You shouldn't be reading this book unless you're already familiar with the Armand Gamache/Three Pines series, so I'll get right into the setup. It begins shortly after The Beautiful Mystery ended, and things are just as grim as you would imagine for Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. His longtime enemies at the Sûrété du Québec are circling, sharklike, and taking bites out of his Homicide team. All of his team members have been moved to other departments, with the exception of Isabelle Lacoste, and the officers moved to his team in their place are slackers, insubordinate and obviously playing for the bad guys.
Gamache's second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, has made a complete break with Gamache, is now working for Gamache's arch-enemy, Superintendent Francoeur, and is again hooked on painkillers. The sharks have isolated their prey and are coming in for the kill.
Considering what his office has become, it is almost a relief to Gamache when Myrna Landers, Three Pines's flamboyant bookseller, asks for his help to find a missing friend. This seemingly simple case unexpectedly becomes a last chapter in the story of Québec's most famous baby boomers, the first quintuplets to survive their birth (obviously based on the Dionne quintuplets).
The Sûrété corruption plot that we've been following for this entire series takes center stage in this book, and it's a nail-biter that puts all of the characters under make-or-break stress. For those who have been wondering about the reach of the corruption and what its long-term goals are, this will be a particularly satisfying read.
Though some call Louise Penny's books cozies, those who are familiar with the series know that's completely wrongheaded. She has transformed the police procedural and village mystery genres into not a mash-up, but something unique, original and genuine. There is no distance between the reader and the lives of the characters; their thoughts and emotions, what they eat and drink, how they interact with each other and, most important, how they react when bad things happen.
Penny is such a keen observer that it's all too easy to believe that you can travel to Three Pines, sit down at the Bistro and join in the conversation with all these characters, or walk the green with them and watch the village children playing hockey. My annual visit was all too short and I can't wait to return next year.