Review | Louise Penny is beloved. Her latest novel reminds us why.



Mysteries, as their very identify signifies, are tales about issues past extraordinary human ken. This can be a style, in any case, invented by Edgar Allan Poe, for whom the boundaries between his “tales of terror” and his “tales of ratiocination” have been porous. Even Sherlock Holmes, that human apotheosis of logic, will get totally spooked by the Nice Grimpen Mire in “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, the character on the middle of Louise Penny’s beloved and profitable collection, is an avowed believer within the energy of issues seen and unseen. Alert to the ambiance of place and the saving grace of poetry, Gamache additionally trusts his intestine in relation to the presence of extra malevolent forces. “A World of Curiosities,” the 18th Gamache novel, begins with our beloved detective conversing with the useless and ends with a bonfire and discuss of witches. The eeriest Gamache novel but, “A World of Curiosities” can also be one in every of Penny’s most intricately plotted and harrowing.

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One thing depraved this manner involves Gamache at dwelling, in his beloved village of Three Pines, a spot not discovered on any maps. Gamache’s refuge is breeched when the villagers host a celebration for 2 younger girls who’ve graduated from engineering faculty on the College of Montreal. One of many graduates is Harriet Landers, the niece of Myrna, the native bookshop proprietor; the opposite, a lady named Fiona Arsenault. Gamache encountered Fiona years in the past on his first case — a homicide investigation — that he and his now son-in-law, Jean-Man Beauvoir, labored on collectively. Fiona, then an adolescent, was discovered responsible of the homicide of her mom and served time in jail. Gamache, nevertheless, had his doubts about that conviction and championed Fiona’s proper to an schooling whereas incarcerated.

About Fiona’s youthful brother Sam, nevertheless, Gamache has by no means had any doubts: His sixth sense has at all times informed him that good-looking Sam (whom everybody else finds charming) is malicious, possibly worse. Sadly, Gamache can not stop Sam from becoming a member of his older sister on the commencement festivities in Three Pines and subsequently getting comfortable on the native inn.

Myrna additionally finds her private area infiltrated by a malign presence. Her dwelling, a comfortable loft above the bookshop, has begun to really feel cramped now that her boyfriend, Billy, resides together with her and Harriet is tenting out on her lounge couch. Coincidentally (or not) Billy has not too long ago acquired an odd letter dated 1862, written by his great-great-grandfather, a stonemason. The letter recounts how Billy’s great-grandfather was employed by an nameless employer to brick up a room at midnight in the identical constructing that now homes Myrna’s loft and bookshop. When the letter is handed round to Gamache and his Three Pines associates, Myrna quietly feedback, “‘The Cask of Amontillado,’ … saying what they have been all pondering.” However the “world of curiosities” that’s discovered sealed inside that hidden room subsequent to Myrna’s loft is extra menacing than what’s entombed in Poe’s notorious wine cellar.

That’s however a sampling of the unusual goings-on in “A World of Curiosities,” the place even secondary plots are tinged with a supernatural aura. (Reine-Marie, Gamache’s beloved librarian spouse, as an example, is trying to find a “grimoire” — “a e-book to summon demons,” as soon as owned by a Seventeenth-century feminine mystic.)

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And but, there’s one other all-too-real dimension to this story. In her acknowledgments, Penny references the tragedy that impressed the characters of Harriet and Fiona: the mass homicide on the Polytechnic College in Quebec on Dec. 6, 1989, of 14 feminine engineering college students and the wounding of 13 others. Anybody who’s learn Penny’s novels is aware of that as entertaining as they’re, they’re additionally charged inquiries into the precise evils that human beings and societies do.

The misogyny that fueled that real-life bloodbath can also be a consider among the extra supernatural components in “A World of Curiosities.” Solely a thriller author of nice stylistic vary and ethical depth may deal with the calls for of such a shifting — and probably delicate — story as this one. Luckily, as she proves as soon as once more, Penny is all that and extra.

Maureen Corrigan, who’s the e-book critic for the NPR program “Recent Air,” teaches literature at Georgetown College.

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