The Brutal Telling, Part 1


Discovering Louise Penny’s books has become an unofficial rite of passage for new Murder By The Book employees. I picked up Still Life shortly after starting at the store 4 years ago. I was immediately hooked. I wanted to devour the books, but I knew I didn’t want to rush them. I would make myself take a break after every two that I read.

Louise Penny is one of the first authors I remember being nervous to meet. We host 3 or 4 events a week, and I’d already met many authors, but this was different. I had bonded with her books and characters in a way that I hadn’t bonded with anything in a while. Louise didn’t want her event to just be an author talk, she wanted it to be a conversation. Since I had just read the whole series, I got interview Louise about Bury Your Dead. It was the first time I’d done anything like that, and I knew it would be in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Louise immediately calmed my nerves. She walked into the store and wrapped her arms around me like we’d known each other for years. We had so much fun, and it’s become tradition that I interview Louise when she visits the store. It’s something I look forward to every year.

When I heard about the Gamache series reread, I knew I wanted to host the conversation about The Brutal Telling. It’s my favorite in the series. With The Brutal Telling, Louise put a lot of trust in her readers. She told the story she wanted, and asked the readers to go on a ride with her. I love when authors make risky decisions for the sake of the story. It shows that they have faith in their readers. It might not be the story readers expected, but it’s a story that’s worth telling.

Recap (Chapters 1-25)

The Brutal Telling opens deep in the woods of Three Pines. A mysterious Hermit tells Olivier a story about Chaos destroying everything in the world except one small village. The Hermit tells Olivier, “Chaos is coming, old son.”

A ringing phone wakes Gabri and Olivier from their sleep on a Sunday morning. They rush to the bistro to find Myrna already there. On her way to the bookstore Myrna had noticed the bistro’s open doorand found a body, obviously the victim of foul play. Olivier recognizes the Hermit, lying dead on the floor, but when Gabri asks who it is Olivier lies. In Montreal, a similar call pulls Armand Gamache and Jean Guy Beauvoir away from their family time. Arriving in Three Pines, Gamache and his team find no murder weapon, and no means of identifying the dead man.

It’s clear that the blow to the stranger’s head killed him instantly, but it appears that the crime did not occur in the bistro. Gamache establishes a timeline. On Saturday nights, Olivier leaves the night staff to close up, and Old Mundin drops by with repaired furniture. Young Parra would have been the last person in the bistro, but it hardly matters since so many people have keys to the building.

As the investigation gets underway, Agent Lacoste interviews the Parra family in their modern home, and she learns that Roar might have seen a strange man in the woods near the Hadley house. Gamache speaks to the medical examiner and learns that the victim was in his 50s, and took good care of himself for a vagrant. A young man asks to join Gamache’s team, and against Beauvoir’s advice, Gamache welcomes Paul Morin to the team. Beauvoir and Gamache think the body was left in the bistro on purpose, so it would be found.

Clara hosts a dinner party for the Surete officers and her neighbors. This gives everyone a chance to view Clara’s new work for her upcoming art show, and reopens old wounds for Peter. The subject of the body in the bistro comes up again, and everyone wonders why someone would leave the body as a gift for Olivier. Gamache learns that the Hadley house has been purchased and will be turned into a spa. The spa has caused conflict between Olivier and the house’s new owner, Marc. A trip to meet the new owners uncovers a possible motive, as Gamache learns that Olivier had been overcharging them for antiques, causing them to take their business elsewhere.

The idea of reopening the bistro gives Olivier pause. He questions his place in Three Pines, and whether the community would still love him if they knew his secrets. Myrna tries to reassure him, but he decides he needs some time alone. Gamache and Beauvoir meet with the medical examiner and learn that the victim was killed elsewhere and moved to the bistro.

A search of the town doesn’t turn up any possibilities for the murder scene. At the Hadley house, Dominique has decided to bring in old horses destined for slaughter instead of the hunters she originally wanted. A conversation with Old Mundin (who is actually not old) uncovers that Olivier has also caused friction with the antiques community as more people besides Marc feel that he isn’t giving them fair deals for the pieces he purchases.

More digging into Olivier’s background turns up interesting facts. While he may pay less for his antiques, he’s known to give his clients other things (comfort, human contact,) and he owns most of the property in Three Pines.

A visit to the bank where he used to work reveals that Olivier resigned after borrowing money from clients and investing it. He was able to almost triple the money, but didn’t have authorization to do so. As a result, he resigned and his employers were never sure whether he had intended to steal the money he made. It’s still unclear where he got the money to purchase so much property in Three Pines. Olivier’s father is unable to shed any light on the subject because he barely knows his son at all. He doesn’t know that Olivier lives in Three Pines or that he’s gay.

Paul Morin learns that only two people have recently purchased Varathane, Gabri and Marc. A visit to the Hadley house reveals that their floors had been recently varathaned. Fiber from the victim’s sweater is also found stuck to the floor. But, the revelation that the body was originally found in the old Hadley house does nothing to advance the case. Marc admits to finding the body there and moving it to the bistro for revenge on Olivier, but it’s obvious from a lack of blood that the stranger’s body was not murdered in the Hadley house either.

While Marc is being questioned, a man is seen lurking around the Hadley house. The stranger turns out to be Marc’s father, a man Marc thought was dead, a who came to town right around the time of the murder. Dominique is the one who finds the cabin in the woods, and the blood pool that marks it as the scene of the crime. The cabin is filled with priceless antiques from a variety of times and places. No one understands how a treasure trove could have been hidden in the woods without anyone being aware of it. The location of the cabin makes the crime even more peculiar. If the murderer had left the body there, it is likely no one would have ever found it.

Among the treasures are beautifully carved figures. Everyone agrees that they are works of art, but they are also unsettling. One figure is covered in blood, and (we later learn) Olivier’s fingerprints. Each figure has a series of letters carved on its bottom. Even more curious is the first edition of Charlotte’s Web found in the cabin’s outhouse, and a spider web with the word Woo on it.

Clara is thrilled to meet with Denis Fortin about her upcoming art show. Denis seems to really understand what Clara is trying to say with her layout and vision. It all goes well until Fortin calls Gabri “a fucking queer.” Paralyzed by shock, Clara says nothing.

With the fingerprint results back in, Gamache confronts Olivier. This time Olivier doesn’t lie; he admits to knowing The Hermit. The Hermit was one of Olivier’s first customers and trades antiques for food. After a while, he had become nervous about being in town and Olivier had started to visit him in the woods. Olivier claims that he picked up the murder weapon, and dropped it when he discovered the blood on it. Gamache asks him, “Did you kill him?”

Favorite Quote

He watched Beauvoir sit up, “How was it?”

“No one died.”

“That’s a bit of an achievement in Three Pines.”

Discussion Questions

1. Why do you think Gamache consistently recruits outcasts as members of his team? How is that mirrored by Dominique’s choice of horses.

2. The Brutal Telling starts on the last weekend of the summer, how do you think the changing season mirrors the changes in Three Pines?

3. What would you have done in Clara’s position? Would you have confronted Fortin or stayed silent?

4. How would you describe Olivier’s friendship with The Hermit?

5. How do you think the citizens of Three Pines are going to react when they learn that OIivier owns most of the town? Do you think they will still love him, as Myrna said?

6. Do you think Olivier murdered The Hermit?

John KwiatkowskiJohn Kwiatkowski is a reader, theatergoer, and music lover living in Houston with his husband and 2 cats. He is the Publicity Manager at Murder By The Book in Houston, TX, and has been a bookseller for eleven years (seven years at Borders, four at Murder By the Book).

Discussion on “The Brutal Telling, Part 1

  1. Cynthea Corlett says:

    I understand what you mean when you say “trusts her readers”, because this book was, at first, hard for me to embrace. On reflection I think it was because we are seeing the human flaws in some beloved characters. The escapist in me wants everyone in 3 Pines to be perfect, but the realist knows that only in our flaws do we discover humanity. I would like to think that in Clara’s position I would speak up; but if the speaker held my future in their hands, as Clara perceived Fortin, I’m not sure I would have. A flaw of my own to ponder!

  2. Julie says:

    Welcome, John, to our discussions – we’ve been having a great time. I agree that The Brutal Telling is quite challenging to get around – a great deal of it makes us uncomfortable, nothing moreso than the slow unveiling as Olivier’s lies unravel, and his greed becomes evident. What I find wonderful is that with each book, Louise Penny lets us see a little more into each person’s psyche, or soul, or whatever it is that makes us such flawed, wonderful human beings. Her characters are so real that we begin to feel that we know them intimately, and so, are disappointed by them, angry on their behalf, gloriously happy for them – so many emotions, as we are pulled along by the story.

    One of the things I felt most in The Brutal Telling was the looming sense of dread as the story about the boy and the mountain unfolded. That story gave me the creeps! As did the Woo in the cobweb… I can just imagine the terror the Hermit felt as he sensed that the chaos was coming.

    I know exactly what I would do if I were Clara, because Louise wrote it just the way it would have happened to me. I’d have said nothing… then I’d have been ashamed… then I’d have asked everyone what I should do… then I would have tried to talk to Fortin about it… then I’d have very awkwardly shouted out that I couldn’t work like this! Instead of calmly telling him how I felt, it would have unraveled into a “scene”, and I’d have been left with tears of anger, while Fortin laughed at me. How did Louise know? I wonder if anything like this happened to her personally? The emotions, the thoughts, the actions – they are all spot on.

    As I was reading A Rule Against Murder, I was thinking it was my favorite book because it gave us so much background into Peter’s life and Peter and Clara together. Then, while reading The Brutal Telling, I thought that this is my favorite book because the story and the sense of dread and suspense was so powerful. Now, of course, I’m almost through my reread of Bury Your Dead, and I’m thinking that this is my favorite book! I sense a theme here, hahaha. Louise takes us on a wild ride through these books – with each one, the scene becomes more fully-defined and rich in “back story” as well as telling a wonderful “stand alone” story. For me, it’s almost never about the murder itself, but what is revealed about my favorite people. Here in The Brutal Telling, I think, like Cynthia, that it’s disheartening to find such deep flaws in someone I really cared about. Yet, how like real life… We none of us get out of here alive – and the same is true for all my favorite characters in Three Pines and environs. It’s good to see everyone again, and I must say, that my admiration for Gabri grows in leaps and bounds in this one and the next.

    • Dorothy says:

      Each book I read in this series becomes my favourite. I have read them all and am so looking forward to the next book in the series coming out in August. I don’t usually buy books in advance of publication, but, I have done so with the last three books in this series. I enjoy Louise’s writing and there characters so much :)

  3. Meg R says:

    Welcome, John. Sorely miss our Borders stores and its incredibly eclectic and widely-read clerks. All we have left here now are B & N’s – which was always a third choice!
    Will come back later today, errands to run. Just in case anyone from “Rule Against Murder” is still around and curious, may have made a discovery that her mother wanted to keep secret – —>


  4. Julie says:

    Why do you think Gamache consistently recruits outcasts as members of his team? How is that mirrored by Dominique’s choice of horses.

    You know, I didn’t make that connection while reading the book. I loved that Dominique decided to get the old horses and that she needed to help them. I did wonder why she needed to do that, I’m sure there’s a story there. Her kindness and gentleness with the horses is wonderful, and I also love “Marc the horse”, who is damaged almost as much as Marc the man. I’m so glad he was saved. (the horse – the man, I’m still not sure about)

    As for Gamache recruiting outcasts, I’m beginning to think that being cast out by the regular Surete is a good thing. The upper management (above Gamache) seem to be very corrupt. Who wants to be a part of that? By finding those that can’t fit in with that organizational culture, he finds people who will think and act according to their beliefs, not just “follow orders blindly”. Of course, they do all need training – again, none more than Nichol, even though she is not a part of this book at all, she is often in the back of my mind when this question arises. Was Gamache wrong about her? Or is she just taking longer to train than others. She’s clearly intelligent and capable in many areas, but so utterly unlikable and unable to interact with her team-mates in any meaningful way. IS she like Marc, the horse – only able to function on her own? Or will she, someday, become a valuable and valued member of the team?

    • Linda says:

      I like your take on the recruiting of outcasts. Hadn’t really thought much about that before. That’s what so great about the re-read and all the wonderful comments here.

    • Linda Maday says:

      I don’t think Gamache actually views them as outcasts, it’s those around him that do. I think he sees potential in the inquiring mind that thinks and perceives things differently from the rest of the crowd. He chooses the innovative, the curious, the rash, the explorer and he is rarely disappointed.

      Gamache’s choices have the added advantage of not being part of the old establishment. Think about it! Those that “fit in” tend to think, look, act the same. In order to not make waves it would be rare for them to go against a corrupt system.

      Gamache’s system is to question, ask, inquire, refuse to move based on assumptions but only on truth. Lay bare every lie until you find the truth hiding in a corner.

      • Meg R says:

        Yup, Linda! Our Armand is a really smart man when he chooses non-establishment recruits for his team. He knows better than anyone just who and what still remains in the Surete, even though Arnot is jailed and Brebeuf ousted or resigned. But the establishment monsters are still there. Gamache also finds that he can trust his recruits for the most part – unlike ones that “establishment” may have assigned to him. Good catch!

        • Jane F says:

          As for WHY Gamache prefers to have “outcasts” working for him, I think this little exchange between Beauvoir and Gamache explains a lot, right after Paul Morin asked to join the investigation at Three Pines:
          “You’d choose the runt of the litter? For homicide detail? For God’s sake, sir…This isn’t the Humane Society.”
          ” You think not?” (said with a small smile)
          We need the best for this team, for this case. We don’t have time to train people. And frankly he looks as though he needs help tying his shoes.”

          It was true, Gamache had to admit, the young agent was awkward. But he was something else as well.
          “We’ll take him…I know you don’t approve, and I understand your reasons.”
          ” Then why take him, sir?”
          “Because he asked…And no one else did.”
          “But they’d join us in a second…Anyone would.”
          What do you look for in a member of our team?”
          ” I want someone smart and strong.”
          ” And how much strength do you think that took? How much strength do you think it takes him to go to work every day? Almost as much as it took you in Trois Rivieres, or you( he turned to Lacoste) ” in traffic division. The others might want to join us, but they either didn’t have the brains or lacked the courage to ask. Our young man had both” (pp.94-95).
          I just love reading this exchange between Gamache and Beauvoir(note that Lacoste agrees with Gamache, and for the most part, except for a few comments supporting the addition of Morin, lets Beauvoir and Gamache have their discussion). I find it particularly interesting that BOTH Beauvoir and Lacoste were rescued from either being fired(Lacoste) or placed in Surete purgatory, also known as the evidence cage(Beauvoir). However, Lacoste seems understand WHY Gamache would be justified in taking a risk on taking on Morin, as he did in her case, and in Jean-Guy’s, but Beauvoir doesn’t extend to others the same helping hand that he himself had received. I find this one of the times that I don’t like Jean-Guy as much as I usually do, since his character is revealed as selfish and without the vision which Gamache has.

          • Julie says:

            Ah, but surely, Jean Guy thinks that Gamache saw something in him that is so unique and wonderful that all these other “misfits” couldn’t possibly possess. The “I’m special” feeling is another sign of his immaturity, I think. He grows, though – as I’m reading ahead of course, trying to be sure I’ve read each book again before we get to it, I see real growth in Jean Guy in the next couple of books. He begins to understand a lot of things he’d never get in the first few books… this is why I love Jean Guy – he’s so very real. How many of us wouldn’t have thought that Gamache saw something very special in us that just isn’t there in every other misfit…

        • Sylvia H. says:

          I think Gamache can trust his recruits because he has rescued them from a life of meaningless drudgery and taught them how to be part of his team. He believes in them and values them, probably as no one else has before.

          • Jane F says:

            Exactly, Sylvia. I think it’s amazing how either a positive or negative belief about oneself can be effective in shaping that person. There may be exceptions, of course, but in general, knowing that a person you admire thinks well of you and your abilities is enough to keep you wanting to keep that good opinion by performing well. We all saw in the second Gamache book, A Fatal Grace, what the opposite can do, with Crie and her mother CC. With Crie’s academic skills and marvelous singing ability, with another type of mother, she might have come out of her cocoon and become quite the butterfly–perhaps an opera singer, or mathematician. In this book, we find that Jean-Guy isn’t the only one on Gamache’s team to have been rescued. Lacoste was on the verge of being fired from the traffic division. Both Jean-Guy and Isabelle benefitted greatly from having Gamache recruit them, and in turn, he got two agents who are not only gifted investigators in their own right, but loyal to him as well.

  5. Linda says:

    Yes, it was hard to learn about Olivier’s greed. Probably because we all have some greed within ourselves that we like to pretend we don’t.

    As for Fortin’s comment about Gabri, I agree–sometimes one is so stunned by how awful something is it’s hard to respond. In that situation, I would hope I would have been able to overcome my paralysis and respond that Gabri was a dear friend of mine.

  6. KB says:

    1. I think Gamache recruits outcasts for a number of reasons. First, outcasts are less likely to be tinged with the rot in the Surete of those who are lauded as stars. Outcasts are “safer” for this reason, even though they may be less safe in other ways. As becomes apparent, if this is part of his strategy, it doesn’t work as the rot runs deep, including to those who know Gamache well. I believe that Gamache may also connect with the outcasts. We know that his father was despised by the masses and this must have had repercussions on young Gamache – even if we are not let in to that part of his story….yet. Somehow, Gamache was given a chance by someone and did well. He may be paying it forward. He likely also understands that giving these chances instills deep loyalty in the former outcast. Look at Jean-Guy and Isabelle Lacoste. They would follow him to the ends of the earth. By taking in the outcast, and giving him or her a chance and proper training, he builds himself a loyal group of inspectors. He is invested in them and they are invested in him.
    This is mirrored by Dominique’s choice in horses only in that she is picking those whose gifts are less obvious and that she hopes they will blossom under her care. She is more invested in them than in “real” horses. As with Gamache, her love, care and attention work with most, but not all of her outcasts.

    2. The arrival of fall is perfect for the storyline. We have, thus far, had a view of Olivier that is summer-like. While some villagers have commented on his greed from time to time, the flaw seemed quite mild. It could almost be interpreted as just an intense love of antiques. Having price tags on all of the dishes and furniture at the bistro seemed quirky to me, rather than truly greedy. For that reason, the first time through the series, this book jangled. I hadn’t really noticed all of the clues indicating the depth of his greed. Coupled with very clear indication of his finer qualities (first view of him as he brought Gabri’s manure stained hand to his lips and kissed it), this book felt like a blind-side and I didn’t really believe it. As the book progressed, we begin to see a different side of Olivier. Colder. Brittle. Hidden under layers of leaves.

    3. I hate to admit it, but I believe that I would have done the same thing. I would have been surprised. Shocked. And I would have frozen. But I do believe that I would have eventually said something. I hope.

    4. Olivier’s friendship with the Hermit is complicated. It is a true friendship on some levels. They appear to know each other better than anyone else really knows them. They appear to enjoy each others’ company – at least within limits. They look past each others’ flaws…but that is tinged with self-interest as well.

    5. I think that many of the villagers will become wary. They will wonder who Olivier really is. If this is hidden, what else don’t they know? and why? On some level, the property owner is on a different plane than another tenant…or someone who is able to buy his or her own building, but isn’t the Three Pines real estate tycoon. But I do believe that his close friends will still love him, even if they don’t trust him (or what they thought they knew about him) in the same way. They will remember the times when he helped without being asked. That is what Three Pines is about.

    6. I always had doubt. Greed didn’t seem to be enough of a motive. Olivier was doing very well even with having the Hermit play the game of withholding treasure and doling it out a little at a time. Olivier knew he was getting great items for almost nothing and there was a sense of anticipation and enjoyment (along with the frustration) about his meetings with the Hermit. But there was no alternative suspect either – at least not one with enough motive.

    • Ruth says:

      I totally agree with your point about the outcasts. Gamache is a complex character partly because he has a difficult past and has struggled to overcome it.

  7. Julie says:

    The Brutal Telling starts on the last weekend of the summer, how do you think the changing season mirrors the changes in Three Pines?

    We’ve talked a bit before about how the books all seem to occur at a holiday time – this time, it’s the Labor Day weekend (or I SHOULD say, the Labour Day weekend). In other books, the weather has a lot to do with the stories, and this is no exception. The end of summer, bittersweet – everything at it’s apex or just past it. The flowers past their prime, but still in bloom, the fruit over-ripened on the vine – all of these descriptions find their way into Louise’s narrative, and add to the overall feeling of decadence. The incredible wealth found in that cabin -not only in monetary value, but in the splendor of the things themselves. Wonderful, yet not, because it slowly becomes apparent that they could only be stolen property. We want so much to believe that the Hermit is a good soul who has simply, like Thoreau, decided to live simply. Yet – those treasures – hidden away in a cabin in the woods. I don’t want to give any spoilers to those who haven’t “read ahead”, but they can, truly, only be there because something is no longer quite right. Just as summer is no longer quite in evidence – instead, it is passing away, so is our feeling that the Hermit was a harmless character taken advantage of by Olivier, and attacked by… whom? Who did he hurt so badly that his punishment was his murder?

    As the days become shorter, and cooler, so does our understanding of what Oliver has done cause us to feel a little cooler toward him. It’s clear that he took advantage of the Hermit – could he possibly have killed him? Just to get his hands on whatever was in the bag?

  8. Julie says:

    Cynthea – I’ve just realized that I spelled your name wrong – so sorry. I know those things matter, and I’m usually much more careful than that.

    • Cynthea Corlett says:

      Quite alright. Most people think I have made a spelling error! It was actually my Mother’s way of getting around my Father’s objection to naming me Althea!

  9. Judith Williams says:

    I’ve always been confused by this book and who was telling the story. The reviewer says it was the Hermit, but I thought it turned out Olivier was the one telling the story to the Hermit to scare him so much that he wouldn’t leave and was dependent on him for food, etc. Penny does seem to have various “sins” that are behind murders or in this case there is a focus on Olivier’s greed, sometimes on revenge, jealousy, etc. I thought the trip to British Columbia was a interesting “red herring”. After I read this I listened to it on CDs as I do with all of her books. They are the best.

    • Julie says:

      Judith – in my reading of the story, and certainly, right up to the end when we find out differently, I was sure the Hermit was telling that story. I think Louise did a brilliant job of this, because she never says that, but you get that feeling. Not until the end do we discover that it is Olivier who has been telling the story and that it has been to keep the Hermit from going out into society – to convince him that the world is about to end. “Chaos is coming, old son.” The very phrase gives me the creeps!

      • Judith Williams says:

        Thank you Julie, that helps.

      • Meg R says:

        Julie, Weren’t we just to read up to Chapter 25 for this discussion? Haven’t we as a group decided to not give away upcoming events, discoveries etc.” You don’t know just how hard it’s been for me to rein myself in on this! I sit with book in hand anytime I post to try to make sure I don’t jump ahead with info!

        • Julie says:

          Absolutely, Meg, but since Judith asked the question based on what’s known in the end, I figured the cat was already out of the bag. I, too, have trouble talking about themes, etc., when we’re only half-way through them.

      • Jane F says:

        Welcome, John, and thank you for that introduction.
        Julie and Judith, I also thought that it was the Hermit telling the scary story to Olivier, and that was one of the things that Olivier had to endure in order to get what he wanted–another keepsake or curio. Even when I went back and read the passage again, I did not see any hint as to WHO was doing the storytelling. I think that is a bit of authorial misdirection there. As we get deeper into the book, and find out more about how vast Olivier’s greed is, it then begins to make more sense that HE’s the one doing the scary story, and the Hermit is getting some entertainment, like how young kids like to scare each other with scary stories, which makes him more amenable to letting some of his valuables go to Olivier(that and the fact that Olivier is bringing groceries to him!)
        Of course, the skeptic in me has to note that the whole chaos story makes about as much sense as did the seance in The Cruelest Month. Almost pure hokum, in fact. But for someone living alone, it kind of makes sense that if Olivier told him the story about how Chaos is coming to destroy everything, it could very well influence him, again, to think in terms of survival and getting rid of extras, which are the things Olivier wants. So it’s a very self-serving story on Olivier’s part, with no real danger looming as a matter of fact.

        • Jane F says:

          BUT, as soon as I read my last line, I realized that there was , indeed danger headed for the hermit. Not from Chaos, but if memory serves me correctly, it’s the seeing of one of the curios that Olivier has, and figuring out WHERE Olivier got it, that does put the hermit in danger. I don’t want to write too much more specific here, as I think that is part of the big reveal in the second part of the book. I will write more comments about that later, when it is more appropriate timing.

          • K.E. says:

            Jane, I feel the Mountain King story is very real indeed. It mirrors the Hermit’s life story in ways we cannot discuss yet but also Olivier’s life. There is greed and love of material objects so intense that companionship and love are sacrificed by the Mountain King who begins to long even for the touch of the wind. But instead there is Nothing at all. A tightly controlled world created by his own making and held together by hiding and hoarding what is considered a material treasure valued more than anything.

            But Chaos unravels even the best of plans and the tightest control. The more we attempt to clench our fist and hold onto things the more things unravel.

          • Julie says:

            But, what IS chaos, if not the random events of the universe? Someone accidentally seeing a piece of the treasure on eBay and recognizing it – what are the odds of that? Isn’t chaos sometimes defined as somewhere a butterfly flaps it’s wings, staggering a typhoon halfway across the world? So, Olivier has brought about his own downfall by posting bits of the treasure online, and the hermit brought his about by giving it to Olivier. (IF that’s what happened – it’s the best theory we can come up with, but is it what really happened? Even Gamache admits there are so many things they can’t know.)

          • Linda Maday says:

            There were only a few things posted online, the rest were sold to an antiques shop, which is where they are noticed by some people pertinent to the story.

          • Julie says:

            I meant “triggering”, not “staggering” – don’t know where that came from. Yes, only a few online and the rest in Montreal, as you say. I don’t think we’re clear yet at least, where they were seen, as it’s only a theory of Gamache’s at this point.

        • Julie says:

          Jane – that’s right – it takes time for us to be led to a place where we can accept that Olivier has done all these things, I think – getting the story parceled out to us was very effective, as it made the whole thing very suspenseful. And looking at the carvings, too – another reason to believe the story belonged to the Hermit. But the feeling of dread that everyone experienced without really knowing why, until they finally found the boy – that also increased my feelings that something really creepy was going on here.

          We don’t know why the Hermit lives all alone in the woods, or where all the antiques came from, that he has them, but I think we can safely say that this is not a normal person. It’s not a big leap to think that he could be convinced that the world is too scary a place for him to venture forth into. Some days, what amazes me is that the rest of us manage to do it!

    • Meg R says:

      Know what, Judith? I was intrigued by the old “play within the play/ story within the story” technique that our author chose to employ in this book. It really didn’t bother me who story teller actually was. When it first appeared, I penciled in”Mountain King myth” in the margin. Didn’t know if Hermit, Ollie or an unknown voice was telling this tale. Didn’t know if it came from an immigrant (to Three Pines or Canada) or a native mythology. Was just curious to see where it would go – as well as that carved sailing ship and its companion piece. I was curious to discover the source of the story and just what happened to the villagers, the Mountain King and the young man/boy as the story progressed and eventually (?) comes to an end.

      Does the recorded version of the novel have the Mountain King story spoken in a different voice – or is it the primary narrator’s? Don’t think I’d like someone else making that voice decision before I’d read the end of the story. Strangely, I’m one of those people who can’t stand listening to books in the car or while driving. I want to actually see in in print the words that an author has written. Moving them to audial presentation seems – for me – to rob some of the joy of discovery – if that makes any sense! I have about 30 more pages to read to finish this one, but am going to really try to stick to Chapts. 1 – 25 for this week’s posts.

      • Jane F says:

        Well, see, I wrote my comments as I was reading the very first part of the book, and had not gotten to the part about the Mountain King myth yet. Haven’t gotten to the part, if there is one, about what the boy took with him, yet. I have to say the part about chaos coming makes much more sense after having read the MK myth in the book.

    • John Kwiatkowski says:

      It was hard to pick a place to stop the recap, and one of the moments I thought about was the reveal about the story’s narrator. She definitely does a wonderful job of keeping us guessing.

    • K.E. says:

      Judith and Julie,

      I have read this book many times and THIS time I read the beginning differently. I forced myself to mentally to add “said Olivier” and “said the Hermit” and when possible change every pronoun to the name of the person. It is written BRILLIANTLY and it is very hard to do this but if you try it you will be fascinated. I had to go very slowly and sometimes had to back up and correct myself. I think though it gives great insight into the the two men that we do not get otherwise.


      • Barbara H. Johnson says:

        After reading your post, I reread as you suggested. It was slow going but added so much. Thanks for the suggestion. I really enjoy how everyone shares ideas and insights and hate to think all of this will come to an end when we finish the books.

        • K.E. says:

          I agree! They will have to set up something for us to discuss the new book!! :)

          • Julie says:

            Yes, I am hoping that we will still be able to come here and discuss the new book when it’s out…

          • Sylvia H. says:

            Once we finish with the individual books, it would also be great to have a time to discuss the books together – the overarching story and its gradual revelation.

      • Julie says:

        I just did that, too – you’re right – it changes everything about how you feel about the whole exchange… spooky.

      • Judy S. says:

        I did as you suggested, and it’s great! Totally the opposite of the way I read it before. I was also interested by this passage, which is during their conversation,

        “Olivier Brule lowered his gaze, no longer able to look into the troubled, lunatic eyes across from him. He’d lived with this story for so long, and kept telling himself it wasn’t real. It was a myth, a story told and repeated and embellished over and over and over. Around fires just like theirs. ”

        As we have discussed, when I first read it I thought Olivier was comforting himself while being frightened by the Hermit’s story. It is so interesting to read it again with the true perspective: that Olivier was rationalizing his own story. It shows how much he has distanced himself from what he is doing – and possibly how much he is in the habit of telling himself stories…

  10. Julie says:

    How would you describe Olivier’s friendship with The Hermit?

    I think in some ways, it’s a lovely friendship. It must be something the Hermit looks forward to – the time spent in company. “I had three chairs in my house. One for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” – Louise quotes Thoreau here, and it appears that the Hermit did not want society, but longed for friendship, as he had only two chairs.

    Olivier and the Hermit each need something from the other – the Hermit longs for company as much as he wants to be away from the rest of society. Olivier wants the things the Hermit gives him, but he also gets to spend time with someone who, maybe, knows him better than any other person, including Gabri. Who knows he’s greedy, who doesn’t judge, as he assumes others would. Of course, he really only assumes this – we have no real evidence that the others in Three Pines would judge Olivier harshly if they knew his innermost secrets. At least, not his real friends. Which brings us to the question of how people would feel if they knew he owned most of Three Pines.

    First of all, he only owned the buildings, not Three Pines (a small distinction, but an important one, that I think that most of the inhabitants of Three Pines would understand.) I don’t really think anyone would care very much. His close friends wouldn’t mind, I don’t think. They might be surprised, but only because he’s kept it a secret – it’s clear from the fact that the B and B doesn’t really get much business, and that Gabri is not really interested in working any harder than the small amount of business requires, that the pair have money from somewhere. I don’t think it would make one bit of difference to his friends. Those further from his circle of friends, I think, perhaps already know that he’s kind of greedy. They think he gouges people when he buys their antiques or when he sells to them. So they probably wouldn’t be surprised to find that he’s wealthy – at least by Three Pines’ standards. I don’t think it would change anything for them, either. It’s Olivier’s fear of what people will think that is his undoing – lie after lie escapes his mouth as he tries to protect his “image” in front of his friends. He doesn’t want them to know that he’s been that greedy. Yet, most probably already had some idea, and wouldn’t care. He doesn’t understand this, and so, his “fatal flaw” is not trusting that those who love him truly do love him.

  11. Julie says:

    Do you think Olivier murdered The Hermit? Well, of course, those of us who have read ahead, know the answer… but no spoilers! I think that murder lurks in the heart of everyone. I truly do. I think that for each and every person there is SOMETHING that could drive them to murder. I hope it would be something very dire, indeed, before I pick up a weapon, but I’m under no illusions that “I couldn’t do that”. In a way, I’ve read enough mysteries to ensure that “I know what to do with the body” (and it isn’t trucking it down to my neighbor’s vestibule.)

    Olivier has told so many lies – how can we ever unravel them all? I really feel like Gabri – why would he move the body if he’d done it? Why wouldn’t he have, at the very least, moved it to the woods to hide it, and then taken all the treasure? Surely, that’s what he would have done if he had really committed this murder. But if not him, who? Nobody else knew the Hermit was there. Nobody else interacted with him. And Olivier lied and lied and lied… note to self: When Gamache is your good friend, trust in him and tell the truth, even if it makes you look bad.

  12. Julie says:

    Just one quick last word – favorite quote in this book – “Shut the duck up.” Louise never fails to crack me up!

  13. Linda Maday says:


    The first time I read this book, and even more so now, the changing seasons reflect the changing emotions evoked by Louise not only in writing style, but by character and story development. She set out numerous clues, but in this book things seem to reach the fruition that autumn so vividly portrays.

    We find that our wonderful friends at Three Pines are all human. Up until now our reading circle has usually cast the characters in set terms. Ruth is crusty but soft centered. Peter is a deeply flawed husband. Clara is sweet and unfailingly kind. Gabri and Olivier are all good food and warm gathering place, the humor of every novel.

    As you said, for the first time Louise has trusted us with the truth. Sometimes Clara can be unkind. Sometimes Peter can be thoughtful and give compliments, even admitting with pride the glory of Clara’s art. Olivier the warm bistro owner can lie and is greedy and dishonest in his dealings with others.

    As readers we have been trusted with the truth. Our relationship with these lovely people has grown and matured and ripened such that we can now walk the streets of this dear village understanding it really is not Shangri-La, but something better.

    Three Pines is a place where the people aren’t perfect, but they ARE caring, supportive, constant. In Three Pines we don’t have to pretend. It’s something better. It’s Home.

    • Ruth says:

      I must say that I agree with you, Linda. Finding out that the characters are more flawed than we had previously realized is somewhat jarring at first. Then it begins to seem natural and very realistic though sometimes disappointing. I’ve always thought Olivier “could do better” than lying, but then where would the story go.

      • Hope says:

        I think a fascinating concept that starts to emerge in this book is that the same person can be both better and worse than we think. Consider the exchange between Beauvoir and Gamache in Chapter 17:

        “He’s a saint.”
        “Beauvoir laughed, but seeing Gamache’s serious face he stopped. ‘What do you mean?'”
        “There’re are some people who believe that.”
        “Seemed like an asshole to me.”
        “The hardest part of the process. Telling them apart.”

        After that, Beauvoir sees on the scrap of paper Ruth has left for him:

        “But the deity who kills for pleasure
        will also heal.”

        I love how many of the characters cannot simply be pigeonholed as good or evil.

        • KB says:

          The characters are richly developed, which is one of the things that makes this series so special. The “asshole saint” was an excellent reminder that even “the best” people can have character traits that make them impossible to live with. All is not what it seems. I think that the villagers (and, therefore, readers) have loved and accepted Olivier because of his good character traits. They have not been on the receiving end of his greed – most of them don’t have anything worthy of his attention. Because they are removed from this aspect of his personality, it is difficult to accept the truth that his greed is (at times) overwhelming and that he hides things and lies. As a reader, I felt more of a betrayal from Olivier than I did from Ben in Still Life. And Ben was Peter’s friend from boyhood on. I

      • Sarah says:

        “Finding out that the characters are more flawed than we had previously realized is somewhat jarring at first. Then it begins to seem natural and very realistic though sometimes disappointing.” –Such an astute point, Ruth, which has caused me to reflect on this book’s importance within the series:

        Imagine, now, that Louise Penny had not set us as readers up with this book, to come to this realization. How would we have been willing to accept the character twists and turns, rises and falls of the next several books?? The Brutal Telling is our glimpse into humanity, Penny’s push for us to go past the “shallow end” of the pool, before we are forced to take that uncomfortable dive in to the deep later in the series.

        • Sylvia H. says:

          I think the great strength of this series is the characterizations. The depth of their humanity lift the series from merely great stories to literature. I have thoroughly enjoyed another series of police procedural murder mysteries, but they have no where near the complexity of Louise Penny’s characters. Hers are so real you can’t help feeling you know them and might meet them on the street any day.

    • Barbara H. Johnson says:

      Yes, Home is where your flaws are known, as well as your attributes, but you are still loved. Our Three Pines changes in this book as does what we know about its people. As Sarah said the “glimpse into humanity” was necessary for what lies ahead.
      “Chaos” not only remains on the horizon but overtakes Armand and those close to him.

  14. Linda Maday says:


    I don’t think Olivier had a true friendship with the Hermit. In fact, I believe that was his biggest lie.

    We see this very quickly at the beginning, “Theirs was a relationship that existed only after nightfall.”

    Olivier takes groceries to the hermit only after nightfall, and only to get the resulting payment. “. . . But they both knew the pantomime and knew he’d take the small offering.”

    But the tiny offering isn’t what he was after. He was after the thing that lay wrapped in the corner. He went back through the woods fueled by rage, “. . . angry at the hermit for not giving him the other thing. The thing he’d earned by now.”

  15. Karen I Ford says:

    I see Armand as the father-figure dealing with the skinned-knees of those who are hurt around him. The ones that are hurting are the ones who need him the most — Jean-Guy wants to be his son and that makes me wonder what flaw we are yet to see in his own relationship with his father.
    Olivier is a mess and Gabri is trying to hold on for dear life!!! In some ways, the picture of Olivier is a cliche of antique dealers — yet he can be such a sweetie that it is hard not to love him. It does not surprise me that he has a “past”, we all do. But Louise has a way of telling her stories, like one is slowly peeling the layers off an large onion! You know that you will be crying, but you can’t stop reading to find out what is next.
    Once again there is Peter and his lack of support for Clara. Will he ever get it?? Does he not see that he is killing Clara as he nit-picks her accomplishments?
    As for Fortin, I too would have acted as Clara did — the comments were said and Clara was in shock. I have been in that same position and acted as she did. You are shocked that anyone would have made a comment like that, that it was a person to whom you had great respect, and you feel terrible that you did not call this person for such a vitriolic comment.
    Dominique is able to deal with troubled horses but seems oblivious to her husband, who is just as broken as the horses.
    It is obvious that Olivier is the murderer but it does not seem to make any sense. Olivier is a quagmire of mixed messages to everyone.
    The Hermit is so very interesting and you want to know more about why he is in the woods and how he found this strange place

    • John Kwiatkowski says:

      I’ve always seen Gamache as a father-figure too, and I thought it was interested how Louise played with that as we get a glimpse of Olivier’s relationship with his own father.

      Gabri is the one I feel for the most in the book. His world is just as destroyed, perhaps even more, by what Olivier has done.

      • Karen I Ford says:

        I agree with you that Gabri is the most wounded in this book. You want to gather him in your arms and tell him it will be okay, but you know in your heart of hearts that there is no easy way out of this one!
        Louise always has little “surprises” in her stories. I think that is why they are easy to re-read, even when you know the outcome. The little gems that almost jump off the page, the ones that make you laugh out loud or grab for the tissues!
        In this book we really begin to see more of the flaws and it is a darker story line.
        It is like the Fall — days getting shorter and colder. The woods are dark and deep and if you have ever been in the deep woods of the northern parts of this continent, it really does describe the feeling you get while in the woods. The woods are beautiful with the colors changing but there is danger lurking there in covered tree roots and sudden snow falls that can trip up the uninitiated in the ways of the forest. Louise really captures that aspect of Three Pines and the surrounding forest.

      • Linda Maday says:

        For me, the most beautiful part of the book is the constancy of Gabri the kind-hearted. His whole world falls apart — and yet — somehow it doesn’t. He holds up the walls, and trusts, and believes, and refuses to give in or up.

        Bless Gabri. It’s him that makes Three Pines safe from the worst of the world.

      • K.E. says:


        THANK YOU for discussing the book with us!!! I have missed that in all the previous discussions. I have read all the books many times but like every says “you always find something new” each time. I adore Gabri and being in the B&B is my “happy place” because of him.

        In the beginning of the book when Olivier gets the phone call Gabri thinks “Dear God…. We’re going down.”

        And yet Gabri goes “down” with grace, strength of spirit and real love for Olivier. Of course I did not want this to happen to them, but when Chaos comes Gabri embraces it and finds a way through it and eventually past it.

        • Julie says:

          K. that is beautifully put. I agree wholeheartedly – Gabri shines in this book, as he reacts and acts just as we all would hope our loved ones would, were anyone to get a gander into the darkest parts of our hearts… I hope I’m not quite as dark as Olivier, but I know that none of us is without our secrets we’d rather people didn’t know about. How Gabri handles each new revelation is wonderful. He shows here an inner grace that is not evident at first glance.

          • K.E. says:

            I loved Gabri from the beginning but starting with this book and forward I really began to admire him more and more.

          • Sylvia H. says:

            Gabri is very special!! One thing that makes him stand out is that he is completely comfortable with who he is. He has come to accept himself, and out of that he is able to accept others with their quirks and flaws of character. He is able to really love unselfishly, which is a rare thing for us humans.

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