The Brutal Telling, Part 1

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?

Discussion on “The Brutal Telling, Part 1”

I’m almost finished rereading The Brutal Telling, and I can’t stop thinking about trees. In one earlier book, I can’t remember which one, now, there’s a man who makes furniture from fallen trees. He won’t cut down live trees because he can hear them crying. He is sensitive to their life. In TBT, the description of virgin forests of red cedar is close to a description of the Garden of Eden, the perfect original place. In fact the Haida artist Soames refers to it as the Haida garden of eden. This is the first book in which Penny is fairly explicit about the evil we European types have done to our continent out of acquisitiveness, greed, a desire for freedom, whatever. I need to make notes as I read. Talk about greedy. I can’t stop reading long enough to make notes, and then I don’t remember my brilliant flashes of insight.

The man who hears trees crying is Gilles, who was in The Cruelest Month. He is also in How the Light Gets In, which I am just finishing for the first time.

Stopping to make notes is a problem I have too. There is so much to ponder and absorb in Penny’s books that notes are a very good idea. Like you, I really noticed the focus on the trees and how the actions of people have negatively affected them. It’s yet another part of the good/evil dichotomy Penny writes about.

I loved this book as well as the series. This is my second read thru the series and am looking forward to the newest book. Do we ever find out who killed the hermit or do we just guess? If the answer is in a later book, I somehow missed it.

# 4 What do you think of Olivier’s friendship with the Hermit?
At first I thought it was a friendship. I don’t think keeping the relationship a secret means Olivier did not feel friendship. Did Olivier keep the Hermit from others because of his greed or some other reason? Greed I think. Olivier can’t be excused his cruelty toward the Hermit. No friend would do that.
I do think there was some small flicker of something he felt for the Hermit but I don’t know the word for it. Greed won out though.

Hello all
When can we start Part II?
(and on a not-really-related note, I think it is a real shame that the Super Bowl is no longer going to be expressed in Roman numerals. The NFL will be having Super Bowl 50, not Super Bowl L. So enjoy any occasion where you can write Part II!! :«)

I like the use of Roman numerals too but they are not used so much now. Some of the newer TV shows don’t use numerals for the year the shows are made but sometimes crossword puzzles use them as clues. Reminds me of my friends and I writing notes in Latin and later in French. I was much better at Latin than French. Now I can do neither. Use it or loose it I guess. I doubt anyone who spoke French correctly would have understood us when we spoke French. Our teachers spoke with as deep a Southern Drawl as we.

6. Do you think Olivier murdered The Hermit?

I don’t know…I don’t want him to be the murderer. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe it was Roar or Havoc as they have names that could match murderers. And they’re Czech, and I think the hermit came from there too and maybe they somehow know him and he cheated them and some of those treasures are theirs.

I’m with you (and Gabri), Linda – why would he? Surely, if he’d really murdered him, he’d have taken the body deep into the woods and made sure that even if the cabin were found, the body would not be. He’d have been able to clean up the blood enough to ensure that only a forensic team could find it, and why would they look there? By the time he’d taken out all the treasure – it would just be an abandoned cabin in the woods. If he were really a murderer, he’d have had two days to do all this before Dominique stumbled upon the cabin. She’d not have thought much about it.

Another thing I wonder about is – where did Gabri think he was all those times he was coming home at 2 or 2:30 a.m. when the Bistro closed at midnight and was a few steps away from home? Surely, at some point, he’d have asked?

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?

Shocked. Confused. Conflicted feelings. If he came right out and they were aware that would be one thing. I think over time they would adjust. The ones that know the true Oliver will still love him and going back to friendship, if you are true friends, you love the other despite their faults.

I think the people of Three Pines knew Olivier better than he (or they) imagined. Not too much of what he did came as a real surprise. They had already learned to live with a greedy young man that seemed to know how to weave a tale or two. I think the only real surprise would be that he was their landlord. Essentially, that had been so for quite some time, so once the initial surprise passed, it would be business as usual.

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

Hmm, I don’t think it was a friendship. Nor a relationship. Who hides their friendship? It was more one sided. What could he get from the Hermit? How could he USE the Hermit for his benefit? A friendship is two sided, a give and take. True friendship has to do with serving and caring.

I agree, Lizzy. Though Olivier may have had some small feelings for the hermit, mostly he wanted the treasure. He cared enough to be able to think of kind things to do, but he wanted a reward for doing them. Also, he frightened the hermit to the point that the hermit was essentially a prisoner in the woods.

Well, after reading so many opinions on this, I have to change my mind and agree that this was not any kind of friendship. Olivier may even have believed it was, but it was not. When I really think of it, had he any real feelings for the hermit, could he have put his body in a wheelbarrow and taken it down to dump in someone’s vestibule? I really don’t think so. The body became just another “thing” in the cabin, and he only thought what he could gain from it – maybe chase the newcomer away…

Olivier’s relationship with the Hermit is something of a puzzle to me as well. However, when I find myself getting down on Olivier for his treatment of the hermit, I start to think maybe their relationship was a lot more symbiotic than I first thought. Here’s a couple of things that I’ve thought about the hermit. 1. He’s in hiding. True, most hermits don’t want to be around people, but this person is different. He’s got treasure in his cabin which most hermits wouldn’t. Who, or what, then, is he in hiding from?
2.He’s willing to listen to Olivier’s stories. All he would have done to discourage that would have been to say, ” I don’t want to hear that.” So, besides Olivier bringing food supplies, he also gives the hermit some human companionship, no matter how self-serving it might be to Olivier.
3. The hermit also seems to enjoy toying with Olivier. He does give him some curio or valuable when Olivier visits, but not the one he knows Olivier really wants, which is in the sack in the corner. So they are kind of like playing a cat-and-mouse game with each other.

Yes, I see that, for sure. Then again, neither the cat nor the mouse would call themselves friends…

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

Probably be like Clara. I’m a wimp. I have conflict and avoid it like the plague. I think eventually I would have said something, after getting everyone’s opinion, but I would have stuttered it and then looked like a fool.

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?

The lovely warm season is ending. Soon the brutal winter will be breathing down their necks like the chaos coming. As leaves are stripped from the trees and death comes to the gardens and plants, so are things stripped from some of the characters leaving the bare branches of their souls naked.

Lizzy – I like that thought. I had never thought about “Chaos is coming” as “Winter is coming” but it is so true in Canada and in Three Pines.

Great connection of “chaos” and the bitter Winter. I had not thought of that. I love how we all read the same words and pick up on different things. Everyone’s input makes the reading so much richer.

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

They both can see beyond the outward. Gamache sees the diamond in the rough, the glitter shining through the cracks of flaw. He sees potential. As the horses are covered in sores and seem to be in bad shape, they still have worth. Gamache knows that all humans have value.

In a way, I think he can also identify with them having being at times like them.

My favorite quote is by Gamache, about Olivier: “He had a huge and terrible conscience riding herd on a huge and terrible greed”. It gives me insight into Olivier’s struggle with good and bad, right and wrong, and reveals his uncontrollable neediness.
LP is a master at giving hints and I wonder if anyone else knows what the significance of the names of some of the other suspects might be? Roar and Havoc? What am I missing?
Thanks, everyone for the insightful and enlightening comments.

I don’t know about Roar, though I think the name certainly sounds ominous… Havoc comes out, I think, in the Shakespeare quote :”Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.” It’s from Julius Caesar, but the phrase “Cry havoc!” seems to be one used often in the middle ages to initiate a military battle – in that soldiers would wait for the leader to cry “Havoc!” before attacking. In several instances, Louise makes note about “letting slip a dog” etc. – they are subtle, and not all together, so she is not saying anything overtly. But it does bring up that connotation. What it means, of course, is something else again… Maybe she is just playing with words.

My most interesting feeling is that I am quite aware that Olivier has been amazingly secretive and an awfully big liar, and that he is motivated by lust for beautiful possessions and also by greed for money. But you know what, I really never lose sympathy for him nor feel distaste for him the way that I feel toward Peter. I guess that his faults seem quite understandable to me, and because he lies about things, but seems in general pretty kind to people.
And (AHA! how do I know what I think until my fingers get on the keyboard!!!) his visits to the hermit in the woods are like Olivier visiting HIMSELF, unchecked in his acquisitiveness, unmediated by love living secretly far away in the deep darkness, far from anyone else. The murdered man is Olivier’s ‘shadow’ the less admirable aspects of himself. You can make friends all you like with your shadow, but when you start dropping it in other people’s front hallways, then the fun is going to begin.

# 5 The townspeople who loved Olivier before they knew he was wealthy will still love him. Friends will not feel threatened that he owns the property they rent- they knew someone did. Friends would be hurt by the wrong things Olivier did but he would still be loved by them.
The people who where emotionally removed from him and knew him primarily from the Bistro might use the new information as a reason to feel and say what is always heard from some “I always knew there was something….” Envy rears its head so often. I just have to say that those who held some prejudice toward Olivier and Gabri, if anyone did, will now feel freer to voice it.

# 6 Do you think Olivier murdered the Hermit?
I never have felt that Olivier murdered The Hermit. Being greedy, paying people less than what their items were worth, lying, stealing, disrespecting a corpse by moving it are certainly not desirable traits. In fact they are terrible. However, none of them equal murder. It is not a matter of this so therefore that. The old saying of “where there is smoke there is fire” may be true for forest fires but not always true for people.

I read the books so quickly last time. It’s great to have a reason to go back to 3 Pines, getting reacquainted with my friends at the Bistro although I miss the secondary characters and wonder what they are up to

Does anyone know – is the story (in italics, in my US paperback edition) about the boy, people, and mountain either an existing legend or a take on a legend? Or is it simply another one of Louise’s terrific creations?

I’ve been curious throughout these books about licorice pipes. I’m guessing they’re candy, in the shape of a pipe, yes? So, what’s the big draw for them, as they seem to be standard fare at the Bistro?

Marie, I think it’s definitely Louise’s invention – just as it’s supposed to be an invention in the book. I’ve looked for it, and for wood carvings, too, as I would love to see them – but haven’t found them anywhere on the internet.

As for the licorice pipes, they are a candy from my youth – maybe more a Canadian treat? I don’t know – licorice seems to be big at the Bistro – there are licorice allsorts all around, too, but Gamache does love his pipes. Here’s what they look like:

Thanks so much for giving us the link for licorice pipes – have wondered about them since my first reading of the book.

Thanks, Julie, for the licorice pipe image link. I’m thinking it may be more a Canadian than US candy.

I, too, would like to see those wood carvings. Fortunately, there’s plenty of information about Emily Carr and her paintings online to satisfy that curiosity, in addition to having seen her work at the art museum in Victoria, BC. There will be mention of a sculpture of Carr, outside a gallery in Montreal. Here’s a link to just one of many images of that sculpture:

The seasons always play a big role in these books, or perhaps I’m super-sensitive to all four since I live in an area that does have four fairly distinct seasons. I think I mentioned before that I dislike summer heat and humidity, so in A Rule Against Murder I was itching and swatting and sweating right along with Jean-Guy. I love most the books set in winter and want to sit on the bench in the snow with Ruth and Armand. Many people feel autumn is a season of dying leading to the cold of winter (death itself?) and become depressed. I feel reinvigorated by its cooler weather and see the plants as going away for a good winter’s rest (sleep). Yes, I anthropomorphize quite a bit. 🙂

I agree with you completely! I am very sensitive to the changing seasons. Fortunately I live where we have 4 very distinct seasons and summer is my least favorite for being outside! I am a gardener and I love what it does for our plants, but I physically struggle greatly! Autumn is my favorite season because I can be outside all day and prepare my plants for the “sleep” they are due! I too would love to sit with Ruth & Gamache on their bench! I do have an Autumn, Winter, and Spring bench in a park just minutes from my home and I love the people watching and I love the inevitable changes of the season. Having a Ruth or Gamache there would make it perfect.
I believe Louise Penny uses the changing seasons ensure we feel the march of time. It is what allows for growth, change, and hopefully wisdom.

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