Armchair Book Club: A Great Reckoning

Heather Allen explores the 12th Louise Penny novel A Great Reckoning.

What could be better on a late fall evening waiting for the first snow, than reading the latest Louise Penny novel? A Great Reckoning is Penny’s 12th book centering on chief homicide inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec.

Whether at the police academy, which Gamache has been called out of retirement to head, or at his cozy cottage in the townships, there are plenty of crackling fires to sit next to and sleet pounding against window panes. Penny’s Quebec is a veritable winter wonderland – albeit one with a murderer lurking in the shadows.

Gamache starts his post at the now-corrupt academy by firing almost all of its professors, many of whom have been accused of abuse of power, nepotism, and racketeering.

But, surprisingly, Gamache doesn’t fire the professor at the very top – Serge LeDuc. LeDuc is a villain to the core, the Voldemort of the Academy. He is known to be so cruel and calculating that a long list of city staff, colleagues and students have been overheard saying that they wished him dead.

When LeDuc is found dead in his quarters, the perfect whodunit is set. Penny has an entire school full of suspects: students and instructors who are trained to think like criminals and are highly skilled at investigating homicides.

Like the snow that keeps falling, Penny creates layer upon layer of deceptions and diversions. The most interesting of those centres on the discovery of a map, long hidden in the walls of a bistro near Gamache’s home.

This beautiful and arresting map is Quebec to the core – complete with depictions of maple syrup and bonhomme. Its origin is a mystery, but it appears to be linked to soldiers in the First World War, and perhaps even contains a clue about the murder.  After all, a copy of this same mysterious map is found in Serge LeDuc’s bedside table.

Don’t expect a lot of grit or gore, or characters who are truly enigmatic and complex. Penny romanticizes the weather as much as she romanticizes Armand Gamache. What you will find is a beautifully-paced whodunit along the lines of Agatha Christie or PD James.

Thanks to the reader who suggested this book. It would be an excellent suggestion for the crime fiction enthusiast on your Christmas list.