A Better Man by Louise Penny A Better Man by Louise Penny
Narrator: Robert Bathurst
Series: Inspector Gamache #15
Published by Macmillan Audio on August 27, 2019
Source: Purchased
Genres: Mystery
Length: 13 hrs 8 mins
Format: Audiobook
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four-stars

The air is thick with excitement and anxiety as Sûreté du Québec agents gather in the conference room for the Monday morning meeting of the homicide department.

This will be Armand Gamache’s first day back since his demotion from head of the entire force, to head of homicide. Complicating matters, he’ll be sharing the duties with his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir.

Amid blistering social media attacks, Gamache sets out on his first assignment – to find a missing woman.

The search for Vivienne Godin is played out against a backdrop of catastrophic spring flooding. Three Pines itself is threatened, as the Rivière Bella Bella breaks its banks. A province-wide emergency is declared and desperate efforts are underway to save towns and cities, dams and bridges.

As Gamache leads the search for Vivienne, he develops a profound empathy for her distraught father. With a daughter of his own, he finds himself haunted by the question, how would you feel, if…

As the rivers rise, and the social media onslaught becomes crueler, a body is discovered. And the victim’s father contemplates a murder of his own.

And the question facing both Gamache and Beauvoir shifts.

What would you do, if… your child’s killer might walk free?

With A Better Man, Penny is back to the kind of mystery I enjoy, the small, personal mystery where the fate of Canada is not hanging on the outcome, which I was happy about. When the stories are too big, too political, it makes me think maybe I should step away from the series, but then one like this brings me back. It starts as a missing person case, but quickly changes to a murder investigation, all while the waters are rising around Quebec. The dead woman was abused by her husband, so suspicion quickly and naturally falls on him – and stays there. But proving he’s the killer is another matter altogether.

I knew the “who” although not necessarily the why or how. That’s not the fault of the book, really the mystery was well-done. The trio, Gamache, Beauvoir, and Lacoste think they have a decent case against the husband, but it’s blown out of the water and they have to more or less start again. They care about this case. They didn’t know the victim, but at least for Gamache and Beauvoir, they can imagine how they would feel if she had been the women they love, they can too easily put themselves in the desperate father’s boots. They want justice for the dead woman. The problem for me is that the plot reminded me of another book I read a few months ago, so what I would think was the big surprise at the end just wasn’t. It was still a very enjoyable book, but I kind of wish I had been able to read it fresh, without the other, unrelated book’s plot rattling around in my head.

As always, the writing is beautiful. Penny’s descriptions are vivid and emotional. Three Pines is as lovely as ever and as accepting. The people are the same, and even though they’re mostly in the background here, I do like spending time with them.

In the background is social media. On Twitter, there are threads condemning Gamache, questioning why he is returning to the Sûreté and not being sent to jail. The doggone video from the factory surfaces again, both in its original form and a cruelly edited version. At the same time, Clara is being skewered on-line for a recent show of a series of miniatures she painted. Evidence found on a private Instagram is found inadmissible. We all know not to believe everything we see on the internet, but we also know that often there is truth out there, even if it’s “all truth with malice in it.”

As always, we get characters with depth. The past, the present, life experiences that make us the people we are. We see friendship, love, respect, integrity, compassion, kindness. Knowing these characters, though, comes from reading the whole series. While A Better Man can stand on its own, reading the whole series definitely helps because the past has a tendency to come back.

My favorite part of the book came near the end, around the climax. A secondary character does something that you would maybe not have expected. It by no means redeems him, but it does allow for a bit of hope. And maybe that’s the point, there’s always hope that someone can become better than who they are, a better man, a better woman, a better person.

About Louise Penny

LOUISE PENNY (born 1958), a former CBC radio journalist, is the #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail bestselling author of fourteen Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels. She has been awarded the John Creasey Dagger, Nero, Macavity and Barry Awards, as well as two each of the Arthur Ellis and Dilys Awards. Additionally, Penny has won six Agatha Awards and five Anthony Awards, and has been a finalist for an Edgar Award. She lives in a small village south of Montréal.

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