LOUISE PENNY’S

Series Re-Read: The Brutal Telling

INTRODUCTION BY JOHN KWIATKOWSKI

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 to 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

Ch. 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?”

Ch. 26-end: Clara talks to Myrna about her incident with Fortin, and Myrna says she would have done nothing as well. Clara decides to talk with Gabri. Olivier says he didn’t kill the Hermit, but confesses that he found the Hermit dead in the cabin and moved the body to the Hadley house for Marc Gilbert to find. Gamache makes a trip to the cabin to look around before it’s cleaned out, and ponders who might have had motive to kill The Hermit. Vincent or Marc Gilbert, Roar or Havoc Parra. A casual look around the cabin reveals that several items all have one name in common, Charlotte.

Olivier attempts to talk to Gabri, but Gabri continues working on his preserves. Clara asks Peter what to do about Fortin, and Peter is slow to offer any advice. The next morning he tells Clara to speak to Fortin. Clara confronts Fortin, and just as Peter suspected he would, Fortin tells Clara he needs to reconsider her show.

Gamache gets help trying to decipher the codes on the bottom of The Hermit’s carvings and learns that several have been sold and are worth enough money to be a possible motive for murder. Once again, Olivier lied about what he did with the carvings The Hermit gave him. The word Woo and the prevalence of the name Charlotte lead Gamache to think of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Emily Carr spent time on the Queen Charlotte Islands painting and documenting totem polls, with carvings very similar to the carvings done by The Hermit. While speaking of Emily Carr, Clara mentions the concept of “the brutal telling.” Carr was estranged from her father, and later in life she said it was because her father had said something horrible and unforgivable to her. The brutal telling.

Garbi makes a trip up to the Hadley house to talk to the Gilberts. The visit doesn’t go well. Tensions are high as the group argues. Gabri explains how people come to Three Pines and find their niche, rather than moving in on someone else’s. He tries to apologize for Olivier’s actions. In an empty bistro, Gamache questions Olivier again about The Hermit and the carvings. Olivier admits to selling them online.

Gamache takes a trip to Queen Charlotte Island to see if that’s where The Hermit had come from. No one on the island knows him. Gamache strikes out, but a famous artist, Will Sommes, tells Gamache that the person who made the carvings was terrified. As he learns more about the island’s history, Gamache is certain that The Hermit spent time on the island, but no one can verify it for sure. It’s on the flight home that Gamache realizes how the carvings fit together.

Back in the Bistro, Gabri learns that Olivier has never told his father he is gay. When questioned about the order of the carvings, Olivier claims he doesn’t know the story they’re trying to tell. In a rare moment of frustration, Gamache pounds on the table and demands the truth. With more pushing, Olivier tells them that the Hermit’s name was Jakob, but Gamache doesn’t know much more about him. The Hermit came from Czechoslovakia just as the Berlin Wall fell, stored his treasures in Montreal, and moved them to the cabin once it was built. Olivier says that The Hermit was telling him the story of the carvings, but never finished the story, and Olivier has never seen the final carving.

As the officers meets at the B & B, they ponder the story the carvings are trying to tell, and The Hermit’s possible connections to the Czech community in Three Pines. Though they’ve asked many Czech families about the treasures found in the cabin, they’ve had no leads. Another trip to the Parras doesn’t turn up anything new. A search team tears apart the Bistro, and hidden in the fireplace is a sack and a Menorah, the murder weapon.

Olivier swears he didn’t kill Jakob. He spent time with Jakob, and had to go back when he realized he left the artifact he was given. When he returned, Jakob was dead. Olivier took the Menorah because it had his fingerprints all over it, and admitted that part of the reason he moved the body to the Hadley house was to stop the clearing of trails that would eventually lead to the cabin. Olivier took the Menorah and the sack with the last carving, and hid them in the fireplace of the bistro. Another revelation lets us know that Olivier was the one telling the story to Jakob. Olivier knew Jakob was afraid of something, so he made up a story to keep Jakob scared and isolated. Despite claiming that he didn’t kill Jakob, Olivier is arrested for the murder.

The key to the codes on the bottom of the carvings is the number 16. With the code, Gamache was able to learn that the words under them were Emily and Charlotte. Cracking the codes still doesn’t offer any insight into their meaning.

Vincent Gilbert decides to stay in Three Pines and live in Jakob’s cabin, Clara is contacted by Therese Brunel, and has hope that her art show might still happen. Gamache is confronted by Gabri again, trying to explain that Olivier couldn’t have murdered Jakob. As the book closes, we see Ruth’s duck Rosa take to the sky and fly away. Gabri is with Ruth to comfort her as they watch the duck go.

FAVORITE QUOTE

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

“No one died.”

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

“Every surface of the kitchen was packed with colorful jars filled with jams and jellies, pickles and chutneys. And it looked as though Gabri would keep this up forever. Silently preserving everything he could.”

CONCLUSION

Bury Your Dead was the first book release I experienced at Murder By The Book, and every customer wanted to know if Louise was going to fix what she did in The Brutal Telling. I think that’s a beautiful testament to the world that she created. The citizens of Three Pines have become like family to us all, and with The Brutal Telling we learn some things about our family that we really didn’t want to know. There’s no way to fix it. A Rule Against Murder changed the series because we were taken out of Three Pines, but The Brutal Telling changes the series because it changes Three Pines.

We’re left in a place of transition. Olivier is in jail, Gabri is still convinced he didn’t do it, and even Ruth’s pet duck has left.

It seems dire, but I think Louise left us with some hope. I love the tender moment between Ruth and Gabri as Rosa takes flight. We see hope is Gamache’s patience with Gabri, and we’re left with some hope that Clara might still have her art show.

When I think of this book, the image in my head is always of Gabri and his preserves. Louise so perfectly captures that need to complete some task in order to have some control in the chaos. Part of the beauty of the series is the way Louise just nails those very human moments.

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.
  1. The Brutal Telling starts on the last weekend of the summer, how do you think the changing season mirrors the changes in Three Pines?
  1. What would you have done in Clara’s position? Would you have confronted Fortin or stayed silent?
  1. How would you describe Olivier’s friendship with The Hermit?
  1. 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?
  1. Do you think Olivier murdered The Hermit?
  1. Do you think Peter was purposely trying to sabotage Clara with his advice?
  1. We see Gamache get visibly angry with Olivier, and he’s usually so collected. How did it make you feel? Why do you think Gamache lost his cool?
  1. How have the events of The Brutal Telling changed your opinion of Olivier? Do you think he did it? 
  1. What do you think was Olivier’s brutal telling? Do you think any of his lies were unforgivable in the eyes of Three Pines? Was Peter’s advice to Clara about the art show a brutal telling?
  1. Gamache says that he doesn’t believe Olivier is a murderer, but that he does believe Olivier has killed. Do you agree with his distinction?

The Brutal Telling, Part 2

Clara talks to Myrna about her incident with Fortin, and Myrna says she would have done nothing as well. Clara decides to talk with Gabri. Olivier says he didn't kill the Hermit, but confesses that he found the Hermit dead in the cabin and moved the body to the Hadley house for Marc Gilbert to find. Gamache makes a trip to the cabin to look around before it's cleaned out, and ponders who might have had motive to kill The Hermit. Vincent or Marc Gilbert, Roar or Havoc Parra. A casual look around the cabin reveals that several items all have one name in common, Charlotte.


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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. . . .


READ FULL POST

AuthorJOHN KWIATKOWSKI is the Publicity Manager at at Murder By the Book in Houston, TX.
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