Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny: A review

This is the fourteenth in Louise Penny's popular Armand Gamache detective series. Gamache has long been a favorite of mine. He is a complicated and well-developed character, a humane and philosophical policeman who always has his eye on the bigger picture of how the work that he does affects society as a whole.

Moreover, he and his beloved Reine-Marie are now living in that quirky little Canadian village that time and the mapmakers forgot, Three Pines, with all of its eccentric inhabitants. Spending time with them is like sliding into a warm bubblebath on a cold winter night. You can see then why I always look forward to these visits with Gamache and his coterie. 

This time around, Gamache is still on suspension from his position as head of the Sûreté du Québec as a consequence of the action in the last book, Glass Houses. His son-in-law and protege, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, is now acting head while the investigation of that action continues.

The fallout from the action and the investigation represents one line of narrative in this entry. Another part of the narrative involves Armand and his friend, Myrna Landers, bookshop owner in Three Pines, along with a young carpenter named Benedict, being requested to be the liquidators (executors) of the will of an elderly woman who has just died. The mysterious thing is that none of the three knew the deceased.

The woman called herself "the baroness" and she believed that she was the heir of that title and a vast fortune that went with it. She left it all to her three children, two sons and a daughter. The liquidators meet at the old farmhouse owned by the baroness, a farmhouse that had been vacant for many years and is now slowly falling in on itself. After discussing the will with the heirs, they all leave in a snowstorm. But during the night, Benedict returns to the house and while there, it collapses around him, trapping him. He is found by Gamache and Myrna and a neighbor, but when they attempt to rescue him the house finishes falling down and they are all trapped. 

But with them also is the dead body of one of the old lady's sons. He had been murdered.

So, we have the murder to investigate, which turns out to be a very complicated matter, and we have the ongoing internal Sûreté investigation and with it Gamache's desperate gambit to keep a deadly opioid shipment off the streets of Quebec. Truly, our investigatory cup runneth over.

The book starts out strong and I was immediately invested, but soon I began to feel that the pace was stagnant and somewhat disjointed. Parallel storylines are a popular technique in fiction today and often they work very well as the stories contrast and play off each other; at other times, they are not as successful and I felt this was one of those times. They just made for choppy reading which was an energy-killer.

And there was one particular writing quirk that simply annoyed me no end: It was the phrase "junkies and trannies and whores" repeated incessantly in the parts of the book pertaining to the character Amelia. Used once it would have been acceptable perhaps, but the constant repetition became irritating and offensive.

The final denouement with all the usual gang sitting around the fireplace and discussing the case(s) is something that we've seen so often in these books that it has become a cliché. In fact, the entire book was stale, a bit like putting on old, well-worn shoes. It was comfortable enough, a pleasant read, but not much excitement there. I could see all of the twists and "surprises" coming from a mile away.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Comments

  1. Too bad this one wasn't as strong an entry in this series as you have come to expect. Still, it's a quirky gang for sure. ;-)

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    1. It's those characters that keep me coming back to this series.

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  2. I have seen and read a lot of buzz about this book and the author lately. Some of it has to do with the French vs English conflict for the Quebeca. All I know is that plenty of great authors come from Montreal. Hopefully this one will get her groove back.

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    1. Penny was in mourning over the death of her husband during the writing of this particular book, and I can't help but think that that had some influence on the technical aspects and process of her writing.

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  3. I've only read a few of the previous ones. I wonder if after fourteen the series has petered out? I've noticed a few of my favorite series have become quite bad!

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    1. I am a veteran series reader, too, and I know that long-running series sometimes do have a stale entry or period. Some come roaring back and some just sort of deflate and become repetitious. I guess we'll see which one the Gamache series belongs to.

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  4. I too was offended by the "junkies and trannies and whores" used repeatedly throughout, I went so far as to hope "trannie" had an alternate slang definition in Canada... Was sorry to reaffirm it was just offensive

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    1. I mean, really, what was up with that??? It was just a stupid writer's tic, not something one expects from Louise Penny.

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