Title: The Long Way Home (Inspector Gamache #10)
Author: Louise Penny
Read by: Ralph Cosham
Published: August 26, 2014 by Macmillan Audio
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Happily retired in the village of Three Pines, Armand Gamache, former Chief Inspector of Homicide with the Sûreté du Québec, has found a peace he’d only imagined possible. On warm summer mornings he sits on a bench holding a small book, The Balm in Gilead, in his large hands. “There is a balm in Gilead,” his neighbor Clara Morrow reads from the dust jacket, “to make the wounded whole.”
While Gamache doesn’t talk about his wounds and his balm, Clara tells him about hers. Peter, her artist husband, has failed to come home. Failed to show up as promised on the first anniversary of their separation. She wants Gamache’s help to find him. Having finally found sanctuary, Gamache feels a near revulsion at the thought of leaving Three Pines. “There’s power enough in Heaven,” he finishes the quote as he contemplates the quiet village, “to cure a sin-sick soul.” And then he gets up. And joins her.
Together with his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and Myrna Landers, they journey deeper and deeper into Québec. And deeper and deeper into the soul of Peter Morrow. A man so desperate to recapture his fame as an artist, he would sell that soul. And may have. The journey takes them further and further from Three Pines, to the very mouth of the great St. Lawrence river. To an area so desolate, so damned, the first mariners called it The Land God Gave to Cain. And there they discover the terrible damage done by a sin-sick soul.
I don’t know where to start with my feelings about The Long Way Home. I love this series, but this was not one of my favorite installments. Even though it’s a mystery, it’s more interested in character than plot, in thoughts and feelings than actions, which has been true of all Penny’s books; it’s what makes them stand out. It also makes it a series best read from the beginning, to know the characters, to learn their stories, the things that are important to them, how they interact with each other. However, it can also make it slow, a bit plodding. It’s also not a typical mystery in that it doesn’t start with a crime, it starts as the search. There are eventually crimes uncovered, and there is a murder, but not til late in the story. I don’t think that’s really a spoiler: there’s always a murder in her mysteries.
I hate to admit that I didn’t actually like Peter. I’m afraid I would have wanted Clara to find him so she could divorce him, not to save him. He was a jerk the last time around, and never one of the characters I wanted to sit down and spend time with, so it took me a while to get in to the story. After all, it is basically a search and rescue mission to save Peter.
In Penny’s mysteries the themes are fairly obvious. While most mysteries are a little simpler, mostly good versus evil or sin and redemption/punishment, her books develop other themes. Here we have healing, both physical and mental, the artistic process, and, obviously, returning home, as Gamache has retired to Three Pines and Peter has not returned, for unknown reasons. I like that it’s about thoughts and feelings, but sometimes it can be a bit slow and repetitive. How many times do we need to go over the same ground?
I listened to this on audio and Cosham, as always, did a wonderful job as narrator. He is the voice of the series for me. I like hearing the French phrases and names common in Quebec. (And sometimes I might go around the house repeating them because I like how they sound. And my daughter and husband might look at me funny.) I’m told, however, that in this one I’m missing something by not having the hardback. Apparently the texture of the cover actually enhances the story. Also, the image is from a painting by Canadian artist Charles Gagnon, an artist who figures predominantly in the book.
It’s a good book. I had to admit it had me crying at the end, even if it was a bit cheesy. Sometimes cheesy works.
I don’t know if I’m being more critical than usual because I do love this series so much, care for these characters, want to visit Three Pines, but a couple of things bothered me. First, there’s the way people treat the old poet, Ruth Zardo. Yes, she’s mean and crotchety and usually drunk, but I don’t feel like they have to constantly being flinging jabs at her. Yes, she gives as good as she gets and yes, she finds the insults amusing, but it’s a fine line between amusing and mean, and sometimes I think her friends cross over it, forgetting she’s a real person and not just a caricature. Okay, I know they’re all fictional people, not real, but you know what I mean.
Second, I felt like the mystery was wrapped up a little quickly at the end. Slow revelation is one of Penny’s strengths and the rushed ending didn’t do her characters justice.
I truly enjoyed the book and can’t wait for the next in the series. I just don’t think it was quite as strong as some of the others. Maybe that makes sense though; the urgency that Gamache had in previous books is resolved. He’s healing and maybe the overall slower pace of this one provides a kind of respite.