Series Re-Read: A Rule Against Murder


When I came to Minotaur as a publicist in 2008, I was told that soon I’d begin working with the talented Louise Penny. I was handed a galley of A Rule Against Murder. It was July, and I dove into this wonderful summertime mystery, entranced. I had the utmost pleasure reading it, with its enchanting prose, exquisite storytelling, and a vivid cast of characters. Ghostly father figures lurk, their children left behind to ponder their anxieties and disappointments. Nothing is quite as it seems. I luxuriated in the setting of the Quebec forest with its creatures and secrets, the sprawling Manoir Bellechasse, and the strange Morrow family, who share DNA, a mutual distrust of one another, and not much else. And I met the Gamaches for the first time . . . Reine-Marie and Armand, celebrating their anniversary. Their loving union was a poetic and clever foil to the Morrows’ quiet hostility toward one another. I was hooked.

Those who have read Louise Penny’s books always remember their first one. A Rule Against Murder will always be one of my favorites for this reason. It does not take place in the beloved Three Pines, true, but Louise begins a journey here that explores Quebec and its history a bit deeper. To do this, we have to leave Three Pines from time to time.

I still remember speaking to Louise on the phone for the first time that late July. What was to come of that conversation was one of the most rewarding relationships I’ve found since becoming a publicist. We brainstormed about strategy for her new book, and I came away once again entranced, but also energized. That conversation that was the first of many fun strategy conversations with one of the cleverest minds I know. Many have asked me what it is like to work with Louise Penny. It is the same as reading one of her books: it is a powerful―and empowering―experience, sprinkled with some mischievous laughter along the way.


Ch. 1-12: In the prologue, we meet the magnificent Manoir Bellechasse and its many makers, and its troublesome history before being turned into the finest auberges in Quebec. And we are forewarned: “The Robber Barons were back. They’d come to the Manoir Bellechasse once again, to kill.”

Gamache and Reine-Marie, following a decades-long tradition, have arrived at the Manoir Bellechasse to celebrate their thirty-fifth anniversary. The owner, Clementine Dubois, greets them warmly. But she apologizes and says that they unfortunately will have one of the smaller rooms in the back, as the Manoir is completely booked because of a family reunion. The Gamaches, simply happy to be there and see the ancient Madame Dubois one more year, begin their leisurely and luxurious stay. As the days pass, the Gamaches slowly get a sense of the wealthy Finneys:

Irene Finney: The Matriarch. Plump with soft white hair, with lots of white makeup to match her white complexion. “She looked like a soft, inviting, faded pillow, propped next to a cliff face.”

Bert Finney: The cliff face, Irene’s impossibly ugly husband, nearing ninety, Gamache guesses. He doesn’t say much, but seems courtly in his own way.

Thomas: The oldest brother, slim and attractive, and the most successful of all of the siblings. He’s polished yet cold, and likes to provoke his siblings.

Sandra: Thomas’ wife, seemingly bursting at the seams with insecurity and unhappiness and constantly making unreasonable demands on the staff of the Manoir Bellechasse.

Julia: The oldest daughter. Fair, lovely, and charming, she married a wealthy man, but is undergoing a divorce after his fraudulent investment practices came to light, and caused a very public scandal.

Marianna: The ugliest of all of the children, both in manners and appearance, she seems like an interloper to the family. She’s the only sibling who has a child, whom she seems to be raising in a very strange way.

Bean: Marinanna’s child, blond and beautiful, ten years old and often escaping into books and imagination. It’s not immediately apparent if Bean is a boy or a girl.

Gamache notices that this doesn’t feel like a very close or warm family. With the exception of Bert Finney, who is friendly to the Gamaches, the rest of the family seem ill at ease, trading awkward silences for subtle barbs toward one another. A couple of the Finneys surmise that Armand and his wife must be some sort of shopkeeper and cleaning woman since they were staying in a “broom closet” of a room at the Manoir.

The terrible heat and humidity feel like threat of what is to come. Pierre, the maître d’, has warned the guests that a storm is coming. What should be a relaxing retreat so far seems peppered with problems. Thomas and Julia both mention that Spot and Claire, the last of their siblings and his wife, will be arriving soon, and hint that they’re the worst ones of the family—hard to believe given what the family is like. Julia in particular is dreading it, and during an illicit smoke outside one evening, she confides to Gamache that her family makes her miserable.

Armand Gamache also hears some news from home that is unsettling for him. Reine-Marie had talked with their daughter-in-law, and learns they may name their baby after Armand’s father if it’s a boy. It’s meant to be a wonderful gesture, but to Armand, it’s troubling.

The staff at the Manoir have their own problems. Pierre, the maître d’ who has worked there for decades, is having trouble with the young Elliot. He’s one of the new servers and openly challenges Pierre’s authority, causing mischief among the ranks. Normally Pierre is exceptionally patient, and has trained young workers summer after summer, but Elliot seems a special case. Chef Veronique, who has also worked there for as long as Pierre has, tries to support the maître d’ who is also her friend, and asks him why Elliot gets to him. Pierre doesn’t have an answer.

The morning arrives that the loathsome final pair of Finneys are to arrive, but to the Gamaches’ surprise and delight, it turns out to be Peter and Clara Morrow, who they know from Three Pines. “Spot” was the nickname his siblings gave him. The two couples rejoice in seeing one another at the Manoir.

Gamache and Reine-Marie then learn from Madame Dubois that the whole family isn’t the Finney family—they are the Morrow family. Charles Morrow, Irene’s first husband, had died some time ago, and then she married Burt Finney. The children are Morrows. And the reason for this family reunion is to unveil a statue in Charles Morrow’s image that will sit forever on the grounds of the Manoir Bellechasse. Gamache had wondered about a huge marble plinth sitting very unnaturally on a corner of the grounds earlier. Soon, Madam Dubois says, the statue will arrive, and the grand unveiling will take place.

Clara especially feels uncomfortable with Peter’s refined but rude family—his mother calls her “Claire,” even after Clara being married to her son for years—and they ignore her good news that she will soon have her own solo show at the prestigious Galerie Fortin in Montreal. Clara came to the reunion to protect Peter from this horrid family, but that becomes difficult when Peter seems to regress in their presence, almost not in control of his own voice anymore—which is a source of at least one fight between the couple while they’re there.

Bean finds trouble when playing near the marble plinth and gets attacked by bees. Gamache removes the stingers and poison sacs and Reine-Marie applies calamine and kisses them better, while the rest of the Morrows stand nearby, squabbling with one another.

The big moment of the unveiling of the statue finally arrives, and is strangely anticlimactic. The Morrows say nothing after the canvas hood comes off, and continue on with their day.

The Gamaches take a look later, and are struck by the strangeness of it. The statue of Charles Morrow seems odd: While it looks as if he’s about to take a step, the figure does not look powerful and authoritative. His head is bowed, and although he’s about to say something, whatever he’s seeing has literally turned him to stone. Gamache wonders how the Morrows really feel about the statue.

That same evening, the guests are mingling and talking. The Gamaches talk breezily with Peter and Clara, and share some embarrassing news about the first time Armand met Reine-Marie’s family. Just then the rest of the Morrow children—Thomas, Marianna, and Julia—join them and overtake the conversation. Thomas throws a barb at Julia meant to hurt, and it has the desired effect—she loses her temper and rails at her siblings one by one, before saying to the room, “I know Daddy’s secret” and running outside. Reine-Marie and Gamache follow her, and through her tears, she tells them she’ll probably have to leave first thing in the morning: “They’ll never forgive me, you know.”

The storm that had been building finally hits in the middle of the night with startling force. The electricity goes out, torrential rain pounds at the windows and violent thunder and lightning attack the area. Gamache and his wife help the frazzled staff close some banging windows and doors. The storm eventually moves on, leaving behind cool breezes in its wake, and everyone goes back to bed.

The house wakes to sodden earth and drizzle, and the residents being to settle in for a lazy rainy day. But they hear terrible screams—Bean has been wandering and discovers the attic, filled with old taxidermy from the days when the inn was a hunting and fishing lodge. After Madame Dubois and the Gamaches sooth the frightened child, Irene Finney scolds Bean and makes Bean apologize for trespassing—an apology that Madame Dubois does not want from the frightened little one. After things settle down, they hear more screams—or is it crying?—this time from outside. Bean just wants more attention, Thomas retorts.

Gamache and Pierre walk towards the sound anyway. They find Colleen the gardener, sobbing and frightened, staring at the statue. The huge statue of Charles Morrow had indeed taken that step—and stepped right off the plinth. And onto his daughter, Julia. Crushing her.

Pierre and Gamache are stunned. They lead the shocked gardener inside, where Gamache calls his second in command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir from the Sûreté de Québec, and tells him to come to the Manoir at once. Gamache breaks the tragic news to the family that Julia has been killed. They are disbelieving, even angry with Gamache. Irene Finney insists that she must see her daughter—a request to which Gamache eventually relents later in the day after the Sûreté de Quebec arrive—and she sees with utter horror her first daughter, killed inexplicably by the statue of her late husband. Charles, what have you done?

Beauvoir and Agent Lacoste and the other officers arrive, and secure the site. Julia’s death seems impossible. How could a statue that large could simply fall over, and on to a living person? The coroner begins an investigation, and discovers dirt under the corpse—not mud. Julia was killed before the storm; not during, not after. So the storm could not have knocked down the statue. Gamache understands then that this had to have been murder. Statues just don’t just fall down. Something—someone—made it happen.

As they begin their investigation, some of the Morrows feel fairly certain they know who did it—the shopkeeper and the cleaning lady! They tell one of the local officers, who brings the information immediately to Gamache’s team so they can follow up. After a chuckle, the family is finally told that the shopkeeper, Armand Gamache, is actually the famous head of homicide for the Sûreté de Québec. And he will find out who killed Julia.

Madame Dubois urges this. “What happened here isn’t allowed,” she says. When she and her husband bought the Manoir Bellechasse decades ago, they made a pact with the forest: there would be no more unnatural death, no more killing. There is no more hunting and fishing, birds are fed in the winter, mice are even caught alive and released. She’s seen what happens when creatures turn on each other. And she warns Gamache: “You must find out who did this. Because I know one thing for sure. If a person would kill once, they’d kill again.”

Ch. 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.


“Chef Veronique loved nature, and found plenty of time to study it, and she knew that sometimes something unnatural crawled out of the womb, out of the woods.”

“Madame Dubois knew, from bitter experience, you can’t always choose, or like, your family.”

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

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


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!


  1. We are introduced to the Morrow family. What member are you most drawn to?
  1. Who are some of the less obvious characters in A Rule Against Murder?
  1. Louise Penny’s books are filled with rich sensory experiences—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch. With A Rule Against Murder, we get the summertime sensory experiences, in addition to simple everyday ones. What are your favorite sensory passages or sentences in A Rule Against Murder?
  1. Louise Penny plays with duality, and in A Rule Against Murder we see the juxtaposition of the unnatural within the natural. How is this illustrated? What are some other themes that you see?
  1. Do you agree with Madame Dubois’ opinion about family? (See above under “Favorite Quotes”.) Can there sometimes be a choice to like your family?
  1. What are your favorite humorous moments from A Rule Against Murder?

A Rule Against Murder, Part 2

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.


A Rule Against Murder, Part 1

When I came to Minotaur as a publicist in 2008, I was told that soon I'd begin working with the talented Louise Penny. I was handed a galley of A Rule Against Murder. It was July, and I dove into this wonderful summertime mystery, entranced. I had the utmost pleasure reading it, with its enchanting prose, exquisite storytelling, and a vivid cast of characters. . . .


AuthorSARAH MELNYK is an Associate Director of Publicity at Minotaur Books and has been Louise Penny’s publicist since 2008.

264 replies on “Series Re-Read: A Rule Against Murder”

I have just re-read A Rule Against Murder. After returning it to the library a question popped into my mind: does any discussion take place about Pierre pushing the statue off its pedestal? We learn how he prepared the stone for the murderous act, but I don’t recall anything about him pushing the stone.

In the book, the stone was pushed off the base because sugar was placed between the base and statue, making it easy to push the statue. This is not mentioned in the movie.

I’ve just discovered the Gamache series, and I just finished the 4th one. I noticed that this plot summary decides that Bean is a girl. But I don’t remember that ever being explicitly stated in the novel. If it was, please point me to it. Thanks.

I’m confused about Insp Gamache. Just finished The Cruelest Month. I thought he resigned when he went to police headquarters where all the men were seated around the table, passing judgment on him. May we assume Supt. Paget did not accept his resignation. And yet, the second time he went there to see Insp Francoeur after the murder of Madelaine was solved, this man asked for his resignation. May I assume he’s still an employee of the Surete, as the series of books continues. It seemed there wasn’t a true resolution to this, at least for me.

I enjoy the series, although I’m new to it. The method of the murder perplexes me. Don’t big statues get anchored? I’m I silly to be bothered by this detail?

I have happened upon this page six years after the above comments. While reading the latest Louis Penny book, All the Devils Are Here, I am remembering the falling out between Gamache and his son Daniel and Gamache’s insistence that Daniel not name a son Honore. This has always bugged me because I feel as if if was never adequately explained. Why is Gamache so resistant to the use of the name Honore? And why is he okay with it later on when Annie and Jean Guy name their son Honore? If anyone is still monitoring these posts, I’d love some ideas.

Ganache’s father was named Honore. He was a conscientious objector during the war and was labeled as a coward. He drove a Red Cross Ambulance in Europe and helped rescue prisoners from bergen-belson camp. After he saw them, he recanted his views against War and did everything he could to help make up for the injustices done by the Germans. This is explained in a rule against murder.

What did Bert’s comment about the Marianna Islands near Burma mean? I thought it referred to the daughter but I can’t figure it out.

Just read the book. What is meant by Bert Finney’s remark at the end about the Mariana’s and the fact that Marianna and Bean don’t look like the rest of the family?

I am new to the Gamache series and just finished The Murder Stone. At the end of the book Finney says to Gamache “You know the Mariana Islands? They’re where the American troops left to liberate Burma. “The Marianas”. Finney stopped then looked over to the four chairs, one of which contained a young woman and her child, both very unlike the other Morrows.”
Is Finney Mariana’s father?!

I just re-read some of the first pages of this discussion, (Part One), and see that yes, others have noticed this and commented on it. The more I re-listen, in this case, the more I’m convinced — in her very first description of Mariana, LP uses the word “ugly”, a word she uses often to describe Mr. Finney.

I agree. I believe that Phinney is Marianna’s father. Also another commenter mentioned that “bean” is the word for woman in Gaelic, the Irish language. I looked it up and it is true. So Bean is probably female. The last name Morrow is not Irish, it is Scottish. However, the last name Phinney is Irish. So perhaps this is another hint that Bert Phinney is Marianna’s father. When Bean is being held over the edge of the roof by the murderer, Bert Phinney is the first one to have his hands up, arms outstretched, to try and catch her should she fall. Phinney was a captive at Burma, and was liberated by the troops that came from the Mariana Islands. So I can see why he would name his daughter that. He loved Irene his whole life. So did they have an affair, and Marianna is their child? Did Charles Morrow raise Marianna not knowing that her father was really Bert Phinney?

I’m fascinated with Bert Finney’s saying he was never a prisoner. “I wouldn’t allow it”, he said. Gamache didn’t pick up on that and asked him later why he had said he wasn’t a prisoner, when he had, in fact, been captured by the Japanese. His answer about remaining free in his mind reminded me of a wonderful poem by Byron, called the Sonnet on Chillon. It goes like this:

Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind!
Brightest in dungeons, Liberty, thou art;-
For there thy habitation is the heart,-
The heart which love of thee alone can bind;
And when thy sons to fetters are consigned,
To fetters, and the damp vault’s dayless gloom,
Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
And Freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind.
Chillon! Thy prison is a holy place,
And thy sad floor an altar, for ’twas trod,
Until his very steps have left a trace,
Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
By Bonnivard! May none those marks efface!
For they appeal from tyranny to God.

This is the beginning of a very long narrative poem about three brothers who were imprisoned on this island in a lake. Bonnivard saw both his brothers die, but he managed to survive, much in the same way that Bert Finney managed to survive. It’s incredible how powerful the mind is!

Sylvia, I haven’t read Byron in a long time but this sounds interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Dear Jane, I should have known ‘knuts’ from having read the entire Potter series with nieces & nephews! Thanks for the ‘remind”!

A BEAN DISCOVERY!!!! – Went to a matinee with a friend of mine & was telling her about the Morrow’s Bean & asked why their “Bean” was given that nickname. Well, my friend is of mostly Irish descent on both sides and told me something astounding. She didn’t know if Morrow was an Irish name. (I googled it & yes it is as well as Scottish! Variants of it include Murrow, McMorrow and Murphy of all things!) She told me her family Bean story, but I also learned that she took a class in the Gaelic language. DRUM ROLL HERE, PLEASE! In Gaelic “bean” is a word for “woman”! Hmmm. Could that possibly be what the tyke’s mum is hiding? :~D

Jane, would love to send you some of our rain before your monsoons & haddad ? hoodad (lost the word – but those horrific sky-blanking sand/dust storms that have cropped up in your area during past few years! Know just how badly you need skywater. Have family minutes from the recent big Slide Rock fire area around Sedona who were desperate for Mom Nature to dump some of that wet stuff up there in the mountains.

AND, JANE & LINDA – I totally agree with you about Pouting Peter! We shall see! Good weekend to all!

Oh, Meg, I love all that info that you gleaned from your friend. So, “Bean” in Gaelic means “woman,” huh? Bet Louise Penny knew that when she chose the name for the fictional child!

Oh Meg, BTW, the name for the kind of dust storm you were describing is “Haboob”. No idea how or why it got named that. We are supposed to get our first Monsoon rain tomorrow. Now I’m torn between hoping for a nice, fat rain storm, and that it might come later, so as not to interfere with our plans for Father’s Day. Wonder if Three Pines ever gets huge dust storms!

Nah, I think you have to be in low desert areas – like Phoenix for those haboobs. They don’t get them up in the Coconino mountain areas of your state. Suspect that 3 Pines has never & will never see one because they are in a deeply forested and green hilly/mountainous region. Think they just come in flatter dry areas. Hope your rain comes either early or late so your family can enjoy your celebration.

I’d be really curious to know if Penny did know about Gaelic ‘bean’. Any how, I’m off. Doing laundry & continuing “Brutal Telling’ between loads! Enjoy tomorrow too!

One more quickie. I suspect that haboob has Mideastern origins – since climate and topography in places are similar to southern Arizona – and I know they have fierce dust storms there at times. Will look that one up. Okay, I really, really, REALLY – am done for this book! Will check in on Monday! :~D

The word “haboob” is indeed Arabic in derivation. It means blasting/drafting. The name originated in the Sudan and is used to describe winds that occur in arid regions throughout the world including the Aribian peninsula, Kuwait, Australia, and parts of the United States.

Meg R. , knuts are small change in the Harry Potter world. Think they are similar to pennies.
Linda, I do not want to read more of the synopsis of the newest book at this point. Otherwise, I might not have the heart to read the book. I’ve read that Clara goes to Gamache for help when Peter fails to appear for a scheduled meeting, and that they are joined by Myrna. No idea why Myrna of all people would need to go with them, but as she and Clara are two of my favorite characters, perhaps that will make reading about their trip a bit less harrowing. I hope. Hard cheese for Gamache, though, just when he’s finally gotten rid of Francouer, retired with Reine-Maire to Three Pines, he has to go looking for Peter. Too bad Louise Penny did not ask ME– I would’ve said, let the rotter freeze his ass off. Excuse my French, as we in the lower North American states say. 🙂
But if Clara still sees something worth saving in him, I guess I will have to be patient and see if I can figure out what it is.

LOL! I would also be inclined to leave him be. But as Clara is inclined to feed the homeless it stands to reason she would also look for the lost.

I forgot that knuts were in Harry Potter. My mind went somewhere else ( blush).

I continue to be impressed by Louise Penny’s depth of knowledge of psychology and human
nature. As a licensed counselor, I can see a number of incidences where she takes a well-known focus of counseling and weaves it into the story. There are several in A Rule Against Murder including the fascinating one of Chef Veronique. There is an approach in psychology (I hope I don’t confuse anyone) especially for people with a history of trauma, where the patient chooses a safe place that they remember. Research is showing how memories are stored, not just as visual images, but including all 5 senses. Even the body remembers (can’t wait to discuss Bury Your Dead). Some patients will describe their grandmother’s kitchen and the smell of warm bread, etc. By bringing up this memory during a stressful time, it can bring calm and relaxation. One doesn’t need to remember the full visual image (as Beauvoir could not but he could bring up the sensory components of the memory) to elicit relaxation. Most of the characters could not remember the visual image on an intellectual level because they were children when the Chef was on TV but remember how much better she made them feel when they were sick. Gamache’s reaction to mothballs is an example of a negative or traumatic memory without a visual image altho he still remembers that night vividly.

Also the contrast and comparison of cultures and languages is addressed in this book as it is in the others. Beauvoir often points out features of the English Canadian culture that are in stark contrast to his own French Canadian culture. I don’t see it so much of a duality as a contrast and comparison. It is more than language differences that make cultures different.

On second reading, I am drawn to Bert Finney. I wasn’t at first. His insightful comments shed
much light on the ‘story behind the story’ in this book. Ruth is my favorite in the other novels
and I love her humor. Reminds me of Maggie Smith. In this book Beauvoir’s thought about teeth being a motive for murder was hilarious. I highly recommend the audio books from Audible read by Ralph Coshum, who is very gifted.

?!! GROAN! “The Butler Did It! That’s so trite and such a cliche. I’ve been spoiled by earlier books and expected more from our author in this one. Starting reread of “Brutal Telling” tonight with hopes of no continued repeats of entitled whiners. Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend! – Oh, and Happy Father’s Day to any dads who have joined this gathering too! :~D

Meg R.,
As much as I enjoyed reading about the two Gamaches relaxing at the Manoir, and the culinary treats, I have to say that the Morrow family and the staff of Bellechasse, while interesting, are no substitute for the villagers in Three Pines. I missed Ruth, Gabri & Olivier, and Myrna. Peter and Clara in Three Pines are in their chosen domain, so it’s different seeing them out of that setting. I will state for the record that while in general I adore the Gamache books, the ones that take a hike from the setting of Three Pines are my least favorite. That means A Rule Against Murder, A Beautiful Mystery, and probably the new book, which is going to have Clara, Gamache, and Myrna, searching for Peter in some godforsaken spot of Canada, as well. I appreciate the fact that Penny seems to need inspiration in giving Three Pines an occasional break from finding a murderer in its midst, but I find myself longing for a bit of relief from Ruth or the B&B when the setting is elsewhere. Just my two knuts.

Laughing! Jane, that’s a new one for me! What are “knuts”? Love sound of it. Meaning? I’m back in Three Pines with start of “Brutal Telling” and have just remembered hearing about Roar Para in passing in one of the other stories – but can’t remember which one! See you next week.

Oh! How do you know that Myrna will join Armand and Clara in search for Pouty Peter? Know I read about A & C on the hunt, but didn’t know Myrna was part of that tracking team. Hope you’re not getting waterlogged with almost constant rain pouring down on us this past week! Supposedly sunshine appears here for the weekend. Hope some comes your way too!

There’s a synopsis of the book at the beginning page of the reread intro. Just click on the INFO link.

It sounds shuddery!

Not getting waterlogged. In fact, I am from Phoenix, so we have the opposite here. Highs this week averaged 100+ , so a bit of rain would be delightful! Monsoons aren’t due ’till mid-July, so it’s going to be dry and hot for a while. Anyone getting tired of rain and cold is welcome to come visit! No B&B’s that I know of comparable to Olivier and Gabri’s, but hotels have hot weather price reductions, and swimming pools galore.

I think we need to see people in different settings than Three Pines to get a whole picture of them – I loved seeing Armand and Reine-Marie together at play in this book. In my mind, all these books are telling one long story, with a few murders here and there. The long story is Armand’s – the Arnot case, it’s fallout, etc. It’s a harrowing story, and a particularly difficult one to go through, but I love seeing the different areas of Canada – so many I have not seen, though I knew they were there. The Queen Charlotte Islands coming up in The Brutal Telling, and especially Quebec City in Bury Your Dead. The agony that awaits us in that one is awful to go through, but I think we must, to come out the other side. A Beautiful Mystery is, to me, maybe my favorite of all the books – so beautifully written and carefully crafted… But I give myself up to the journey that Armand is on, and enjoy what there is to enjoy, and shudder at the agonies… That is to say – that each book brings us something else. If it was all Ruth saying Fuck You, I think I’d get tired of it. She’s somewhat comic relief, but I couldn’t take a steady diet of it. Nor could I be happy if it was all fag jokes from Gabri, whom I adore. I need to see the whole picture – if it was all just one note, it wouldn’t be half so wonderful.

Don’t forget Bury Your Dead, coming up soon, that takes place mostly in Quebec City. I found it tough slogging.

It’s hard to read the details, isn’t it? I am in the thick of it now, myself, and I still fear for them all, even though I know what will happen….

Oh yeah, Karen, that’s another one on my least favorite list. I agree, it was tough slogging it through the book. I’ll have to see if I change my mind when we get to discussing it.

Catherine, Julie, Linda –

I feel even more right now that “the butler did it”!! lol

We are given hints though that Irene Morrow Finney was trained in her own upbringing NEVER to show weakness and especially to her husband. Hence she bathed baby Julia in the same sink at the manoir she uses as an elderly woman and ALLOW Charles to think her tears are of joy and not pain. And Charles Morrow was raised to believe he had to “fear the 3rd generation with respect to money” from his own father!!

In the Bible when it is said that the sins of the father are visited upon the children I believe it is in this manner it is meant.

At the end of the book it’s pretty clear the morrow children understood their father loved them.

I think this book actually rings quite true for me. How many times do you hear people speak of a friend or neighbor that commits murder, “. . . but he was so nice!” Ted Bundy used to babysit his neighbors children, and they loved him.

The reader is not inclined to like Peter. He’s a bit thoughtless. Sometimes mean. As a youth he did something awful to his sister. We are at first led to believe that his father didn’t love him, and even his mother is harsh and often cruel. His sweet wife endures insults from his family. And he often speaks thoughtlessly and insultingly to others.

Pierre loved his father, his father loved him. Veronique adores him. He’s good with young people. He’s kind and respectful to the guests. He makes others happy. Every reader likes him. How could he possibly be guilty? “No, no!” We think. “Gamache must be wrong! It can’t be our dear Pierre!” But Gamache (and don’t be fooled, Louise identifies in some ways with Nichol, but she IS Gamache) well, Gamache got it right.

The clues were all there. It could only be one of the staff. The guests didn’t have access to the sugar. It’s not Colleen, she wouldn’t make the mistake of gardening around the sugar covered pedestal if she had been the one to spread it on the marble. It can’t be Veronique, she would have been quiet about the missing sugar. It wasn’t Elliott, he was besotted by Julia. It couldn’t be the Madam of the Manoir, she’s too frail and quite unknowing about the workings of statues. The only thing that keeps us from thinking Pierre is his likability.

I think it was a perfect plot. The heavy conversation of the members of our happy ring of readers is even more proof of that. Hurrah Louise! A tip of the hat for something so perfectly crafted!

You beat me to it, Cathryne! As soon as I saw that Linda had written, ‘Besides, Pierre is the closest thing to a butler at the Manoir,” I felt a large groan in my brain. D’uh!!!!!

I think that Pierre is as likely to have done the murder as Elliot – the only other person I really suspected. Since he came from Julia’s area of Vancouver, I felt that it was as likely as not that his parents had lost a lot of money in Julia’s husband’s Madoff/pyramid scheme. He could easily be angry and just pretending to be attracted to her. In the end, I’m not unhappy at all with the outcome of the book.

As to whether the Morrows did or did not love their children, it hardly matters, as they didn’t show it in any way. And even Bert doesn’t step up and contradict his wife in any way – he could be standing up for the children a lot more than he does, rather than quietly telling the story to Gamache.

In my experience, it’s absolutely possible that parents love their children “the best they can”, and leave the children with no clue that they are loved. This part of the story rings very true for me. I remember being afraid of my Dad most of my childhood (not because he was physically abusive – just judgmental and non-approving), and being so surprised when my mother mentioned one day that I was the “apple of his eye” – none of that came through to me. It doesn’t surprise me at all that the Morrows were unable to express the love they felt. This would have left them also not feeling love in return and probably is what helped Mrs. Morrow become an embittered, nasty woman. Excuse me – Mrs. Finlay. ;-p

Julie, you said, “In my experience, it’s absolutely possible that parents love their children ‘the best they can’, and leave the children with no clue that they are loved.” I agree and would add “respect”and “admire”. We need to TELL each other and the more specifically the better. Oh, and that we empathize (but not pity!).

Pierre–as a murderer? When I read the book the first time and now rereading it, Pierre as the murderer gave me the uneasy feeling that Penny changed the outcome of the book from her original plan. I have reread the “disclosure” sections 8 more times and it still seems forced. I only dare to say this because I am so fond of the series and have read them carefully, although not as carefully nor with as much insight as most of you.
I can not believe that either of the Morrow parents loved their children. As Jane suggested, they had the financial means to hire a nanny or other help. Penny Schmitt’s post is also on point. I wondered why the Morrows had the children since they seemed to resent them so.


I have read all the books many times so far and so am “current” with Peter, as far as I can be without an Advanced Reader Copy! lol

This was actually the first time I even noted the possible similarities between Peter and Pierre. I think Peter might be a bit of pariah in some folks minds at this point but for me he never was. I felt irritation with him, impatience with him, unhappiness with him, and often mad at him on Clara’s behalf throughout the novels. But thinking of him in connection with Pierre during THIS rereading and discussion was the first time I actually considered that he had a “howl inside” that often surprised him and that he had to “wrestle with” his inner demons.

His parents with their societal issues and their personal issues had certainly warped the lives of their children as we are shown time and again throughout this book. But I also noticed when Bert is talking about the children to Gamache that he paints Peter as a very sensitive boy who Charles would never dream of “foisting” the family business upon and that Charles realized that the elder son, Thomas, was NOT someone he wanted to have working closely with him as the heir to his company. Charles did not want Thomas that close to him.

Imagine sensitive Peter with those parents and Thomas as his big brother. Growing up in that atmosphere. Never once does Thomas come across as a sympathetic character in the entire book.

If, like Pierre, Peter does have an inner howl, its roots are much, much more destructive and understandable to me now.

I am not afraid “of” Peter now after thinking along these lines as much as afraid “for” Peter.

K.E. – I think that you are right in being more afraid “for” Peter. Whatever is eating away at him is self-destructive, and ensures his being alone. I don’t think he’s going to murder anyone (though I don’t have a crystal ball, hahahaha) – I think if he were, it would have been his father or Julia, and those ships have sailed. What I find saddest is that I think that Peter loves Clara, but I don’t know if he will be able to be with her. I just don’t know how his story ends happily – for him, or for Clara. I don’t think of Peter as an evil person at all – just a twisted boy who can’t find his self-worth without taking something away from someone else.

Yes, I do think he loves Clara, and even as he turned when his Mother left, he saw Clara and thought of what waited in the bottom of Pandora’s box.

I have again come to the end of this novel having enjoyed the setting and the familiar characters, but in this case unconvinced by the story. I did not think that the murderer, so excellent in his work and so skilled at training young people with sensitivity (well, except for that rebel Eliot at first) and so fine a member of that threesome who ran the manoir, without showing some characteristics of the obsessive hate necessary to carry out that action. I was not convinced that he was murderous underneath, or even helplessly obsessed. Nor was I convinced that Mrs. Finney and her husband Charles had ‘really loved’ their children but had been awkward in showing it, and that the ‘misinterpretation of love’ was behind all those character distortions we saw in their grown children. Either the parents were failed parents, or they were not–I am not up for the ‘they were loving but could not make their love understood’ club. The neuralgia thing appearing on the last page does explain Mrs. Finney sitting across the room to read to her children, but being a rejecting person is not merely about not being a touchy-feely person. It is about saying cruel things and doing cruel things. About not ever remembering Clara’s right name, about repeating ugly stories about Gamache’s father behind his back but in his hearing. Really, the only person who gives the Morrows, husband and wife, any credibility, is Bert Finney. Could such a good man have loved such bad people? It’s a mystery to me, and I didn’t feel that it was convincingly enough solved in the course of the novel.

I very much agree with your assessment of the Morrow parents, Penny. “Either the parents were failed parents or they were not…” For me, it’s clear that they were failed parents. If there truly was love on one or both of the parent’s part, at least one of the children would have felt it.
We don’t get the sense that ANY of the Morrow siblings feel that their parents loved them–that’s probably one main reason they keep coming to these dratted reunions– in a forlorn hope that maybe, at long last, their mother will tell them their father loved them, or she will throw out some crumb of loving kindness. Not going to happen.
I agree with your assessment of Irene Morrow Finney. The neuralgia in and of itself is not a satisfactory reason why she could not show love to her children. There are many parents, male and female, who have physical handicaps who do not let that stand in the way of loving their children. In fact, most of the time, if the handicap predated the birth of any and all of the children, most handicapped persons would see the child as a blessing. Not Mrs. Morrow. As much money as her husband made, she could have had a nanny or assistant to do the physical work while she showered compliments and loving comments to her children. You are so right, Penny, when you observe that Mrs. Finney acts, not in loving or thoughtful ways to her children, but in cruel and harsh ways. She was a rejecting person when her children were growing up, and she continues to be a rejecting person to date. I believe that is one main reason Marianna refuses to let her mother and others know what gender Bean is. Since her mother doesn’t know if Bean is a girl or a boy, she can’t judge the activities that Bean is allowed to engage in.
As for the character of Pierre, I think I can let Louise Penny have the benefit of the doubt there. Many murder mystery novels have crimes committed by persons who seem unlikely candidates. Still waters run deep, and it’s not always apparent to an onlooker what is going on in the mind of another. If it were, so many of the school shootings by students could have been anticipated and prevented.

Thanks, everyone, for your insights! I only recently heard about these great books, bought the whole lot and started reading. Of course, I couldn’t put them down for long, so just rushed right through them. I only just discovered this re-reading and this is my first book. My version is called The Murder Stone. My own family has been pretty dysfunctional, but the Morrows take meanness to a new level! I’m wondering if, when truth finally comes out, if they can begin to understand one another and to treat each other with more kindness and compassion. Do any of them have the capacity to change? I sure hope so!

It’s interesting to me that the phrase “surprised by Joy” is used – that is the title of C. S. Lewis’s autobiography, so I wonder if that was intentional or just a lucky coincidence!

As Surprised by Joy has quite a big impact in Still Life, I went back to look, and Jane had the CS Lewis book on her nighttable. So I’m sure Penny chose the phrase from the book title.

Hey guys. It seems Peter has become, for many, a pariah. There are things he does that are unkind. But, it’s not a spoiler to say that at least through “How the Light Gets In” Peter doesn’t murder anyone. Whew!

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