LOUISE PENNY’S

Series Re-Read: Kingdom of the Blind

INTRODUCTION BY ANDREW MARTIN

I’ve been Louise Penny’s publisher and friend since I started at Minotaur Books in 2006. That was the year we published Still Life in the United States. For the first three years we published Louise following the Canadian publication the year prior. Sometimes such scheduling complications happen internationally but with our second contract for books 4,5,6 I was eager to get on the same timeline, and not follow so far behind. Her star was rising, and every little attention to every little detail helps when you are trying to grow a career.

Louise Penny is a magical, unique, hard-working, passionate, involved and deeply concerned author. It has been great to work with her because she truly cares about every facet of the publishing process. This, my friends, in addition to writing award-winning remarkable books and engaging with a burgeoning fan base as if she were close friends with each and every one of them. Her capacity for work and creativity and connectivity is astonishing. And Louise writes each Gamache novel as if it were the only one she will ever write in her life – how does someone pour so much of themselves into every single book? And she has written EIGHTEEN Gamache novels so far!

We settled on publishing two books in 2009: A Rule Against Murder and The Brutal Telling in order to catch up. One in the Winter season and one in the Fall. After that, late August, just prior to Labor Day, became her pub month. That is until Kingdom of the Blind, published on November 27, 2018. Quite simply, 2018 was capping off a difficult couple of years for Louise. Her beloved husband Michael, after years of battling with dementia, died in late 2016. Yet she still rallied to complete Glass Houses in time to publish in August of 2017. And now we spoke about giving her a much needed break. Time to breathe and pause. I fully expected not to have a book in 2018 – a small price to pay for the health and well-being of a remarkable friend. And then, she surprised me (yes, surprised by joy!) she found a way to finish a novel she had started. And wanted to finish it — could we still make it in time to publish in 2018?

There are lots of moving parts in order to publish well….to edit and produce and plan marketing and publicity and to sell-in to accounts etc. etc…. and you need time. But Louise had done it. She wrote the masterful Kingdom of the Blind despite a punishing schedule. And while we moved our usual pub date from August to late Fall, a typically brutally competitive time of year, it was a blockbuster success hitting #1 on the New York Times bestseller list despite all the big Fall publishing guns going on sale around it. And this year? Well, A World of Curiosities goes on sale just a couple of calendar days later, November 29, 2022. Seems like a perfectly lucky time for her…but hell, I’ll publish Louise Penny any day of the year she wants.

RECAP

Chapter 1-5:

Armand Gamache, on suspension from his job as Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté, receives a letter from a notary inviting him to a mysterious appointment at an unfamiliar address, and when he arrives, just as a blizzard is beginning outside, he finds an abandoned, dilapidated farmhouse, as well as two other people who received the same letter, his friend Myrna Landers and a man called Benedict Pouliot, a builder, along with the notary. Before he goes inside, he receives a phone call and exchanges angry words with the caller. Finally, inside, they learn that they’ve been named as the executors of the will of a woman named Bertha Baumgartner, AKA the Baroness, whom none of them know, and they agree to go forward. Before they can read the will, however, the blizzard kicks up and they decide to leave before they’re trapped.

Meanwhile Jean-Guy Beauvoir, acting head of homicide, attends what he hopes is the last internal-affairs interview before Gamache is restored to his job, but discovers that Gamache’s suspension might not be over yet. And Gabri and Clara plan the winter carnival over lunch at the bistro.

Chapter 6-10:

Escaping the blizzard just in time, Gamache brings Benedict and Lucien to his home in Three Pines, where they reconvene with Myrna and go over the will. They are mystified to discover that Bertha has bequeathed her multi-million-dollar estate to her three children, instructing them to sell homes in Vienna and Switzerland. But when the storm swells and the power goes out, they must hunker down—along with Ruth, who joins them—and wait it out.

Jean-Guy is still thinking about the interview, the committee’s focus on the opioids that escaped into the country (at the end of the previous book, Glass Houses), and the paper that they asked him to sign, which could have damaging consequences for Gamache. Gamache confesses to Reine-Marie that he was supposed to go to Montreal yesterday to see the internal affairs committee, and that he’s relieved that the blizzard was big enough that it prevented them from meeting. Ruth realizes Bertha Baumgartner was the woman they knew as the Baroness, a cleaning woman who used to own the Hadley house. Armand, Myrna, Benedict, and Lucien interview her neighbor but don’t learn much more.

Chapter 11-15:

Armand visits Isabelle Lacoste, who is recovering from being shot in the head in Glass Houses. They reminisce but also talk about Gamache’s situation, with his suspension and the opioids that were lost in that same operation. And they discuss his dilemma—whether or not to expel a cadet from the Sûreté academy named Amelia Choquet (originally seen in A GREAT RECKONING) who has been found with opioids in her possession. When he goes to the academy, Amelia is defiant, denying that she is using or dealing drugs, though she appears high, and they kick her out. Armand has her followed when she leaves.

Meanwhile the villagers dig out Three Pines from the blizzard. Myrna, Armand, and Benedict meet the Baumgartner children, Anthony, Caroline, and Hugo, along with the notary, and tell them about her will, bequeathing money that doesn’t exist. They learn that she believed she was descended from the Rothchilds. Later, Annie and Jean-Guy come to Three Pines for dinner with the Gamaches, where Jean-Guy tells Armand about the meeting with the investigators. And Amelia moves back into the squalid rooming house in Montreal she’d lived in years earlier.

When they get up the next morning, Benedict is gone from the Gamaches’ house, and never came home the night before. They discover he asked Billy Williams to take him back to his truck, snowed in at the Baumgartner farmhouse. They find the house partially caved in and Benedict and another person trapped inside; Armand, Billy, and Myrna go inside to try and rescue them. Just as they find Benedict, the house collapses.

Chapter 16-20:

Amelia reconnects with Marc, a friend from her childhood, an addict and prostitute who tells her he can help her find the drug supply that everyone has heard rumors about but hasn’t arrived on the street yet. They put out the word to the streets that they want “the new stuff,” and Amelia calls herself “the one-eyed man.” She wakes up the next morning hung over and with no memory of the night before except a vision of a young girl in a red tuque, and a name and number written in marker on her arm: David. 14.

Meanwhile, Armand, Myrna, Billy, and Benedict are rescued from the cave-in at the old farmhouse, and a body is discovered buried in the rubble—Anthony Baumgartner, who appears to not have died in the collapse but before, bringing up lots of questions. Armand also gets an update from an officer following Amelia in Montreal. Everyone tries to recover from the trauma of being trapped, while Amelia reckons with where she’s landed after learning that her landlady burned all of her books.

The next day, the notary shows them a 132-year-old will that indicates that the Baroness wasn’t entirely crazy, imagining her wealth. The coroner confirms that Anthony Baumgartner was murdered before the house collapsed, bringing up the possibility that someone caused the house to collapse in order to hide the murder. Armand sends Isabelle to investigate Benedict and goes himself to check on Amelia and meets Anita Facial on the street, while Jean-Guy goes back to headquarters again to see what they have in store for Gamache, and the minister of justice suggests that he ask Gamache himself.

Chapter 21-25:

Isabelle learns that Benedict is the caretaker of the building he lives in, and doesn’t have a girlfriend, though he claimed to. Jean-Guy tells Isabelle that he thinks Gamache is keeping things from him. Clara, Myrna, Gabri, and Ruth go to the library to research the Baroness’s family history while Gamache does his own research through Interpol.

Armand and Jean-Guy go to see Caroline and Hugo, and Anthony’s ex, Adrienne, to tell them Anthony was murdered, and they discover that Anthony’s marriage ended because he had an affair with a man at work, and the fallout impacted his work as his family all took their money away from him. But he remained closeted.

Then Agent Cloutier finds something that might be an indication of wrongdoing at Anthony’s work; Anthony’s family says it’s impossible that he would be involved in something criminal, but then they confess that his license was suspended when his lover was caught stealing from clients. Then Beauvoir and Gamache visit the hospital where the Baroness died and discover that her most frequent visitor—and the one called when she died—was not one of her children but a woman called Katie Burke.

Chapter 26-30:

Everyone has dinner at Clara’s (coq au vin!) and talks about the case, except Gamache and Honoré. Gamache babysits and researches more German history, learning that the Kinderoth/Baumgartner case is still active. Jean-Guy presses Benedict about lying about his girlfriend, and Armand watches a video of Amelia on the street looking for David, sent to him from the agents watching her in Montreal.

The next morning, Jean-Guy goes to Montreal for another meeting, and signs the paper the committee wants him to sign. He then hears from Cloutier than Anthony was indeed stealing from clients. And Armand goes to the city with Benedict, finds Anita Facial and gives her money to help him find the young girl with the red tuque, whom he saw on the video last night. Then he has lunch with Stephen Horowitz, who is Armand’s godfather but also happens to be Hugo Baumgartner’s boss. He says good things about Hugo but agrees to do some digging on the family.

Jean-Guy heads to meet Anthony’s boss, who is shocked to see the falsified statements that seem to indicate that Anthony had stolen millions of dollars from clients. Then Jean-Guy and Armand meet up at Isabelle’s to talk through what everyone learned, and finally get a big break: Katie Burke, the Baroness’s visitor, is Benedict’s ex-girlfriend. Meanwhile, Amelia is frustrated that she can’t find David.

Chapter 31-35:

Beauvoir and Cloutier interview Bernard Schaeffer, Anthony’s lover and the supposed thief, and he says he was innocent and took the blame for what Anthony did. And then they interview the man who did Anthony’s trades for him after he was suspended, who is surprised that Anthony could have been stealing from clients. Bernard finally confesses that he was helping Anthony hide the money, almost $8 million.

Amelia feels she’s getting close to finding the opioids, and then someone appears who can take her to David. Gamache confronts Benedict, who nearly crashes his truck in response. And then Beauvoir brings Katie to Three Pines, where she tells the story of how she met the Baroness, and introduced her to her grandfather, the Baron Kinderoth. And their plan to divide their fortune among both branches of the Kinderoth/Baumgartner family, once the German case is finally decided, and how it went awry. She also knows of a letter from the Baroness to Anthony, which is missing. Benedict confesses to making the house unstable, as wished by the Baroness. Beauvoir believes he and Katie are guilty of murder, but Gamache is not so sure.

They realize that the number on the back of Clara’s painting at Anthony’s could be the laptop password, and both Gamache and Beauvoir are about to head to Montreal. Then Armand gets a call that Anita Facial has been found dead of an overdose. She turns out to be the seventh overdose in a day, all with David written on their arms. When Armand reaches one of the agents following Amelia, he learns that she is about to lead them to the drugs. And then Amelia realizes that David is the name of the drug, not the dealer.

Chapter 36-40:

Armand finds the girl in the red tuque and rescues her from a would-be attacker, then takes her to a diner and leaves her for Isabelle to pick up. They’ve found the drugs, and Armand, along with many others, are converging on that location. Amelia is already there, trying to talk her way into the operation, but the man in charge doesn’t believe her, and doses her with the drug against her will.

Gamache arrives first, finds the tactical team ready to enter, then Beauvoir arrives, and Gamache tells him that Amelia is inside and has been acting on his orders this whole them. They find her amid the tactical team’s assault, where she has no pulse. Gamache administers naloxone, then starts CPR, as Beauvoir shoots and kills a young man aiming at them. Amelia survives and is taken to the hospital, while Beauvoir and Gamache head to Isabelle’s to see the little girl, then to the hospital to see Amelia. She’s awake and talking, and she’s going to be fine. Then they go back to headquarters to find Cloutier, who has been working on Anthony’s laptop, and she’s found the stolen $300 million, and figured out how Bernard helped to hide it.

They go to arrest Bernard and then Beauvoir and Cloutier meet Caroline and Hugo Baumgartner. Gamache goes to meet the prime minister of Quebec who tells him his fate, and then he goes to see Benedict and Katie, as there’s been a decision in the German case, in favor of the Baumgartners. Meanwhile, Beauvoir explains the fraud to Caroline and Hugo, and unveils Hugo as the mastermind of the fraud, and his brother’s killer. Later, at dinner at the Gamaches’, Jean-Guy explains to everyone how Hugo masterminded the fraud and framed his brother at the same time. He then pulls Armand aside and tells him he’s accepted a new job outside of the police, at an engineering company in Paris. Gamache tells Beauvoir that he’s resigned as superintendent and hopes Isabelle will take the job.

We learn later than Beauvoir’s new job was actually something Stephen Horowitz helped facilitate. Stephen also tells Gamache that although there’s no money left in the Kinderoth/Baumgartner fortune, because it was seized by the Nazis, they could get their property back because the German government is paying reparations to families whose property was stolen, if they jointly file a claim. The book ends with Myrna meeting Billy Williams at the bistro for a drink.

FAVORITE QUOTE

“How intimating became intimidating. It was subtle, and all the more powerful for it.”

CONCLUSION

It’s extremely satisfying to tie up many of the loose ends after the shocking end of GLASS HOUSES but of course, there are as many threads left untied at the end of KINGDOM OF THE BLIND, including the prospect of Jean-Guy and Annie moving to Paris and Gamache no longer being the head of homicide at the Sûreté. But that’s what reading this series is all about—trusting that you are in the hands of a master and anxiously awaiting the next installment.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Snow is a virtual character in this book, “both beautiful and alarming.” In Chapter 4, we are told, “In the countryside, winter was a gorgeous, glorious, luminous killer.” What other passages about snow are particularly striking, and how does the weather affect the story?
  1. There are different kinds of families in the novel, from the Baumgartners to the Gamaches to the bonds between Benedict and Katie (“Benedict wondered if he tried, really, really tried, he could build a relationship that solid”), to the team of Armand, Jean-Guy, and Isabelle: “Her husband stayed behind in the living room, watching the three of them go. Recognizing that while he and the children would always be the most important parts of Isabelle’s lives, these three also formed a family.” There is even the drug dealer who names the new opioid “David” after his father. What are the strengths and weaknesses of these families?
  1. In what ways does Louise misdirect the reader about the actions of various characters, including Benedict, Amelia, and the Baumgartner siblings, as well as Beauvoir and his possible “betrayal” of Gamache? How does she obscure Gamache’s own intentions? What were your worst fears for the characters, and how satisfying did you find the resolutions of their stories?
  1. A number of the characters in the story are outliers in outward appearance and/or manner, including Benedict, Katie, the notary, Hugo, Billy Williams, Gracie, and arguably Ruth. How do first impressions line up with final ones? What conclusions, if any, can you draw about the importance of looks and behavior?
  1. What are the roles of the various women in Kingdom of the Blind? In what ways do they meet or defy conventional expectations?
  1. “You do know that the earth is round,” Gamache says to his godfather at lunch, to which Stephen Horowitz replies, “The earth might be, but human nature isn’t. It has caverns and abysses and all sorts of traps.” What aspects of human nature do we see throughout the novel?
  1. When Beauvoir visits Taylor and Ogilvy, he notes that it seems like “a play. A set. Something that looked like one thing but was actually another,” with “fake originals.” What kinds of authenticity are important in this story?
  1. The Montréal underworld could not seem more different from the sanctuary of Three Pines, yet Amelia finds herself in “an alley off an alley off a back lane. Impossible to find, except by those who were lost. She was pretty sure it wouldn’t be on any map. But once found, it was never forgotten. And probably never left.” This echoes language that is customarily used to describe Three Pines. Why do you think Louise describes the two places in such similar ways?
  1. “How do you do it?” Isabelle asks Gamache in Chapter 11, as she struggles to recover from being shot in the head. When he responds, “Remember?” she answers, “Forget.” What do you make of Gamache’s story about the longhouse, where nothing can ever be expelled or hidden away?
  1. Gamache also tells Isabelle, “I made mental lists and followed the things I love, the people I love, back to sanity. I still do.” How does this compare with the description of Ruth’s approach in Chapter 9: “Ruth remembered everything. Every meal, every drink, every sight, every slight, real and imagined and manufactured. Every compliment. Every word spoken and unspoken. She retrained it all, and rendered those memories into feelings and the feelings into poetry”?
  1. We are told that “for reasons that baffled Gamache, he seemed the only person on earth who could not understand a word Billy Williams said. Not a word. Not even close.” Can you understand Billy? What do you make of what he says and does? How do you feel about what might be happening between him and Myrna, and what the future might hold for them?
  1. There are numerous instances in which characters are literally or figuratively blinded – by snow, by the debris from the house, by perspective (for example, consider Annie’s comment in Chapter 3, “Dad had no choice. But they might not see it that way,” and Beauvoir’s reply, “Then they’re blind”). How do these relate to the book’s title and the original passage from Erasmus?
  1. Why does Amelia Choquet call herself “the one-eyed man”? What do you think of this “stoned former prostitute junkie who’s dealing opioids in the Academy” at various points in the story?
  1. At the end of the novel, Myrna looks “up into the night sky. At all the dots of light shining down on her.” How does this connect to “Ruth and a dot of light” in Clara’s most famous painting, and what does that dot mean to you?

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