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?”
He watched Beauvoir sit up, “How was it?”
“No one died.”
“That’s a bit of an achievement in Three Pines.”
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?