I found this good-condition hardcover at a local Savers thrift shop, and nabbed it for another release copy.
When I first read this book I knew nothing about the "Three Pines" series, but was immediately hooked. The story opens with Olivier, owner of the local bistro and partner of the rotund, good-hearted Gabri, talking with a mysterious hermit in a cabin in the woods - and the story being told is a grim one, haunting in its very nature. We also find that the hermit has been teasing Olivier with an item long-hidden but never revealed; secrets within secrets?
Later, the village of Three Pines is roused by the startling news that a dead man has been found in Olivier's bistro, his skull smashed in - and Olivier realizes it's the hermit he'd seen only the night before! But he doesn't admit it... more secrets, never a good sign!
Gamache is called in, and I learned that he's made several visits to this little town in the past - for a small, remote place, it seems to attract a number of bizarre murders. "Mystery series syndrome," I suppose. Anyway, Gamache's second-in-command, the tightly-wound, logical-thinking Jean Guy Beauvoir, set out for the town to investigate - and immediately turn up some very suspicious details. The body's been moved, for one thing...
The little town is full of quirky characters, from Olivier and Gabri to rude-and-crude poet Ruth (with her pet duck Rosa), to artist couple Peter and Clara (who have a tricky relationship; Peter's achingly jealous of his wife's artistic talent, and uses passive-aggressive remarks to undermine her, hating himself even as he does it). There's also a new family in town, who've bought the formerly-rundown-and-possibly-haunted Hadley house and have completely renovated it in hopes of setting up a fancy spa and hotel: Marc and Dominique, and Marc's mother Carole. (Unfortunately for them, their first moves to try and hire people away from Olivier and Gabri have spawned something of a feud.)
Then there are the Parras, with names like Roar and Havoc (about whom the author sneaks in a "dogs of war" reference at one point), and the Mundins, a young couple who are known as "Old" and "The Wife", each of whom has done jobs (handyman or wood-working or otherwise) for other town residents.
Gamache soon finds that the crime's more complicated than it looked, with several people involved in relocating the body, though who did the murder and why are still unknown. Gamache brings in more of his team, including trusted agent Lacoste, and a new addition, the shy-seeming young Agent Morin, who was the only one of the regular agents to speak up and ask to be included on Gamache's team. [Gamache seems to build his team from individuals who don't fit in elsewhere; we get glimpses of the rocky pasts of several.]
There's humor in the story, despite the eerie opening and grisly crime. At one point, Agent Morin describes to Lacoste how he'd done some experiments with a hammer and a canteloupe to try and simulate the damage to the victim's skull, and then he wonders "what his girlfriend would think when she got up and noticed the fruit with holes smashed in it. He'd left a note, but wasn't sure that helped. 'I did this,' he'd written. 'Experimenting.' He perhaps should have been more explicit." I already adore Agent Morin! And later on he reveals other talents - for observation, and (surprisingly and touchingly) for playing the violin...
So, yeah, lots of characters, lots going on, confusing motives and relationships, and many, many layers of lies and secrecy - sometimes pretty blatant, sometimes very frustrating (for the reader as well as for the investigators). This particular plot would have been ridiculously simple if one character in particular weren't a chronic liar, apparently unable to realize when telling the truth would be a much better idea!
I found the overall story - which stretches into the past, touches on a variety of lost art treasures of many different kinds, takes a side trip to the Queen Charlotte Islands (where artist Emily Carr is referenced - the title comes from a phrase she used), and pulls in motives from all over the place - a bit too convoluted and contrived for my taste, but I enjoyed the journey and the characters so much that I'm inclined to forgive. Other details (and there are many) include artist Clara discovering that the art gallery owner who might make her career is nastily bigoted against some of her friends, and she's torn over what to do; Gabrielle buying four badly-abused horses on their way to the knacker's instead of the thoroughbreds she'd initially suggested; and a visit with the Haida people of the Pacific northwest.
Oh, and the crime? Well, yes, we get some solutions, and some motives - and some shocks, and not everyone is convinced that the answer's the right one. But what a fascinating story!
This book's events lead into those of the next book, Bury Your Dead - which I also strongly recommend. Heck, read the whole series!