          Meg R., I’ve wanted to say to you,”No, Pierre was different. He loved his father so. He didn’t kill Julia for himself.” But, of course, he did. He not only killed Julia, he could so easily have caused Bean’s death. Penny said it so well, “And everyone in the comfortable, warm room glimpsed Pierre Paternaude’s small world, where wretched actions could be justified, and others blamed.” I think that we need to use constant vigilance, because we may not kill someone, but we might be tempted to use the Morrows’ methods of letting our darkness and hurt out. Instead, we can say, ” Yep, there’s my fury again,” and go on with our lives, letting go of our own lurking darkness yet again, or we can give in to it and allow it to invade or even take over our lives. While we can break these murderers down and recognize their great similarities, seeing each of them dressed up as something else can help us notice our own attempts to fool ourselves into justifying wretched behavior. I think you are feeling tired of these murderers because you’re seeing the pattern necessary to allow one to murder. In fact, this discussion seems to be helping me understand better the references in the books to Gamache being willing to go into the darkest recesses of his own mind and make friends with what is there, a powerful idea.

          • Meg R says:

            You know what, Cathryne? You are absolutely right. Pierre was different in re to motivation/murders. You made that little “Aha!” bell tinkle for me.

            I think my dissatisfaction with this novel in particular (other than the string of pampered, self-absorbed, snarky, entitled ,and immature Morrows and – I forgot that young waiter Elliot too) was that I had a very difficult time accepting Pierre as a murderer. He never displayed those characteristics. Other than being oblivious to Veronique’s attraction to him, he seemed to be a genuine professional server: courteous and anticipating the needs of his clients; happy to be the teacher/trainer for the young seasonal workers who came each year; uncomfortable about having to be the disciplinarian or”boss” when employee misbehavior warranted. He was the one who insisted on Elliot treating all guests (including the obnoxious Morrows) respectfully and professionally. He comes across as basically a good and kind man who has thrived at the manoir for decades.

            It just seemed, to me, to be a real stretch to believe that he planned (premeditated) Julia’s death even before the Morrows arrive there – and that he would hold her responsible for the dirty financial dealings of her husband who is currently serving a long prison term for those acts. How is it an act of revenge to murder the kindest of the Morrow sibs who had nothing to do with what happened with/to his father. Ditto with that scene on the roof top with Bean and Armand. Totally out of character. What did fit his personality as he had been revealed to us was the fact that he actually did rescue Gamache and Bean on that roof.

            Yes, personal preferences. I just did not find this novel as satisfying as a reader as I did the first ones. For me, merits of this book were 1) reveal of more of the Gamache family – in re to naming new baby, father & son relationships (Armand & his father –and Armand with his son) 2) Finney’s reveal about Honore’s actual past and adding info that Armand didn’t have 3) short revisits to Three Pines and 4) Clara finally ‘pushing back’. Oh, yes, and little Bean! (By the way, one of my friend’s daughter’s nickname is “Been/Bean/Bein'” Never sure of how that was to be spelled. But at some point as a toddler, she asked an older sibling if she was a ‘hoomen bein” too. The “Bean” stuck as a reassurance!

            Realize that I have developed expectations of our author based on first reading of the series and the ones we’ve reread so far. For me, this novel left me unsatisfied – because of rehash of self-absorbed characters and a final ‘who-done-it’ – and ‘why’ — which didn’t ring true for this reader. Am looking forward to Book 5 with hope of finding the engaging gifts that the first three offered readers.

            Guess, I’m the sole contrarian thus far. Sorry if that offends anyone, but if we are offering genuine reader responses in this forum, I just felt the first three books were more engaging.

          • Julie says:

            Meg – I can certainly see why you’d be dissatisfied with this book. It also doesn’t really work as a whodunnit, as there was no way we could have solved the crime, given the information we had. Though, I don’t think Louise Penny is writing whodunnits, so that doesn’t really bother me. I think that I was so pleased to have more information about Peter and his upbringing, that the rest of it didn’t matter to me. I also loved the new information about Gamache – seeing him and Reine-Marie at play, and Armand as a “civilian”. The descriptions were so rich – I felt like I was on vacation in this wonderful Manoir myself.

            As I read your post, I was struck by the fact that poor Julia was not murdered because she was a Morrow or because of any of that horrible stuff that the family wrought – a fact which was completely by-passed by me before this. In the end, this was actually one of my favorite books, but not because of the murder story, but because of the rest.

            The delicate writing required to show how a family can taint and poison a child for life, without anyone really being aware of it (the child, or the parents), is an extremely difficult task. While the family nastiness was exaggerated here, there were moments that rang so true for me…

          • Gee-Gee S says:

            I think I admire Guamache so much because he does journey into his inner most darkness. That takes tremendous courage. Most people are too afraid to face their inner demons.

        • Diane says:

          I enjoyed how you singled out all the parallels in the first four Gamache books, Meg R. One tiny point and then a niggling question. In Still Life, Timmer Hadley was murdered with an overdose of morphine which, while suppressing her breathing, is not the same as smothering. Ruth said that Timmer was alert enough to know that the annual parade was about to begin and urged Ruth to go. I think that there would have been signs of a struggle (BIG spoiler alert!) had Ben smothered his mother. Now my big query from A Rule Against Murder. How was Julia lured to the exact spot in front of the statue, close enough to crush her? She would then have paused at that exact spot, thrown open her arms, and then been crushed. How did her murderer plan on being there when Julia happened to pause, arms open, at the exact spot where she would be crushed? This is just niggling and wiggling in the back of my mind! I can’t figure out how this delicate chain of events, with only one chance (you don’t get to topple a huge statue a second time), succeeded.

  2. Linda Maday says:


    As we ponder the idea of choice, we usually note the actions of those involved, i.e., Peter chose to write on the bathroom wall, or Mrs. Morrow/Finney chose not to tell her family why she couldn’t hug them. Notice though that Milton’s poem is about the mind and the choices we make in our thoughts. I believe that in most cases our actions are the outward REactions to our inner understandings or misunderstandings. Does that sound like mishmash? How about some examples.

    Peter read his father’s note about the men’s room stall and chose to be offended. Some other son might have read the same note and laughed believing it to be a right hilarious memo. Peter chose hell and used it against his father and his sister. Another might have chosen heaven calling father and sharing a moment of mirth.

    We all, unknowing, experience both heaven and hell of our on choosing. I remember for many years when visits with my parents were over I would call out from the door, “Goodbye Dad! Goodbye Mom! I love you!”

    One day my father stopped me and asked, “Why do you always say ‘I love you’ to your Mother but not me?”

    I was stunned. In my heart the “I love you” was meant for both. For years he had believed otherwise and only thought to ask just a few weeks before his death.

    How many times do we choose hell without ever asking, without ever clarifying, without knowing.

    • Barbara H. Johnson says:

      My blood chilled. I wonder what I have said that I thought was perfectly clear and was heard another way. Perhaps that is why some friends seem to disappear from our lives. We seldom know how others hear what we say. I’m so glad you had a chance to explain what you meant. I too would have said Goodbye the same as you. Knowing I meant both parents.

    • Julie says:

      So interesting. I am so sorry to hear this – as I, too, think it’s perfectly clear. My parents never said “I love you” – it was simply not part of our “culture”. I worried this almost to death as a young adult, and decided that I would say it when I talked to them on the phone – my weekly, dutiful call, as we lived far apart (not an accident). It’s not that I didn’t think they loved me in their way – but that I knew none of us was very good at showing it, and I wanted to change that for myself. I didn’t want our whole lives to go by and nobody had ever said it.

      It took several weeks before I got up the nerve and figured out a way for it to sound “natural”. At the end of one call, as I was about to say goodbye, I said – “Goodbye, Mom and Dad – I love you.” There was silence on the other end – then “Well, of course. We love you, too. Why would you say that?” To them, it was, apparently, so obvious that it never needed to be said. I never did again, but felt much easier about it after that.

    • Julie says:

      I think the power of choice is one of the most important lessons we can learn here – it’s what we choose to do with the information, feelings, hurts, etc. that really defines what kind of life we will have. We all want a happy life. And people from these kinds of families do, too – they just have never been given the tools to figure out for themselves how to make that happen. There are a lot of people in the world who think that their happiness comes from other people. In that whole family, perhaps only Marianna, and therefore, Bean, know that you make yourself happy.

    • Karen Gast says:

      “How many times do we choose hell without ever asking, without ever clarifying, without knowing.”

      Wow! And yes. I cherish the memory of one of my daughters asking me once if I were angry. I wasn’t. However, I realized my facial expression must at times seem more “severe” than I’d ever imagined. Bless that child for asking and giving me some insight.

    • Margaret says:

      Linda — your family story is a stunning example of “lost” communication — all of those occasions when we miss saying what we think we are saying, or intend to say, as in your case, or we “can’t” say the words, as in the mother in the story. I suspect this problem is increasing with the use of electronic messages, which lend themselves so easily to miscommunication.

      You have helped me determine that I will pay better attention to what and how I say things to my family and friends, and NOT suffer in silence if I feel victimized by anyone. Thank you!

  3. Julie says:

    “Peter has a new understanding of his father” – I’m assuming this comes from his talk with Marianna and what her note said. I need to go back and read this bit again, more carefully. While he had the “makings” of a new understanding of his father, I wonder if any of it was anything he took to heart and really changed his view? As this book is the one I’ve always thought was an explanation for Peter’s stunted interior life, I’m interested in finding out if he is trying to change after this…

  4. Elina says:

    The setting combines the innocence of wilderness contrasted with the wealth of the visitors leaving a perfect stage for an unthinkable action.

    • Cathryne Spencer says:

      Elina, good point. I think Penny helps build the tension of this contradiction when she describes how the Morrows wouldn’t dream of wearing a hat in the searing sun.

      • Julie says:

        And the Morrows not wearing a hat in the sun is so like Jean Guy not wearing a parka in the winter…

        • Margaret says:

          I was struck in rereading this book by how much we learn about Jean Guy, small but important points that I missed in the first reading, dashing, as I was, to the finish.

          • Sandra Block says:

            I concur with your comment about. I just moved to a new residence, and, while having to guard the door so the movers were the only ones using it, went to the residence library and picked up “A Rule against Murder,” which I read years ago. Since I was, at the same time, reading “How the Light Gets In, ” I was struck by the contrast in Jean Guy — in Rule, he seems arrogant and a little shallow. In Light, he has bottomed out. However, he emerges in the end, as a deeper, more human person. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of his nature and increasing maturity and empathy in reading the two books side by side.

  5. Judith Williams says:

    All great comments, especially liked Jane F’s. Thanks.

  6. Sue Aysan says:

    So glad this re-read was suggested. I am now on 9. How the Light Gets In. Great way to tie in all the details from the early books that get forgotten when there is a year or so between books. Am so enjoying the “binge” read. Can’t wait for the next one!!

  7. Karen I Ford says:

    The Morrow/Finney family have been so dysfunctional that it will take more to really stunted them all. My compassion for Clara grows as I view what she has had to put up with from her husband and his family.
    The other issue is that we all carry secrets — ones we never tell and try to keep hidden, sometimes even from ourselves. This story, more than most really illustrates what damage they can cause.

    • Judith Garrison says:

      Karen, I am responding to your observation about understanding what Clara has lived with all these years. One of the moments in this book that was so startling was when Mrs. Finney confronted Clara about calling her Mrs. Morrow instead Finney. Wow! Wasn’t that an interesting flip? All of a sudden we have Clara being insensitive and Mrs. Finney being (somewhat) vulnerable! Clara clearly has put up with a lot over the years, for sure. But in that one moment, I saw her as a conspirator in maintaining that unhappy relationship rather than a victim. Well done, Louise!

  8. KB says:

    What will Bean become? All that we have seen of Bean is potential. Bean appears to be happy, to enjoy (to the point of obsession) mythology and music, to dream. Bean shows the potential of a secure and loved child. We have no way of knowing whether Bean will end up being a physicist, a humanitarian, an artist/musician/actor or a grocery clerk who reenacts historical battles on weekends. And it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what career path Bean takes. It doesn’t matter whether Bean is a boy or a girl. It just matters that Bean will have the opportunity to choose and, at least for now, it appears that Bean is in tune enough with self to at least stand the chance of doing something that resonates as right and true instead of that which will impress others. If I tried to guess what my own children would do from what they wanted at Bean’s age, I’d have a “rodeo bull rider/pilot/artist/teacher/NHL hockey goalie/sports physiotherapist” and a “musician/singer/artist/grocery store clerk/writer/mixed martial artist/mountain-climber”. They MAY end up being one of these things, but that is so far away. To assume any of them will come true at this point could cut off exploration of other possibilities which may be a better fit.

    • Margaret says:

      One of the lovely things about grandchildren — experienced, you can watch and wait and anticipate the next “thing” in their lives. And perhaps help your child be patient and kind, and know that “this too shall (usually!) pass.”

  9. Jane F says:

    Wow! A LOT of insightful posts! I’ve enjoyed reading all of the different riffs on choices made, both in fiction and real life. My original intent was to continue with the examples of choices made by the characters in Louise Penny’s books, and whether those choices ended up being hellish or heaven-ish, but the rest of you already took that topic and ran with it. Loved reading all the different ways you interpret what happens in these books, and in your own lives.
    Want to acknowledge, especially, the question posed by Linda Maday:
    “How many times do we choose hell without ever asking, without ever clarifying, without knowing.” So powerful!
    I have been thinking about a program I watched recently on PBS. I did not get into the first part, so I don’t know what the actual title was, but it was about happiness, and how that actually is a skill that people can acquire. The segment that I was watching showed a man from India, obviously from a lower caste. If one follows the premise that only an excess of material goods, like a fancy car, and large house, will make one happy, then this fellow should have been miserable. What was amazing, though, is that this guy, who faces difficulties few of us could begin to comprehend, is happy. Even when he showed the lean-to where his family lived, he was happy. Most of the time, the cloth covering that functions as a “roof” provides protection from the sun/heat, and even though the place is subject to the winds of monsoons, he still is happy that he and his family have the structure. The program went on to explain how most people don’t think of happiness that is a skill they can develop.
    I think of my own home, with its brick structure which provides protection from the elements, and how lucky I am to live in a country where that is just taken for granted. Getting back to the world of Louise Penny’s characters, I think it’s clear which characters have developed the skill of being happy, while for others, it will always be elusive, for they little know that they, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, have had the power all along. (Well, her power was to get home, but for her, that was happiness. All the shining elements of Oz were as nothing to her, because it lacked her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry.) It’s tempting to think how the Morrow family could still turn their lives around if they started by being grateful for what they DO have and leave behind the petty familiar feuding that is so toxic for them.

    • Linda Maday says:

      So true Jane and Susan — There are so many wealthy that are poor and so many poor that are rich. Isn’t dear Bert a good example of choosing to create a heaven as he counts his sums. (Keep in mind that would include both the column owed and the column paid in full. )

      How do we, or the Morrows, learn to be happy with enough? It’s an interesting skill.

  10. Susan C says:

    Bert Finney becomes the poster boy for “the mind can make a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell.” He was in a prison in Burma, but he insists he wasn’t a prisoner because in his mind he was free. And one of the ways he made a heaven of hell was to “do his sums,” by which he meant count his blessings. The world becomes a different place when we focus on what we have to be grateful for rather than on what we lack. The whole sickness of the Morrows is that they focus on what they don’t have. That and the keeping of secrets.

  11. Lizzy K says:

    I love everyone’s insights! So good!

    I loved the talk Gamache had with Finney on the dock. While they were talking, there was a fisherman in the distance. Penny kept us informed the whole time of the fisherman’s activities. It was as though the fisherman was Gamache, fishing for his clues and reeling them in.

    I loved Finney and his counting of sums. We are blighted and blessed, but what do we count?

    I’m so glad that Peter got to know how Pandora’s Box really ended…with hope!

    Gamache picked up a good insight when he was with the sculptor. You can’t diminish others without diminishing yourself.

    I found it so sad how Irene now found Julia safe to love now that she was dead. Dead, but safe. So sad. In life if we love, we will have hurts but it is so worth the risk.

    Lol, when the cookie fell from the ceiling and Marianna screeched and correlated it with the sky is falling. I was also amused by Guy’s feelings for the chef.

  12. Susan Kelley says:

    I am enjoying discovering the small but important details in the Gamache series that I missed during the first reading, as I rushed to see what would happen next. In this book, my favorite little discovery is that Reine-Marie’s perfume is Joy.

    • Linda Maday says:

      Ah, so you were surprised by Joy?

      • Julie says:

        Oh, I missed that! Clever!

        • Jane F says:

          Yes, very clever indeed. I like to think of Reine-Marie, spritzing herself, both literally and figuratively, with Joy. How many of the characters in the book could benefit from a little whiff of Joy during the day? How many of us?
          Not to change the subject too much, but I believe this is something Louise Penny believes in very strongly. I recently viewed a photo she shared on facebook, of a bench she had made for her husband Michael on his birthday. On the bench, there is a quote. She did not tell us what it was, but as I squinted at the shadowed lower part of the photo of the bench, I could make out the words, “Surprised by Joy.”
          Got something in my eye!

      • Susan Kelley says:

        Yes! Loved it.

  13. Linda Maday says:


    We’ve now met two of Canada’s treasures, Veronique the chef and Ruth the poet. They couldn’t be more different and yet each in her own way speaks to the heart. Beauvoir was so completely enamored of Veronique that he daydreamed about moving into the Manoir to be with her and cussing Ruth (with out providing spoilers) will touch lives in unexpected ways in the future.

    It’s interesting to me that both shunned the limelight, choosing to live in relative obscurity to the point that while people knew OF them, they both are rarely recognized.

    I remember when my children were young they both loved Mr. Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. It was a very calming program that came on just while I was preparing dinner. No matter what activity, disagreement or loud rambunctiousness that was occurring, the energy level and noise decreased a thousand fold when the program started. The home became quiet and peaceful. I loved Mr. Rogers.

    Did any of you have a favorite personality that touched your life and brought peace and wellness on sick days or noisy afternoons?

    • Julie says:

      I have been waiting for the second part here to discuss Chef Veronique – I know she is a complete fiction and drawn very differently, but I believe she was inspired by “Chez Helene” (imagine the appropriate accents on the e’s). If you grew up in Canada, and are of a “certain age”, there were two daytime TV shows you got to watch when you were sick at home. Of course, they were meant for younger children who were at home all day, but the comfort they gave is still felt today. They were two 15-minute shows on CBC – The Friendly Giant – “and a larger chair for two more to curl up in”, and Chez Helene. This was a show to teach young Anglo children to speak French. A very nice lady (a grandmother or favorite-Aunt type) invited us into her home each morning, where something delicious was baking. She’d bring out the cookies or whatever it was, set up the tray and serve the food and tea or milk, as you preferred, all the while speaking to you in French. A young friend spoke to her in English, so you got the gist of the conversation, and learned some new words… It was extremely comforting. I am completely convinced that Chef Veronique is based on Helene, and so I could experience Jean-Guy’s feelings toward her.

      • Jane F says:

        Thank you for that information on Helene, Julie. As a US citizen, all I could think of was Julia Child, who was one of the first chefs to make it into the mainstream media, plus she was female, and who had the requisite, shall we say, averdupois, to make me think she could have been a prototype for Veronique. Have to say the thought of a woman like Julia Child, retiring from the public eye in a smallish- hotel, does make me smile!

      • Tamzen says:

        Thank you for bringing up Chez Helene … that show from my childhood immediately came to my mind when I read about Chef. I am so thankful how Louise Penny brings Canadian memories to the front of my mind. it is delicious.
        Thank you, also for the perspective regarding Peter’s note from his father about the bathroom. That issue has stumped me since i read the novel, and i have asked others, to whom i have recommended the books, what their thoughts were. No one has given me any insight!

  14. Jane F says:

    . Peter says that each member of the Morrow family has a personal talisman, or mantra, to arm them from one another. Is this unusual and cause for concern? Or do you find this quite natural and normal? Do you have a charm of your own that you use to give yourself “power and protection?”

    Well, this is an interesting question. The only real talisman I can think of in the Morrow family is the cufflinks(and fraying shirt) of their father which Thomas obviously treasures. I have to wonder if he wears the cuff links as a way to let his siblings know that he, Thomas, is the “specially favored one” in their group. I’m not sure what Peter’s talisman is–except, possibly, Clara, his wife, as a way to let the others know he’s not playing their game.
    I think of the “purple pimple” poem that Julia recited as her way of achieving some kind of equanimity in the group. I suspect that like Peter, Marianna’s talisman is a person–her child, Bean. Personally, although I find Thomas a very unlikeable character, his cufflinks are a symbol to him of his father’s love, and I tend to think of them as rather benign. While the “pimple poem” may have caused some grief to Peter, I don’t think Julia meant it to be cruel when she first made it up–it was just a way to please their father with a show of how accomplished she could be with alliteration. I personally find both Peter and Marianna’s use of a human as a shield more than a bit creepy. It’s sort of like they didn’t have the courage to let the other Morrows know that they wanted out of the “Morrow merry-go-round,” so they chose to do that through a person–in Peter’s case, his wife, which choice was pretty much a thumb of the nose to his family, and Marianna, ditto. Tough luck for Clara and Bean, too, to be put in those positions. I don’t think either of them really realize how they are being used as weapons against the Morrow clan, though, which is a mercy.

    • Linda Maday says:

      Peter’s talisman were the paint spots on his hands. He would intentionally leave them on in defiance of the others because he thought that’s what the others were referring to when they called him Spot. In actuality they called him spot because he was always following his father. I believe Clara was part of the same sentiment that caused Peter to refuse his inheritance. I have wondered if subconsciously Peter agreed with his family about Clara, that she wasn’t quite as good. Clara gave him someone in his life that he didn’t have to be “better than.” It would seem to explain part of the jealousy he has begun to feel towards her new found success. Because of his upbringing he would not necessarily understand that Clara wouldn’t think of success as a competition between them. He wouldn’t understand you don’t have to blow out someone else’s candle to make your own glow brighter.

      Thomas wore the cuff links as a talisman to remind the others that he was “. . . the favorite son.”

      When asked, Peter didn’t know what Julia’s talisman was. Apparently she stayed away and the others hardly knew her.

      I think Marianna’s talisman was her brain. Of all the Morrow children, she is the most successful. When she looks in the mirror she thinks of strong women. She was even better at the piano than Thomas.

      I have no talisman. Take me or leave me, I am what I am. (Wasn’t there a cartoon character that used to say that?)

      • Julie says:

        Haha – “I yam what I yam” – love it! I’m sure I have a talisman, and I’m equally sure I’m completely unaware of it. I’ve found as I strive for self-awareness, that I am at times, a complete mystery to myself. (Freudian moment – I almost typed “a mysery to myself”). Peter’s throwing the cufflinks in the lake was another moment that can’t be taken back – probably can’t be forgiven, and I wonder, if it will ever be possible to get past. Thomas is left with his father’s shirt, which gives him some comfort, even though it is beginning to look a little frayed at the collar and cuffs, and he has it carefully laundered for such occasions. He will probably have new cufflinks made but of course, they won’t be “the ones”.

        As for Peter’s Purple Pimple Popped – while I agree that in part, Julia was attempting to please her father with her gift for alliteration, it was also mean and she knew it. Children can delight in being mean to one another, and when you’re doing it with a parent’s approval, with his actual glee at your success of “hitting the target”, I don’t think you can assume that she didn’t realize it would hurt Peter. It was meant to hurt Peter. All the alliterations and word games they “played” did that. Gorilla Magilla – that was meant to hurt, and it did. I know there was another example, but I can’t quite remember it.

        I think what you say about Peter and his choosing Clara in part because he knew she wasn’t ever going to be competition for him are “spot on”, haha. Imagine his horror as he realizes that he couldn’t even identify true talent when he saw it. Poor Peter – life is NOT going to be getting better for him…

  15. Ann Lurie Berlin says:

    Not the murder but the who and how; while TV seems to dwell on acts rather then character, P. D. James and Louise Penny give us life and equal parts of distinction and detail.

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