Review: The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny (headline)


The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
Published by headline and out now in hardback

I think The Brutal Telling is my first murder in Canada. A body is found in the bistro of the picturesque Three Pines. There is no sign of a weapon, a motive or a even who the man is.

The challenge for C. I. Gamache is to find answers to all those questions and find the killer.

The thing that threw me at the beginning was that G. I. Gamche had been here before. Not surprising as it is Book 5 in the series but there is a long shadow from the events of the The Cruelest Month that feel slightly too intrusive to this new reader. I’m sure it makes more sense to people that have already read it. That wasn’t me.

This sense of missing something didn’t last too long as we are introduced to various members of the Three Pines family. As it such a small rural place Penny does make it feel like a family, which makes the fact there has been a murder and the body placed at the heart of the community all more shocking.

Penny reminds me of all the European crime I’ve been reading. They aren’t up against the clock so it gives time for the layers of society to be stripped away removing all the lies that we tell each other until the truth is at last reviewed.

And there are a lot of lies that need to be discovered. As a detected C. I Gamache is quite a patient, thoughtful and human character. He makes friends of his suspects and witnesses and lulls them into a sense of security but as is continually pointed out they are interrogations of a sort. Not that he stays within the boundaries of friendship as respectful as he seems he has no qualms in upsetting them by searching their homes without permission or bringing up those things that are best left unsaid to true friends.

Penny plays with this closeness bringing her narration into the heads of several of the characters and letting us into there thoughts and feelings. This transition isn’t always successful. There is more than one occasion when she has her narrator tell us too bluntly something she is more than skilled enough to show in the actions of her characters.

And she really is quite skilled. She keeps the play between getting close and personal with all the people that surround the investigation and the tensions caused by slowly finding more and more clues and putting more and more pieces together. There is some holding back needed but it didn’t feel  like cheating. There is no other way when you could be in the mind or presence of a killer than it wouldn’t take too much for them to give themselves away.

Penny also does a great job of keeping a good rota of suspects as the focus and the following of the clues changes. It could be quite a few of them for a number of reasons.

That isn’t to say that The Brutal Telling is realistic or natural. There is a sense of unreality about the whole set-up. I can’t see detectives getting that cosy like staying in the B & B of one of the prime suspects. And the living quarters of the victim still strikes a bit odd – but those don’t intrude really as there is too much to enjoy in Louise Penny’s writing still that allows you to slip happily into her world.

Overall, another fine addition to my growling growing list of crime writers.

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