We first meet Inspector Armand Gamache, head of homicide at the Surete du Quebec, when he is called in to investigate the death of an elderly man found on the floor of Olivier Brule's bistro. Since the town of Three Pines does not have its own police force, nor does it have sidewalks, traffic lights or even a mayor, everyone in town knows each other but no one seems to know the dead man. Or at least not that they will admit.
The mystery deepens when the coroner announces the man was not killed on site but elsewhere and moved to the bistro. Who would do such a thing? And why? Does someone have it in for Olivier? The citizens of Three Pines begin to question could it be one of them. When a man long thought dead shows up in town, Gamache and the investigative team wonder if this is just coincidence or did he have something to do with the crime. Narrowing down the motive proves to be the hardest part of the investigation. I became very fond of Inspector Gamache as he methodically searched into the past lives of the suspects looking for the murder motive. After all, his theory is that to catch a killer you don't move forward but backwards into the past. Characters are revealed layer by layer where nothing is as it seems on the surface and the reader is always learning another facet of these fascinating people who call Three Pines home. Even the victim is not what he appears to be at first glance.
Trying to solve this mystery is like entering a maze; you think you are going in the right direction until you hit a dead end and have to go in another direction and start all over again. Penny does a superb job of leading the reader down the garden path only to find it is the wrong path.
Penny deftly creates a vivid atmosphere that is almost dark and brooding, like the forest that surrounds Three Pines. It was very easy for me to get a vivid mental picture of the characters and places. The detailed descriptions are fantastic.I particularly liked her description of something as simple as the fire in the fireplace:
" it was not the roaring flames of a bitter winter fire, but a soft almost liquid flame of early autumn."This is not a quick read thriller novel, but a complex character driven mystery that is more slowly developed and should be savored by the reader. Combine wonderful writing with an intriguing mystery and this book is a winner. I will have to say, though, that about one third of the way in, the story seemed to bog down a tad but in no time at all it picked right up again. Hubby also read and enjoyed the book very much. Although The Brutal Telling is the fifth book in the Inspector Gamache series, it reads like a stand alone novel. This was our first time reading Louise Penny but it definitely will not be the last for us. Link to author's website is here. Thank you to St. Martin's Press and shelf awareness for an ARC of The Brutal Telling.