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!
“The Canadian wilderness didn’t give up her territory or her dead easily.”
“You can’t get milk from a hardware store.”
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?