LOUISE PENNY’S

Series Re-Read: A Rule Against Murder

INTRODUCTION BY SARAH MELNYK

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.

RECAP

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.

FAVORITE QUOTE

“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.”

CONCLUSION

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!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  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.


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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. . . .


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

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

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!

In the story, I was most surprised by Elliot. So discontented and a bit of a troublesome employee at first. Yet, at the end he took on the task of directing some of the younger staff and “seemed like a natural.”

It was nice to see that kind of growth. It was nice to realize that though the Manoir had lost one of its own, there were youngsters waiting on the wings to keep things moving on.

Are Pierre and Peter possibly somewhat alike in having “a howl” hidden deep inside? The comments written about Pierre and Peter and what they realized and did not as far as the consequences of their actions made me wonder this. We have seen “Hyde” come out of Peter, or try to do so, before in the sequence of these novels.

And yet, a week before the murder, everyone would have said that Pierre was a good person… We never know what lurks in the hearts of others. In reading the Pierre/Peter posts, I wonder if their having the same name (except one is in French and one is in English) is important?

Gamache described both Peter and Clara as basically good people. He’s usually a pretty good judge of character.

I just lost a very lengthy post. Don’t know what I did. I’ll just go for now. I need to do my sums. A 200+ year old oak was brought down by a storm last night, the house on the corner across from us. It fell the best way it could have to cause as little damage as possible. Power and all else back by 8AM. Unheard of in our area. An Ice storm in February(a record amount of damage to our area)spared us also but not my neighbors. Sums.

While we are on the subject of Peter, I wanted to note that I was dismayed at Peter’s reaction to the revelation about Armand Gamache’s father, Honore.
Instead of commiserating with Gamache, it’s more like Peter gleefully seizes upon this as a way to have one-up-manship on Gamache. “So, my father was a cold man who never showed love to his children? At least he wasn’t a traitor like yours!” It’s only a quick glimpse, but we get to see the way Peter’s mind works, and it’s not pretty.

I’m not sure that Peter, of all people, is capable of seeing the damage of what he did so long ago. In fact, coming from the Morrow family as he has, I’m not even sure that he has realized the damage he did to Julia. So, his writing on the wall caused her to leave? Good riddance, in his mind. I am not even sure that he’s forgiven her, even after his act of retribution, for that poem mocking him. I don’t think he would have seen this reunion as a chance to set things right with her and ask for HER forgiveness, either. He’s still replaying all the old childhood and adolescent tapes in his mind.
So, connecting his long-ago action, to the culmination of events which led Pierre to connect David Martin’s financial shenanigans to Julia, and thus mark her for his victim, is not going to occur to him. It’s still” pitiful me,” which is playing in his mind.

We can always play the what if game. Peter’s lie caused his parents to encourage Julia to leave. What if they hadn’t done that. Her father tried to make amends. What if she hadn’t rebuffed him? Julia is the one that decided to marry David, what if she picked someone else? Or what if David had apologized to Pierre’s family?

Anywhere along the way the chain of events could have been changed by Julia, save perhaps for the last.

Then too, the experiences she went through taught her the truth about what was important and she, of all the family, knew her father loved her.

Interesting, too – that Julia was trying to make friends with her siblings, after all that had gone on. She had forgiven Peter (I’m sure she knew it was Peter) for what he wrote. While Peter (who also, presumably, has been away from the family for a long time except for the yearly command performance) still seethes with rage, which causes him to throw Thomas’ cuff links in the lake, knowing full well how important they were to Thomas. It shows the difference in their growth or lack thereof.

Yes, one little (or big) difference can change the whole chain of events. But I was wondering how Peter would react if he realized that what he did was part of that chain, a chain that led to Julia’s death.

My own personal belief is that what Peter did was wrong, but he is not responsible for Julia’s death, not even partly. Every person is responsible for their own actions or reactions.

Peters even tries to assume guilt, “I couldn’t stand that Father loved Julia. I wanted to destroy that and I did.”

Bert’s reply explains the fallacy in assigning that blame. “It wasn’t yours to destroy. You claim too much for yourself, Peter. Your Father loved your sister all his life. He knew what you’d done.”

“. . . And he loved you anyway. He loved you always.”

The process of laying blame on Peter would be part and parcel of turning Heaven to Hell.

The only one responsible for killing Julia is Pierre.

Unintended consequences is a theme. David Martin’s actions so long ago were not forgotten by Pierre. Pierre couldn’t reach David, so he focused on David’s wife Julia. But the most far-reaching of an excplicit action was Peter’s lie about his sister. It was because of this lie that Julia left the family fold. In leaving, she met and married David. Years later, back in the family setting, Pierre kills her. Peter thus had a significant hand in the domino trail that led to her death. If he hadn’t lied, this particular train of events wouldn’t have happened. Do you think he made the connection between his action and her death?

But don’t we all make terrible choices and mistakes when we’re seventeen or eighteen (I believe that was Peter’s age at the time he wrote on the stall door)?

Meg R., and K.C., I’ve been reading your comments on Pierre with much interest. Like you, Meg, I was really shocked, yes, shocked! that Pierre turned out to be the murderer. Never saw that coming. Of course, I have to admit that that has happened to me any number of times when I’ve been reading an Agatha Christie for the first time. I put that down to her using a plot device where it would look as though the reader was being given the correct clues to guess “who-dunnit,” only to find out at the end that we, like the other inhabitants of the story, had to rely on Poirot or Marple or one of the other Christie detectives to explain it all to us.
It’s hard to think of someone as likeable as Pierre being the murderer, yes. But, in the first Penny book, wasn’t Ben Hadley a likeable person, charming and understanding, a good friend(seemingly) to Peter and Clara?
Murderers are not always nasty people. Remember the poem Jane read aloud to Ben, about evil dining at our table? We may all have congress with someone who is capable of murder, and never know it, unless something pushes that person over the edge.
I rather like the Jekyll and Hyde reference that was made. On the surface, Pierre was likeable, dependable, even trying to assist the irritating Elliot into shape. If there were going to be a murder victim in this story, I would have picked Elliot as the obvious victim, not Julia. But then, I was not the person writing this story. All I can figure out is that in some twisted way Pierre considered Julia to be equally guilty as her husband. She had benefited financially from her husband’s ponzi scheme, and as the husband was in prison, not available for Pierre to avenge himself on, he took the second best. I also think it makes some sense for Julia’s appearance at THIS reunion to be the fulcrum of Pierre’s letting his Jekyll side out. While her husband was successful, and the two of them enjoying the accolades of society, Julia had not been attending the Morrow reunions. This time, she was licking her wounds, metaphorically, as the revelation of her husband’s embezzlement and imprisonment left her wanting some connection to her family. I think she probably realized that was a mistake from the time she got to the manoir. Pierre had not previously had a problem with the Finney/Morrow clan, at least not in a way that brought out his desire for revenge, because they were not truly connected to David. But Julia was. It’s truly tragic in a number of ways that Pierre struck at the least offensive of the Morrows–first Julia, and then Bean. (I doubt many tears would have been shed, for example, if he had killed old Mrs. Finney). Literature, though, is full of stories of the wrong person being killed. Shakespeare is full of “wrong” victims–Cordelia in King Lear, Desdemona in Othello, Polonius in Hamlet–that show us that murder–and its victims–is not always logical.

Part of the real tragedy is that Julia’s husband did nothing illegal in regards to Pierre. Even he acknowledged that it was an investment that went bad as often happens. He also acknowledged that Julia had nothing to do with it.

His reason? everything about her “screamed money.” She reminded him of the money his mother should have had, money his father should have had, money HE should have had.

When a sore has festered a long time even the slightest touch can be excruciating. Julia DID nothing but to him she represented all that he imagined was wrong in his life. Watching her, his anger grew until he had turned his heaven into his own personal Hell.

I wonder, too, if Pierre was thinking – “He took my father from me, I’ll take someone from him.”

Meg, I cannot seem to “reply” on the thread where you were discussing this but I would like to go back to your comments about Pierre. I THINK you were saying that you kind of felt the rug was pulled out from under us in that the one character that had been presented to us that seemed would NEVER have spit in Julia Morrow’s tea much less murdered her was Pierre.

Presuming (ass-u-me-ing) that is what you meant this is what I think. First it was not premeditated very far in advance. Meaning Julia was already there, the base had been there already awaiting Charles Morrow BEFORE the impetus to kill her actually came to Pierre. In this particular murder unlike Ben or Crie or Hazel, I think there was a sharp “snap”, almost like a psychotic break that led to Pierre’s actions. The previous three had been worn down by a long, repeated, hell of their own making and it was a tiny thing really that set them in motion.

Pierre had for 20 years completely hidden from this event that occurred during him impressionable teen-aged years which “killed” his father. He had walled it off as Jean Guy and Gamache talk about “cages” and “long houses with locked doors” inside of himself. There were 2 Pierre Patenaudes – a Jekyll and Hyde. And “the perfect storm” of circumstances brought out Hyde. Had this been truly premeditated Pierre would have ordered extra sugar earlier rather than impulsively use it all up so that they were “short” for a day on sugar, etc.

But once the murder was committed, Pierre could not really contain his “Hyde” completely and again it came out on the roof in a classic horror movie scene with the harsh angles and Gamache’s vertigo and the complete wildness that echoes Penny’s description of Pierre here:

“Something new had started growing in the boy. Bitterness. And over the years it ate a hole where his heart should have been. And it finally ate his insides so that there was only darkness in there. And a howl, an old echo going round and round. And growing with each repetition.

‘I was happy here, you know.’ He turned to Madame DuBois….”

Again like Gamache says it was an emotion, twisted, festering but walled off by Patenaude and held in check with extreme discipline. Until the moment it broke free.

K.C., Just a brief reminder. It was NOT Poppa Morrow who contributed to Pierre’s father’s financial ruin – but Julia’s incarcerated husband – Martin. She was the absolutely wrong victim on whom to impose revenge.

“Seed festering” does have merit at times as an action motivator, but it doesn’t ring truthfully for me all the time – and specifically in this instance with Julia’s squishing. Sort of deus ex machina inserted at the end without connection or relevance to what had been presented about the character before. I’m done with this. Simply my opinion and interpretation of what was written. Others are free to have their own views. –

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.

. 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.

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?)

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…

TREASURES

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?

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.

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!

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!

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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!

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!!

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