The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny is a well-done mystery, plenty of suspects, plot twists, even a traditional denouement, but it’s more than that. It’s about friendships and envy, about love and jealousy. It’s about the characters for me, the mystery is almost secondary.

We’re back in fictional Three Pines, an idyllic Canadian city that happily sees  more than its share of murder. Really, why do people continue to live in these towns, like Cabot Cove and St. Mary Mead? Luckily for us they do.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

(T. S. Eliott, The Waste Land)

It’s spring, and amid the Easter celebrations, a psychic arrives, a Wiccan actually, and the townsfolk convince her to hold a séance with them in the old Hadley house to rid the town of its evil. Bad idea, obviously. A local, Madeline, dies of fright and Inspector Gamache and his team are called in to investigate, and of course the death was actually murder.

It’s hard for me to review a single title in a series that I’ve read from the beginning. I do think this one can stand on its own, but it isn’t for me. I know these characters, and there are about dozen who return in each book, I’m already invested in them. I like them and I like seeing how some of them grow and change through the books or show different parts of their personality. Ruth, for example, is a crotchety old poet, but here we see a softer side of her, a nurturing, loving side.

Most of the suspects are villagers, but new introductions to the series. There’s Madeline’s admirer, the grocer, a furniture maker who loved her from afar, her best friend and her best friend’s daughter, and a woman who sees her as a rival, not to mention the psychic who held the séance in the first place. It all gets sorted out in the end, but I of course had no idea who the killer was, even given all the clues.

My one complaint about this particular book is that it brings in a lot of what is happening within the Sûreté. I could have done without it, but it did parallel the case well and hopefully now it’s settled and we can move on.

The Cruelest Month has more feeling than most mysteries, more topics to think about. The books in this series, this one included tend to stay with me a little longer than other short traditional mysteries.

Definitely one I’d recommend to mystery lovers, the whole series actually. This one can be read alone, but it’s richer if you’ve started from the first.

Purchase at Amazon or an Indie Bookstore.

4 out of 5 stars

Category: Mystery & Detective

Chief Inspector Gamache #3
Agatha Award 2008
First published September 6, 2007
11 hours, 46 minutes
Narrated by Ralph Cosham

Book source: Library

RIP VI