I picked up this new hardcover at Barnes and Noble today. After the events of A Great Reckoning I wasn't sure where the series would go, but I love the setting and characters so much that I just have to find out! (This edition has very handsome endpapers, ornamented with the three pines for which the village is named...)
This story opens with Gamache on the stand in a murder case, but it soon becomes apparent that there's a lot more going on here. The tale unfolds asynchronously, with at least three distinct timelines; the flashbacks serve to keep some of the more intense parts of the plot hidden until enough background is in place to fully support them, but I admit there were a few times when I had to flip back a bit to make sure which timeline we were in.
As with some of the other books in the series, this one contrasts a seemingly-simple (though with bizarre and creepy overtones) murder case and a huge and highly dangerous plot. Here, though, it isn't corruption within the police force that Gamache is after. And in this case, not only is he putting his own reputation and career on the line, he's having to make horrifying decisions that could sacrifice many for the sake of - with luck - saving even more...
I enjoyed the concept of the cobrador, a kind of psychological debt-collector that gets its targets to pay up by simply following them around and staring at them. Even just reading about it in the story, I felt myself getting tense and angry - what would you do if someone was standing in the middle of your town center, never speaking, never moving, just... watching? [Well, these days, in the US, the police would eventually pick the person up for loitering and have them given a psychiatric consult, but if there is a "no loitering" law in Canadian communities at all, it doesn't seem to apply in Three Pines. And it'd spoil the growing unease of that part of the plot!]
I enjoyed seeing all the old friends again, and while some of the fun was in the familiarity, it was nice to see some changes seeping in. Jean-Guy is becoming more the responsible leader in his own right, concerned for his wife and son, and increasingly worried about what Gamache is risking. Batty poet Ruth reveals another painful truth from her childhood, a heartbreaking one that explains some of her nature. Clara's paintings continue to irk and intrigue people - and there's a scene near the end when we find out why they only *seem* unfinished, one that made me get a bit teary. And the villagers in general, as they banter, bicker, and comfort each other - well, it's a wonderful thing. [Though I do begin to wonder whether they shouldn't simply relocate en masse to some other tiny lost village, as this one seems to have become a nexus for increasingly-huge problems, not to mention the high murder-per-capita rate!] We meet some new characters too, and while some of them are victims or killers, others may appear in future volumes; judge Marie Corriveau, for one, who notices something odd between Gamache and the public prosecutor at the murder trial. She discusses this with her wife, and late in the story she has a key decision to make that could change the course of events in a huge way.
Touching, funny, suspenseful - VERY suspenseful - and deeply thought-provoking.
[The acknowledgements section at the end included the sad news that Penny's husband, who'd been suffering from dementia for some time, had passed away. (It also includes an explanation as to which bits of the story are based on fact and which were the author's invention; I admit I was a bit sorry to learn how much she'd made up, as it seemed so... perfect!)