LOUISE PENNY’S

The Cruelest Month, Part 1

The Cruelest Month, Part 1

Introduction

As a bookseller, I receive literally hundreds of advanced reading copies every year. I use the scientific method of reading “what calls to me”—so a vast majority of the “pile” goes unread. Several years ago of course I got an advanced reading copy of Still Life, which languished in the pile. The cover didn’t call to me. But then I got a letter from Julia Spencer-Fleming, who uses her powers for good: she sometimes sends around a letter to booksellers highlighting a book she feels passionately about, and Still Life was the topic of one of the first of these letters.

So, loving Julia’s books and trusting her taste, I dug out my (now somewhat battered) copy of Still Life and started reading. Dear Louise Penny fans, you know what happened next—I fell under the spell of Three Pines and Louise’s writing and was so excited to find a new writer I now felt passionately about, that I emailed Louise and asked to interview her via email. She of course agreed, and a correspondence and friendship began.

The Cruelest Month is one of my favorites in the series for many reasons. It felt like Louise’s assurance as writer was growing, and had coalesced in this wonderful novel. I saw Louise recently and I told her I was reviewing this one and she said, “Oh, I loved the concept of the near-enemy in that book.”

So do I. I also told her as I was re-reading it I had forgotten whodunit. She got a twinkle in her eye as she remembered who it was. As I got closer to the end I remembered too, but really great mystery writers have a dual skill: they tell a compelling and interesting story, and then they also tell a mystery with a puzzle and clues for you to solve. It makes the best of them, to me, magical.

Recap (Chapters 1-23)

The book opens with an Easter Egg hunt, and the rebirth symbolized by Easter becomes a recurring theme throughout the novel, for good or ill. As the children hunt for wooden eggs on the village green, Clara Morrow and Ruth Zardow, the acerbic, cranky, nationally known poet who lives in Three Pines have a revealing exchange.

As Clara points out to Ruth the beauty of spring Ruth says “Nature’s in turmoil. Anything can happen.” At Clara’s protest she also points out “That’s the miracle of rebirth…But some things are better off buried…It’s not over yet. The bears will be back.” Ruth’s sadly practical voice of doom sets up what happens next though Clara’s optimism is also ultimately rewarded.

Meanwhile Gabri, at the local B & B, has decided to spice things up by booking in a psychic, Madame Blavatsky. Like many things to do with Gabri, the Madame Blavatsky part is a bit of an exaggeration; “Madame” turns out to be the more ordinary seeming Jeanne Chauvet, a mousy, non-threatening type. She holds a séance at the B & B on her arrival attended by Madeleine Favreau; a grocer, Msr. Beliveau; Odile, an herbalist; Gilles, a woodworker; and Gabri.

The séance is intruded on by a cursing Ruth Zardo, who has taken under her wing two baby ducks, to everyone’s surprise. Meanwhile, Peter Morrow has gone into Clara’s studio. Both Morrows are artists; Peter is the successful one but what he sees on Clara’s easel disturbs him because it is so good and he is consumed with jealousy.

When the first séance is concluded they agree that there should be another, in the Old Hadley House, a place of wickedness in the past two novels and almost a dead zone as far as the residents of Three Pines are concerned. For the next séance, the original group is joined by Hazel, housemate of Madeleine Favreau, and Hazel’s daughter Sophie. From the start this séance feels more serious; the house is dark; and everyone’s nerves are on edge. As Madame Chauvet calls the dead the lights go out, there’s a shriek and a thud, and a dead body falls to the floor, scared to death by the séance and the house.

Moving back to Montreal we encounter Chief Inspector Gamache and his family, including his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, who must shortly leave for Paris. Gamache’s wife Reine Marie reads of the death in Three Pines and of course it becomes Gamache’s assignment.

In Three Pines, Gamache and his second in command Beauvoir head to the Hadley house to check out the crime scene. The dead woman turns out to be Madeleine Favreau, scared to death, though her system shows high quantities of the diet drug ephedra. Gamache knows she has been murdered. As Gamache reconnects with the villagers who are now his friends, they recount the terrifying death scene. Gamache and Beauvoir then head off to interview Hazel Smyth, Madeleine’s housemate. Meanwhile it becomes clear that Lemieux is working for Inspector Brebeuf back in Montreal as Brebeuf looks for revenge on the outcome of the notorious Arnot case, which divided and shook up the entire Surete.

Hazel describes her life with Madeleine and how much they enjoyed each other. Then she asks if Madeleine was murdered by “the witch” Jeanne Chauvet? Gamache notes that she is full of rage. Meanwhile Beuvoir talks to Hazel’s daughter, Sophie, who appears jealous of the relationship between Hazel and Madeleine. He discovers ephedra in the bathroom.

Gamache and Beauvoir head back to Three Pines where the search for Jeanne Chauvet is ongoing. When Gamache phones home, Reine Marie mentions how Brebeuf has made her feel uneasy of late, and Gamache also speaks with his son Daniel before he heads off to Paris.

Negative stories about Gamache begin to appear in the Montreal press, the first questioning his lifestyle and the fact that he lives so well. His friends in Three Pines try and shield him from the stories. The ephedra rumor begins to make it through the citizens of Three Pines, and it’s clear the information was leaked by a mistake on Lemieux’s part.

Gamache and Beauvoir finally interview Mme. Chauvet. She freely admits to being a Wiccan and said she was drawn to Three Pines by a brochure. She says séances are a method of healing—people connect with the dead in order to move forward.

Beauvoir interviews Odile at her herbal and natural grocery store and he notices the beautiful chairs that Gilles makes. Odile tells Beauvoir that Gilles is in the woods talking to the trees, looking for those that want to be made into furniture. Beauvoir thinks everyone in Three Pines is nuts.

Lemieux interviews the grocer, Msr. Beliveau who reveals that he lost his beloved wife several years back and had been in love with Madeleine. He also recalls Gamache’s four rules of detection: “I don’t know. I’m sorry. I need help. I was wrong.” Lemieux sees no value in these simple rules.

Meanwhile Beauvoir finds Gilles in the woods, where is talking to trees. He tells Beauvoir Madeleine was “full of love” and that she and Hazel seemed very happy living together. He insists that everyone had loved Madeleine, and Beauvoir points out that someone didn’t.

Jeanne Chauvet discovers from talking with Gamache that the Ruth Zardo of Three Pines is the well known poet. Jeanne loves Ruth’s poem about a woman accused of being a witch and says she’s well regarded in Wiccan circles. She also tells Gamache to be careful—”something’s coming.”

Favorite Quote

“Gamache loved to see inside the homes of people involved in a case. To look at the choices they made for their most intimate space. The colors, the decorations. The aromas. Were there books? What sort? How did it feel?”

Discussion Questions

1. Do you believe a house can be haunted or malelovent? Penny certainly makes the case for the Hadley House being actually evil, and it’s mentioned as the place where all the sorrow from Three Pines goes.

2. Gamache’s approach to detection is very intuitive. I love how he “feels” a place or situation and gets to the heart of it. What’s your favorite thing about his technique?

3. Gamache is also intuitive about his friend Brebeuf who in fact is working against him, but Gamache isn’t sure. If you were Gamache, do you think you would know your friend had turned against you?

4. I love Gabri, he’s one of my favorite characters. In chapter nineteen he’s reflecting on where he’s been clever or cutting instead of kind, and that would be a reason for someone to kill him. Then he thinks what he loves about Three Pines is it’s a place “where kindness trumped cleverness.” Who is your favorite character and why?

5. One of the most interesting things about Louise Penny’s books to me are Gamache’s rules: “I don’t know. I’m sorry. I need help. I was wrong.” To me they seem like a useful life guide. Have any of you thought of these rules at challenging times in your own lives?

6. What do you like or dislike about Ruth Zardo? I like that she’s such a cranky old lady but she writes such lovely poems, and in this one I love her attachment to the ducks. They become a symbol of the rebirth theme that runs through the book. Did you think the ducks were a corny touch, or did you like them?

Discussion on “The Cruelest Month, Part 1”

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Just in case anyone comes back to these notes: I am late to the party, just finished rereading The Cruelest Month on June 2. The comments are so thoughtful, and I think we all are learning from Gamache. He is such a brilliantly conceived character. I was delighted by the references to and reminders of Sayers and Marsh, two of my all time favorite authors whom I love to reread.
Thank you all for the time spent posting these wonderful comments, poems, reminders, insights.

The rules: These rules keep one open to learning and they keep one humble. The first time I, as a college English teacher, told a class I didn’t know the answer to a question, the class was very upset, but I told them I’d try to find out, and I did. That admission changed the whole relationship between the class and me. These are also the “rules” of the Anonymous programs, that keep those in recovery from getting arrogant and back onto the substance that took them there. Another rule or tool is secrets. In chapter 29 Beauvoir talks about keeping secrets making one sick. I think Penney uses these rules to show the power of Gamache’s honesty and openness.

#3. I think Gamache feels that Brebeuf is not on his side, but he doesn’t know it yet. I had a situation like this, where I “was the last to know” something I should have known, but I didn’t want to look at it, so I shrugged it off. Still, I felt there was something wrong. We don’t want to look at ways people we love might be sabotaging us or just working against our best interests. I think that’s what Gamache is doing, too.

I find Penny’s depiction of the out-of-control envy and competitiveness that ‘possesses’ Peter very powerful. As a person who lives with a very elderly parent who always had a sharp tongue and an icy tone as killing as any flame thrower — and who now no longer has as much emotional self control as once she did — I can sure identify with what Clara’s going through. It can be as simple as ‘you’re not going out wearing THAT are you?’ to something far more underhanded. I’m no longer as innocent as Clara, or as inclined to take such slashes at face value, but I recognize them. And of course, being a family member, I have learned enough to know that this kind of underhanded thrust of the knife is available in my own arsenal, and I must be both self aware and in control of my tongue to prevent myself from doing that. Notice that Ruth’s apparent harshness is NOTHING to the cruelty of Peter’s sneaky little attacks.

Projection. For the most part, I’d say that’s what the Hadley House contains. The projections of so much that is dark and negative, the ‘shadow’ of the perfect pastoral village, Three Pines, outcast at the edge of town. And, as time goes on in the series, I think you will find this reading will turn out to be correct. It’s a reminder to us all not to heap too much opprobrium on the stranger at the edge. That dark shape out there in the night, it’s ourselves and our worst fears and emotions we are seeing.
That said, I did once have a very odd experience with a house myself. The first house I ever owned, I bought in 1995. I had the rector of my parish (Episcopalian / Anglican) come and bless the house. For some reason, I just wanted him to do it on the day of closing, and not at a housewarming party later. I closed on a cold December day in a downpour of rain. My boys, my closest friend and my priest gathered in the house at nightfall with bread and salt and he began the house blessing, going into each room. When he arrived at the upstairs bedroom, he asked if we ‘felt anything’ in the room and seemed disturbed. He sent us downstairs and did whatever he felt he had to do to ‘cleanse’ the room with prayer.
I later learned that the owner of the house had been a young man who had died. His parents, who lived far away, were selling the house. It may be that he died of AIDS, based on a lot of mail that came unbidden to my door in the first year I lived there. It wasn’t an ‘unhappy’ or ‘happy’ house for me, nor did I ever feel there was anything ‘wrong’ with the house. I was in fact glad to have some of the nice household things, like a porch glider on the screened porch, and some outdoor dining furniture, that had been left behind. I still have a pretty little tray with a parrot painted on it, and a lovely-shaped green glass bowl that were left behind in the house. Yet I certainly had a feeling that sad or bad things had happened there before my time.
I do understand how a house where something dreadful has happened can ‘haunt’ a person. In Arlington, VA, I used often to drive past a very nice house with a double garage. The couple who briefly owned it, a real estate agent and his girlfriend, were murdered quite brutally in the garage of that home by a person who had bought a double indemnity insurance policy on the guy. I could not drive by and look at that lovely home without a shudder.

Re-reading for the 4th time or maybe 5th and actually the second time around in the past week. Was just struck by something that is not in the discussion questions but I believe is one of the most profoundly upsetting moments in this book.

” ‘But are the colors quite right?’ Peter leaned into the easel then stepped back, not looking at her. ‘Well, I’m sure they are. You know what you’re doing.’ ”

Was anyone particularly struck by this?

I was willing to accept Peter as a flawed but loving husband until that moment, but I think I stopped breathing when he said that. It was so consciously effective, devastating. He might as well have shot her.

Cathryne – it made me think a lot about what Gamache feels about murder being an emotion spread out over time and how in the last book we talked about Crie being “murdered” outside the Christmas Midnight service by CC’s horrible yelling at her.

The idea of murdering the person’s soul, spirit, etc. EVERY TIME I read that passage it shocks me even though I have read all the other books numerous times also I feel like HERE is where we see something terrible.

KE, I agree that Clara only wants to be accepted as an equal by Peter–she’s certainly not thinking of surpassing him. I think there’s a place in the 2nd part of the book, where Gamache is discussing how difficult it would have been to be a friend of Madeleine, and Clara says, almost involuntarily, that she married a very great artist. Gamache is shocked that she thinks of herself as being totally eclipsed by Peter, and tells her that he’s seen her work, and thinks highly of it.
The thing is, I do think Peter loves and needs Clara. He probably does not even realize the psychic harm he’s doing by making her doubt her work. Of course, several things had happened to arouse his deep jealousy: He recognizes how wonderful this painting is, and then the art critic, Denis Fortin, makes it clear he’s come to view Clara’s work, not Peter’s. OW! That has to have been a terrible blow to his ego. Now, had it been Gamache in his place, there wouldn’t have been all that angst–he would have been happy for Clara that her work’s finally getting some well-deserved recognition. In Peter’s view, though, Clara’s work is now threatening to overshadow his.
I think he’s like a lot of men who are happy in their marriage as long as the wife is willing to play the role of servant and look adoringly to the husband, catering to his needs. Let the wife start to grow, though, whether it’s taking a few classes at a local college, or developing a skill that can be marketable, and the perfect little Eden falls apart. Clara’s growth in her artistic ability has thrown Peter for a loop, and he can’t admit his true feelings, because he doesn’t trust feelings. Remember how he denied his anger just before the seance? He claimed he wasn’t angry, but Jeanne said calmly that he was angry, and that everyone there could feel the energy from his anger. So, I am quite sure that he does not admit to himself the anger and hurt, that led to envy, and his trying to create some kind of accidental destroying of Clara’s work are the result of his inability to acknowledge his feelings.

I did not expect to him to say that. At first I thought –How wonderful that he appreciates her work. Then I thought he was being sarcastic. I tend to think it was his envy speaking. I just can not warm to that man.

Barbara – I know what you mean. Do you think Peter himself there and in this book is actually hoping the same thing you and I were/are? I kind of think that but then I am not sure.

What are your thoughts on that?

That paragraph is so perfectly written! I’m very familiar with this kind of attack, having first experienced it from my parents, and then from my first husband. It’s so subtle, yet so insidious, that the effect is devastating, even while Clara doesn’t realize what has happened. Sometime, somewhere, this chicken will come home to roost. It’s inevitable, and if Peter ends up dead some time long in the future, I wouldn’t bee a bit surprised. I know, (and don’t want to be putting out spoilers, so hope this is vague enough), that when we learn a bit more about Peter’s upbringing, and his relationship with his family, we will understand him a bit better. But as my husband says, just because you understand someone’s actions doesn’t mean you have to accept them.

Julie, I know what you mean about it being so well written and such a devastating effect on anyone. Here it makes Clara question all that she felt she knew about her art and her ability. And rather than wanting to surpass Peter’s fame she only wants him to understand her work first and foremost and perhaps join him in notoriety in the art world. Clara never wants to take from anyone, especially Peter. Yet this short paragraph powerfully speaks of Peter’s desire to “take” something from Clara – a desire he cannot contain and holds inside in one of those “cages” Beauvoir speaks of.

KE, Cathryne, Barbara and Julie, I agree with your comments about Peter. At first I was thinking, “Great, he’s going to be supportive of her work,” but then he had to go and put that zinger in which would cause her self-doubt. Wonder what he REALLY was hoping would happen–did he perhaps think Clara would go back over the painting, which at that point was pretty much finished, and that she would ruin it by trying to “improve” it. What I like about Penny’s plotting is that even though the suggestion of a dinner party(!) by Peter was made, I believe, to keep Clara’s focus off the painting and increase her stress and worry. Instead, she got inspiration at the party, and THAT is what helped her change her painting from one that was already very, very good(enough to rouse Peter’s envy, for sure!) to a masterpiece. I just love that!

My heart ached for Clara when I read this. I don’t understand why Peter is so jealous of his wife’s art and why he is so deviously mean to her.

How lovely to read the Wasteland extracts …. I studied them many years ago and had forgotten how rich and evocative the language is . And what joy to re read these novels as I find this time the plot is not of first importance … I’m not racing through to find out what happens so can really enjoy the characters and their little foibles . I love the bit in Still Life where Clara is bathing in vegetable soup thinking it is bath salts ! I am writing from Yorkshire England where very few have ever heard of a Louis Penny and I am on a mission to spread the word !

I started reading Book 3 and thought, “Gee, I this book is so vastly different from the first 2. Then, I realized I hadn’t read it…yet!” So this reading is a real treat for me.

I’d like to address 2 of the questions:
* I don’t believe a house is or can be haunted and/or malevolent. After all, it’s strictly wood, bricks, and mortar (to use the old-fashioned terms). To say a house is haunted and/or malevolent, I believe, it to put human characteristics onto inanimate objects (I know there’s a term for that; but right now, I’m having a senior moment!). But, if something horrific happened in a house, say a murder or suicide, then I believe people’s associations with that house can become part and parcel of that building. For that reason, many states now have laws requiring such disclosures when the house is up for sale. As for the Hadley house, because of its remote location and because of what we learned in Book 1 with that house, I have a sense that the town lumps all negative thoughts with that house.
* I, too, am drawn to/by Ruth. I can’t explain it; but there’s something about her blunt rawness to everyone, yet I’m not completely convinced that this rawness – much less her bluntness – is what she really means to portray. Rather, I think it’s become a comfortable coat she wears when in public. For that reason, I find Ruth and her ducklings quite touching, giving us an inside peep (no pun intended!) into the workings of Ruth. Definitely no corniness there.

Gamache still remains my favorite character, probably because he seems so human and even more so now that we’re learning more and more about his professional past. The struggles he’s going through, yet the dignified persona he still maintains even with Jean-Guy…only rarely letting his (Gamache’s) inner self come through. Thank goodness for the scenes and/or phone calls from Rene-Marie, truly a time when we can see inside Gamache’s heart.

I wish the newest comments showed up at the end, or consistently after the comments people are replying to. Very often, I see that there are new comments by the number listed, but can’t find them without a long search.

I am so enjoying this “club”, though – you all are making sure that I get so many nuances that I would have missed on my own.

Thank you to Robin for leading the way.

I know, but half the time those replies don’t show up with the right post, so I get confused. Oh well, it doesn’t hurt me to skim over all the posts each time.

Looking forward to the discussion of the second half. I hope the questions we are given lead to a discussion of the plot and characters.

I thought the questions on this first part were very thought provoking.

We got to discuss Gabri’s introspections. (Yes I have done some things that required a reminder and recitation of Gamaches rules. I hope I got all the appropriate reparations made. Sometimes we hurt others all unknowing and so never get to make amends.)

Ruth’s bench and ducks. Crusty like French bread with a soft interior where love resides. How fitting to find the eggs during the Easter season when we celebrate the rebirth of hope and life. My very favorite character. My only problem about Ruth is that sometimes I think I become her, only without the poetry. And, without the poetry it’s hard for others to see the squishy center.

Gamache’s rules, generous spirit, intuitive approach to life, people, and murder investigations. He awaits the feast and prepares for the wake.

The old Hadley house, with its own life and several characters as bestowed differently and individually by each who have walked her path or crossed her threshold. A sentient death awaiting rebirth.

Barbara, who or what was YOUR favorite character or turn of plot so far?

I agree about hoping to discuss plot and characters in the second half.
I myself have just about had it with the OldHadleyHouse willies. It’s a gloomy, run down place where the murder was commited. The initial fear and horror leading up to the sceance was a bit over the top, but fun to read. But. By the time Gamache is doing his search of the whole house, we know that people get the shivers there. Right. You guys are Surete… suck it up and get over it. The Brebeuf, Lemieux, Nichol conspiracy is as strong a story line as who killed Madeleine.
I feel what Penny is giving us in this book, besides the who dunnit is back story and character development. We get the whole ugly Arnot case explained and why its poison lingers. We learn more about Jean Guy. Gamache’s family is described more as well as his tenderness. We get more of Peter Morrow… his self-absorbion and selfishness (interuppting Clara’s work, let’s have a dinner party). But we also hear that they love watching old horror movies curled up on the couch together.
And more Ruth. 🙂

Thank you Linda. Love is stronger than fear. We have to keep telling ourselves that. It’s so easy to get lost in the dark places it can be hard to remember.

Can a house be evil or malevolent? Not exactly – but there is energy – negative, dark, evil and bad that can permeate a dwelling. I think we can feel it. Just like there are houses that are full of love and warmth – even when empty. But it was not the Hadley House that created that energy – it was the inhabitants – the humans. The house was the repository. I think the Three Pines crowd had projected their traumatic experience onto that house. Murder had turned Three Pines upside down twice already – and three murderers had lived there. Not to mention the things Ben had told Clara that scared her to death about the house. Also, the many of the villagers had their own guilt about how they had treated Timmer Hadley – based on the lies of the son that murdered her. That’s a lot to happen in a house.

I think it was completely natural for the villagers to see the house as evil. Even Gamache, Beauvoir, and Lacoste have these feelings about the house – and I don’t see any of them as being hysterical. I think all of us have inexplicable fears – even terror – that come from those unopened doors of the mind that Gamache talks about. What is in the dark tunnels of one person’s mind may seem totally benign or silly to someone else. That doesn’t change the fear, the terror that is felt. Nor does it make it unfounded – I think it is important to respect the fears of others. In respecting their fears, I come closer to accepting them in myself. This is kindness. One of the many great things I have learned from Gamache….

As I think about it, the Hadley House, and the events that happen in this book, serve as an excellent metaphor for the experience of combing through the dark tunnels and rooms of our own minds. Gamache learned to make friends with what is there…behind the doors we all keep locked up. He makes me want that for myself. Accepting what is in the ‘Hadley House’ of my psyche.

This morning in thinking about the house I’m reminded about a poem by Edwin Markham. (Don’t worry, this will be painless!)

OUTWITTED

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love an I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

The house sits isolated outside the warm circle if the warmth of Three Pines. In it’s isolated state it attracts unwholesome persons and activities.

If someone would just extend the circle of light and love to include the house, love would win.

Linda – thank you for the poem. I am touched by the lines ‘But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in.’ My mother taught me that love is stronger than hate. I believed her as a child and doubted her as a young adult. In middle age, I see her wisdom and am grateful for her counsel.

Mr Rogers said once that when tragedies happened his mother would tell him to watch for the helpers, the responders. There were always more good people going to help than there were causing harm. That’s true in these books as well. The wisdom of our mothers. I hope some day my children will feel the same.

I like what Laura says about the Hadley House and the metaphoric connection between it and exploring the dark rooms in our minds. And I love the poem Linda.

Fear is a barrier, it shuts us in and shuts others out. Ruth is afraid of hurting people with kindness so she is rude and abrasive. Agent Nichol is afraid of failing and that fear makes her aggressive and defensive.

Fear and love are themes that run through the books. It is interesting to watch the characters respond to their fears including Gamache.

When we acknowledge our fears it diminishes them enough that the barrier slips.

Love isn’t only stronger than hatred, it can also be stronger than fear.

Our young soldier returned home from Iraq after having contemplated suicide. On the morning after his arrival home he greeted us in tears. He threw his arms around me sobbing. “I forgot,” he said, “how many people love me.”

Love is stronger than fear.

And the humor
“… all hell broke lose. … the minister gave a brief reading from the rite of exorcism. The congregation said Amen.”
“lunch was organized by the Anglican Church Women , led by Gabri…”
And so on.

🙂 I’ll never finish at this rate.

Interesting about how the characters have changed since the beginning. I too was put off by the horror house reactions of Gamache and Beauvoir… aw, come on.
But my favorite change is in Clara in the third chapter, ” ‘Are you calling me nuts?’ Clara had asked, knowing he hadn’t but loving to see him squirm.”
We’ve come a long way from Still Life where she feels she needs to appease him. 🙂

About Gabri… I don’t think he set up Jeanne deliberately… I think his enthusiasm got away from him. But why did Jeanne show up at Three Pines?

Brebeuf and Lemieux… I hate the betrayals. I’ve had a close friend misuse me and it still hurts a bit. The niggling doubt Gamache feels towards his old friend is heartbreaking. The doubts and excuses for him are so real.

It’s fun to re-read closely… noticing how Louise Penny sets the stage. And that opening sentence is a beaut!

In regards to Gamache’s rules: “I don’t know. I’m sorry. I need help, I was wrong” – I think it is important to let our young ones know about these as well as demonstrate them in our everyday life as an example. Too often a person is afraid to admit that they don’t have the information needed to perform a task and that they need help. This applies to any situation, whether at home, school, or at work. Unfortunately, others may view this as a sign of weakness rather than the strength and wisdom it takes to acknowledge these things.

I agree. I don’t know, I’m sorry, I need help, I was wrong. All very helpful. And as you said taken by many as a sign of weakness. A different question. I was wondering if Brebeuf was trying to warn Gamache that it was Brebeuf that was betraying him when he gave out the info re David and Annie, his kids? And if so, why?

Helen, I don’t think he was trying to WARN Gamacelhe, so muchas he just wanted him to know who was doing this. I think he was working against himself in that he wouldn’t be able to fly under the radar anymore, but I think he thought maybe it was time to go “in for the kill”, and I think he misjudged, partly because of Lemieux’s reports. Lemieux always underestimated Gamache, and thought he was weak. Since Brebeuf got his information from Lemieux, he assumed Gamache was almost down for the count, and he threw caution to the wind, and leaked the stories he thought would finish him off. But I think he very much wanted Gamache to know who was pulling the strings.

Haunted house? I remember how I was pleased at all the paintings in the other house in the other book…how she (Jane?) used the walls of her home to show her paintings…so if I was that pleased with that I’m afraid I was also put off by the “haunted house” and the basement…not a fan of horror movies, books and the description of the basement was enough for me….but on to the fave part of THIS book…the ducks…I have cats (several) and I’m afraid they follow me around like Ruth’s ducks but I don’t dress them up (so far) 🙂

4. I love Gabri, he’s one of my favorite characters. In chapter nineteen he’s reflecting on where he’s been clever or cutting instead of kind, and that would be a reason for someone to kill him. Then he thinks what he loves about Three Pines is it’s a place “where kindness trumped cleverness.” Who is your favorite character and why?

This is a hard question for me to answer, at least for this book. Like Meg R., I find myself more than a bit disgruntled with Clara and the other villagers for the way that they project fear onto the Hadley house instead of putting the blame on Ben(loved the whackadoodle adjective Meg R. applied to him, BTW!)where it rightly belongs. However, as one of the other discussion posts mentioned, one reason for assigning blame to the house is that it’s still too painful for Clara, Peter, and perhaps even Gamache, to think about how Ben betrayed them. I can even sympathize with Gamache for having a visceral repugnant feeling toward the house, since he suffered a tremendous injury there, due to his fall down the stairs.
I usually adore Gabri also, but I admit I did not care for the way that he lured Jeanne to the village on false pretenses, and on top of that, invited villagers to a seance without having first gotten the green light from her. I think of him, Gabri, as usually being much more thoughtful of others than that, so it is either out of character for him, or we are seeing a part of his character that’s not so pleasing. Whether this is going to be something Louise Penny develops further in one of the future books remains to be seen. I also found myself wondering why he thought they needed to have a seance in the first place. Wonder if that is because he senses something off in the village, and thinks maybe a seance would be the way to deal with that. I guess by default at this point my favorite character would have to be Ruth. I see her as not being part of the group that’s involved in setting up the seance, and I love the way that she is trying to raise the little ducks.

I give Gabriel more the benefit of doubt. He chats up his guests then creates an event around their expertise. He did not lure Jeanne to Three Pines.

For me, I was focused on how the characters use words to relate to others. The power of words is so evident! Like in the last book when those awful parents decimated Crie; the mother with her cruel words, and the faster with his silence.

In this one, I am very disturbed by Peter Morrow’s envy of his wife’s artwork. By just saying a little thing like ‘are you sure you chose the right colors?’, he planted just the smallest seed of doubt. These words are now Clara’s torment, as she now is seriously doubting her own skill. I feel bad for her now, and suspicious of Peter.

I love Ruth and hope in future books to understand her better. She is a lovable curmudgeon, who is more honest than most of the rest of the people. The ducklings are a perfect compliment to her grouchiness…little critters who need some TLC…and they don’t sass her back.

Louise paints such beautiful word pictures, and really connects her readers with the characters, even with all their foibles. The are not rock stars, but real human beings, and a lot like people we know.

Judy, your observation regarding Peter Morrow is how I feel about him. I like him the least of all the characters. Can’t understand why he puts Claire down and she seems so innocent to his comments. (all the books so far)
Ruth is my favorite character. I love everything about her.
I love the line: There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

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