Every year it becomes harder to summarize Louise Penny's exceptional books. While How the Light Gets In may have represented a culmination of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache's fight against good and evil, even in retirement in Three Pines, he continues to take part in the ongoing battle. And, Gamache, representing Everyman, stands as witness to the knowledge that we all have the potential for evil, the potential for good, and, in The Nature of the Beast, the awareness of our own cowardice in the face of evil.
It's mid-September in Three Pines, when the weather is so beautiful it's hard to imagine that anything evil can invade the small community. But, Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie are present at the bistro when nine-year-old Laurent Lepage runs in, shouting he found a winged monster in the woods, bigger than a house. But, Laurent had warned the villagers before, of an alien invasion, of a fire at his house. The boy's stories and hoaxes only grew more elaborate.
And, Gamache and Reine-Marie were in the bistro when Antoinette Lemaitre introduced the play she was directing at the local theater, a play called She Sat Down and Wept by an unknown playwright named John Fleming. It's only Gamache that recognizes that John Fleming may not be unknown in Canada.
So, when nine-year-old Laurent Lepage goes missing, the search reveals that the darkness had reached Three Pines. Poet Ruth Zardo is one of the first to acknowledge that monsters still threaten the world. It's a small circle of friends, acknowledging how the villagers are preparing pitchforks and torches, who call on Gamache. Bookstore owner, Myrna, sees it, and Clara calls. "Nature, she knew, abhorred a vacuum, and these people, faced with an information vacuum, had filled it with their fears. The line between fact and fiction, between real and imagined, was blurring. The tether holding people to civil behavior was fraying. They could see it, and hear it and feel it coming apart."
And, Gamache and the police who once formed his homicide team step in to do battle again, in the face of terrible evil. Penny seamlessly weaves together the multiple storylines, with the kind of climax she's known for, one that leaves the reader breathless. At the same time, she once again forces Armand Gamache to face his own fears and nightmares. His close friend, Therese Brunel, knows why Gamache retired early from the Sûreté de Québec. "He had finally staggered under the emotional burden. He'd had enough of corruption, of betrayal, of the back-stabbing and undermining and venal atmosphere. He'd had enough of death." But, Armand Gamache is our Everyman, the one who steps up in the face of his own fears. He's the man who knows that monsters exist, even in the Eastern Townships, even in Three Pines.
Louise Penny brings back characters from the past, introduces new ones, and leaves us with a new threat. As in all of her books, though, Gamache and his friends unite to face the shadows, the shadows of the past, and the shadows of threats. And, they use light and knowledge and literature to combat monsters, as people always have. Gamache is our Everyman in Louise Penny's new masterpiece, The Nature of the Beast.
Louise Penny's website is www.louisepenny.com, and she can be found on Facebook.
The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny. Minotaur Books. 2015. ISBN 9781250022080 (hardcover), 376p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.