Home > 2000, 21st Century, Canadian Literature, Crime Fiction, Polar, Quebec Literature > Crime in Québec : two books by Louise Penny

Crime in Québec : two books by Louise Penny

The Cruelest Month (2007) and The Murder Stone (2008) by Louise Penny. French titles: Le mois le plus cruel and Défense de tuer. Translated by Michel Saint-Germain / Claire and Louise Chabalier.

I have read two Louise Penny in a row, The Cruelest Month and The Murder Stone, #3 and #4 in the Armand Gamache series and the two have a very different vibe. Louise Penny is famous for her village of Three Pines, nested in the Canadian Appalachians, in Québec, near the American border. Besides the team of the Sécurité du Québec, the main characters are Peter and Clara Morrow, both painters settled in Three Pines and pillars of their community.

The Cruelest Month is the darkest on two aspects. We’re in Three Pines again and it’s Easter time. The villagers are organizing an egg hunt. The bed and breakfast is expecting a medium as a guest and a séance is quickly organized at the old Hadley house, where a murder has already occurred.

The place creeps out the participants and suddenly, one of the participants dies of a heart attack. It’s as if she had died out of fear after a bird disturbed the séance. Of course, it’s not a banal heart attack but a murder. Armand Gamache comes with his team to handle the case and while they’re investigating the murder, a terrible smear campaign is organized against him. Part of the police institution never accepted that he revealed the wrongdoings of members of the Sécurité du Québec against indigenous people. Gamache has become a target.

The Murder Stone is a more classic whodunit with Poirot flavor. A rich family gathers at the Manoir Bellechasse, a holiday house by a lake and rather far away from civilization. They are there for their yearly reunion, to celebrate the donation of a statue of their deceased patriarch. We soon discover that Mrs Finney is the former Mrs Morrow and her son is the Peter Morrow who lives in Three Pines with his artist wife Clara. The Morrow children carry the scars of a dysfunctional family, all seeking their father’s love and approval at the expense of their relationship as siblings. Julia, the oldest daughter gets killed when the statue falls down on her. It looks like an accident but guess what? It’s a murder.

Like Poirot, Gamache happens to be at the Manoir Bellechasse with his wife Reine-Marie. They celebrate their wedding anniversary at the manor every year. Gamache’s team joins him on site and they start the investigation.

As in every book of the series, Gamache faces a personal challenge and this time, his relationship with his son is at stake when Gamache rejects the name Honoré for his future grand-son. It was his own father’s name and he was notorious for his behavior during WWII.

I preferred the second book as I don’t care for stories with séances and ghosts. I don’t understand why Louise Penny chose such an improbable setting. However, I enjoyed the cozy crime vibe of The Murder Stone. How to kill someone with a statue was a fun fact of the novel, I reckon.

I was happy to see Three Pines again and reunite with what makes the flavor of Penny’s books. The village is set in Québec, among the anglophone community and the little digs about each community’s habits sound authentic and build the sense of place. Louise Penny writes in English and I read the Québec translation, which keeps all the little language quirks that I love so much.

The complex relationship between Clara and Peter Morrow is well-developed. Both are painters and Clara has just been discovered by a famous gallerist of Montreal. Peter already sells well but wonders if Clara’s not a more gifted painter than he is. On her side, she’s eager to have his approval since she loves him and knows that he already won the public’s recognition.

The Murder Stone is an opportunity to explore Peter Morrow’s and Armand Gamache’s pasts. It is also a reflection on fatherhood and the way children always seek their father’s approval. The Morrow children did, in their own way. Gamache had to live with his father’s reputation and his relationship with his son Daniel hits a bump on Daniel’s road to fatherhood.

Despite the murders, a lot of kindness oozes of Penny’s books and it’s a treat to spend time in Three Pines with Gamache and his troops. There are 17 volumes in the Gamache series, and the good news is that I still have thirteen books of pleasure ahead of me!

  1. March 30, 2022 at 2:32 am

    I thought I’d read Penny’s earlier Gamache books, but The Murder Stone doesn’t sound in the least familiar.


    • March 30, 2022 at 11:58 pm

      It’s one of the series that has more than one English title, if that helps.


      • March 31, 2022 at 2:45 am

        It’s the description I don’t recognize, but that’s good to know, I’ll investigate which title was used here.

        Liked by 1 person

      • March 31, 2022 at 7:56 am

        Ah, right. I forgot that sometimes they change the title between US/UK or Canadian editions.
        This title is the one mentioned as the original in my French translation.


    • March 31, 2022 at 7:49 am

      I think you’d remember it because of the weapon used for the crime.


      • April 1, 2022 at 2:22 am

        It looks like it was published under the title ‘A Rule Against Murder’ in the US and now I’m sure I missed reading this one, definitely doesn’t ring any bells.


  2. March 30, 2022 at 7:39 am

    I read so widely with audiobooks that I often check reviews against Borrowbox to see what they have. I have never read Penny, that I know, but have reserved for May ‘State of Terror’ by Hilary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny – sounds far from cosy!


    • March 31, 2022 at 7:51 am

      If you have the opportunity to borrow one of Perry’s audiobooks, try her, it’s a nice trip to Québec despite the murders!
      I’ve never heard of State of Terror, I’ll check it out.


  3. March 30, 2022 at 11:58 pm

    I’m ready for the fourth book myself, but I’m afraid I’ve been stuck there for some time. Not for any good reason, only too many other interesting books as well.


    • March 31, 2022 at 7:57 am

      We always several series and it’s hard to go forward on each one at the same time.


  4. April 12, 2022 at 11:31 pm

    I’m not a huge fan of books with ghostly elements either but I did find The Cruellest Month very creepy. I didn’t recognise the title The Murder Stone but see that it might be known as A Rule Against Murder. This switching of titles between countries is so annoying! I bought several of her books while in the US and now I’m back in the UK I get confused between what I have already and what is new….


    • April 13, 2022 at 9:46 pm

      It was really creepy and I wondered what got into her to write such a book.
      About titles and book order in series: thank God for Goodreads.


      • April 17, 2022 at 7:10 pm

        I made myself a list of the titles (UK and US versions) but appear to have lost it so will have to start again


        • April 18, 2022 at 9:03 am

          I’m impressed by your dedication. I don’t think I’d have the patience.
          Isn’t it available on Goodreads?


  5. August 17, 2022 at 3:46 am

    So glad you are diving more into the series. I devour them as soon as they are published.
    In fact, I had a shock today: I went to my public library catalog, to see if the next one was already listed, so I could put a hold on it, and there were already 8 readers who had put a hold on it, even though it won’t be published until November 29!! Thank God my library buys multiple copies. So I may still be able to begin it on publishing day – American public libraries are really awesome


    • August 17, 2022 at 1:32 pm

      Already 8 readers in line for a book that comes out at the end of November! Wow, she has some dedicated followers!
      I keep her, Craig Johnson, Keith McCafferty and CJ Box in my list of authors to turn to when I want to read something good and familiar.


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