Because I can never say as much as I'd like about one of Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mysteries, instead, I'm going to quote another mystery author. Betty Webb said to me, "I love to see books taken seriously -- and with reverence." I treat each new Louise Penny book with the respect it deserves. Each book is given a day, a day I can sit and read each perfectly placed word and phrase, wonder at the depth of the story, and remain in awe of an author who creates characters and a world that draws in readers. A Better Man, the fifteenth in the series, is almost up with the best. It is certainly another story about community coming together, and, as Louise Penny once said about a previous book, it's about what murder dislodges in a community. In fact, this one is about what social media and murder dislodges in a community.
Armand Gamache is back at the Sûreté du Québec as head of homicide, sharing that position with Jean-Guy Beuavoir. However, if social media is any indication, there are many who believe he is a criminal who should be in prison, rather than heading up the homicide investigation. And, the new Superintendent appears to agree. When Québec is threatened by a national emergency, a spring flooding of all the rivers, Gamache and his ideas are sidelined. Instead, he agrees to work with an agent who has little investigative experience as they search for a missing woman.
Vivienne Godin has disappeared, and her father, Homer, is begging the police to look for her. Because Vivienne is pregnant, and in an abusive marriage, Homer insists that her husband must have killed her. Although Ganache always feels for the victim and the family members affected by their death, in this case he empathizes with a grief-stricken, angry father. What if it was Gamache's daughter, Annie, who was pregnant and missing? What are a father's fears? And, what would a father do if he thought his child's killer would go free?
As always, there's only so much a reviewer can summarize without spoiling a Gamache story. However, in this case, there's a great deal I can say about social media and the rush to judgment. Penny's use of social media and the dammed up rivers show the enormous power that can easily flood the channels of communication, and a country. As the book opens, Clara Morrow's art, and Armand Gamache's return to work are both the subject of vicious attacks in the media. The attacks are one-sided, blocked in negativity. In both cases, it takes just one action to explode the negative campaigns, allowing the truth to once again flow. While Penny might have used the rivers only as a tool to bring the people of Three Pines together, I doubt it. She's much too wise as a writer to ignore the symbolism of the crushing power of the rivers and the crushing power of social media, the the ability to destroy lives. In so many ways, A Better Man is about pent up fury and emotions.
Let's face it. Those of us who have read fourteen or fifteen of the Armand Gamache books are prepared for mental exhaustion. Louise Penny always forces us to stretch ourselves, searching for truths in her writing, just as we search for answers and guidance from her fictional character. Time after time, we've been shaken by Gamache's actions, but we've never doubted his character and strength and kindness. In this book, Gamache asks what he would do as a father. Readers want to know what Gamache would do as a guide and a mentor. How does a man cope when a river of hatred, a river of social media, crashes down upon him? What happens to a community, to Three Pines, as an actual river, and a river of social media, attacks? Does a community join together to protect itself and its own? A Better Man. Even the title forces a reader to question. Is Penny talking about Armand Gamache, or each one of us?
Louise Penny's website is https://louisepenny.com
A Better Man by Louise Penny. Minotaur Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250066213 (hardcover), 437p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy of the book from the publisher, with no promises made about the review.