A Better Man by Louise Penny: A review

This is the fifteenth in Louise Penny's Three Pines Armand Gamache mystery series. She produces a new one, regular as clockwork, every summer. Her multitude of fans, among whom I count myself, await them impatiently. 

The bane of long series like this one is that their plots tend to become formulaic and predictable. Somehow Penny has avoided this. Each new entry seems to break new ground and deal with the current state of the world. In A Better Man, she explores as she has not before the deep physical and psychological damage that domestic violence does in long-term effects on the personalities of victims. And she examines the damage that the unbridled hate expressed through social media does to the fabric of society. 

Moreover, it is not just the human on human violence, both physical and psychological, that play an important role in this plot; the violence of Nature is the backdrop of it all. It is April, "the cruelest month", and Quebec is experiencing catastrophic floods such as it has not seen before. The little village of Three Pines watches as its meandering Bella Bella River becomes a raging torrent and threatens to wash the village away. The villagers fight to save their homes with sandbags to hold back the waters and backhoes to divert some of the floods.

Meanwhile, of course, crime does not take a holiday. 

After the events of the last book, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache had been demoted and suspended for nine months. No longer the head of the Surete du Quebec, he had been offered the position of head of Homicide Division, a position he held many years before. It was intended as an insult and humiliation and they were sure he wouldn't accept. After all these years, little do his enemies understand Gamache. 

As this book begins, it is his first day back on the job as head of Homicide, sharing the position with his son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir who has resigned and will be leaving the Surete in a couple of weeks. He's not only leaving the Surete, he's leaving Canada. He and his growing family are moving to Paris.

On this first day, Gamache learns from one of the officers of a report of a missing woman. The distraught father had contacted the officer, whom he knew, to ask for her help. His daughter was married to a man who abused her and now she has disappeared. The father is sure that something terrible has happened.

As the investigators begin their work, they find themselves jumping to an easy conclusion as to what might have happened. It seems so obvious to them all that the husband must have done something to her. We see them not approaching the investigation with open minds but seeking to find evidence that will prove their theory. 

Then as the flood continues, the body of the woman is found tangled in the roots of a tree along the riverbank. It becomes a potential murder investigation.

There are multiple twists and turns and red herrings in this plot. I despaired of ever figuring out whodunit, but in the end, it all came together and made a kind of sense.

As always with a Penny book, this provided a pleasant read. Opening one of her books is always a bit like visiting old friends. My only complaint really is that she lays it on a bit thick with the descriptions of the decency and open-heartedness of all the villagers, even Ruth the irascible poet and her duck, and she often recapitulates events of previous books for those who haven't read them. (Are there even such people?) It becomes a bit tiresome for us old Three Pines hands. But that is a minor quibble.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars   


  1. My wife is a huge Louise Penny fan. I will forward this review to her.

  2. It is always enjoyable to read your Louise Penny reviews.


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