"Dead Cold" (published in the US under the less pleasingly ambiguous and less accurate title of "A Fatal Grace") surprised me by being qualitatively very different from "Still Life", the first book in the series.
"Still Life" was a comforting, almost wistful, book in which a wise detective gently unravels the deceptions hiding a murder and, in the process, falls in love with the village of Three Pines and its inhabitants.
"Dead Cold" takes us back to Three Pines and the villagers who brought the last book to life. It captures their reactions to CeeCee, a new arrival so cold and cruel, that when she dies a dreadful death the village almost celebrates, as if a house had just landed on the Wicked Witch of the West. Once again, Chief Inspector Gamache is called to Three Pines to discover the murderer.
Despite having the same setting and characters as "Still Life" and a similarly complex plot, rolled out with at a similarly leisurely pace with regular pauses for food and philosophical reflection, "Dead Cold" sets off in a new direction. It sets this direction in a beautiful and compelling way, but I found the direction itself hard to accept.
As Chief Inspector Gamache says more than once, this case is about our beliefs and how they shape our actions and define our lives. In this book, the characters hunt not only for a murderer but for the numinous. Psalm 46 is quoted repeatedly
"Be still and know that I am God"
Gamache and a number of the other characters in the book actively seek the presence of God to provide them with direction or purpose. The God is not necessarily a Christian God. There is a nod towards other religions, including a translation of the traditional Indian greeting, Namaste, as "The God in me greets the God in you." Leonard Cohen is also enlisted in the search for the numinous, with a quote from the lyrics of Anthem:
"Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in."
Light becomes central to the discussion of the divine and the language used in the book is often truly luminous, glowing with beauty and joy. The passage in which Clara's painting of "The Three Grace's" is described is wonderful as are some of the physical descriptions of Three Pines.
Despite the beauty of the language and the skill of the exposition, I struggled with the strong influence of the divine in this book. At times, I felt as if I had wandered into a modern allegory, exploring a seeker's path through the tribulations a long life, rather than a murder mystery.
The struggle arose partly from my expectation that I WAS reading a murder mystery and not a parable and partly because I am so deeply unconvinced by the possibility of the personal experience of God in my Louise Penny led.
I resolved the struggle by accepting that I WASN'T reading a murder mystery but rather a novel that seeks to illustrate the possibility of belief as a source of good or evil that has a real impact on who we become. I allowed that the characters described here sincerely believe in the existence of the God they seek and the Three Pines is more than a place, it is an aspiration for what a community should be.
Taken on these terms, "Dead Cold" became a delightful read with a murder mystery and a little internal Police political intrigue added as seasoning.
I ended the book feeling glad that I'd heard Louise Penny's unique voice and wondering what intent is driving this series.
Adam Sims did a great job narrating "Dead Cold". Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.
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~ABOUT THE BOOK~
Asking For It
Emma O'Donovan is eighteen, beautiful, and fearless. It's the beginning of summer in a quiet Irish town and tonight she and her friends have dressed to impress. Everyone is at the party, and all eyes are on Emma. The next morning Emma's parents discover her collapsed on the doorstop of their home, unconscious. She is disheveled, bleeding, and disoriented, looking as if she had been dumped there. To her distress, Emma can't remember what happened the night before. All she knows is that none of her friends will respond to her texts. At school, people turn away from her and whisper under their breath. Her mind may be a blank as far as the events of the previous evening, but someone has posted photos of it on Facebook under a fake account, "Easy Emma"-photos she will never be able to forget. As the photos go viral and a criminal investigation is launched, the community is thrown into tumult. The media descends, neighbors chose sides, and people from all over the world want to talk about her story. Everyone has something to say about Emma. Contains mature themes.
~MY QUICKIE REVIEW~
How do you rate a book, that not only physically hurts to read but also has characters that are actually quite unlikable? And yet, embeds itself under your skin and into your head. It will make you think about rape culture and how the world perceives a girl who is "asking for it". It demonstrates the small-mindedness of some. It shows cyber-bullying at it's very worse. Asking For It is a raw, gritty read filled with overwhelming sadness, but at the same time feels like it needs to be read.
This is superbly written, although I was tripped up by her inner dialogue. I listened to Audio, and the narrator did change her voice for this, unfortunately, it's difficult to pull off, even for an excellent narrator; and usually works much better in print format. So, maybe, I should have read this one instead of listening.
☆4.3☆STARS - GRADE=A-
~BREAKDOWN OF RATINGS~
Main Characters~ 4/5
Secondary Characters~ 4/5
The Feels~ 5/5
Theme or Tone~ 4/5
Flow (Writing Style)~ 3.5/5
Backdrop (World Building)~ 5/5
Book Cover~ This one and the Barbie doll-like cover are both perfect for the book.
Narration~ ☆4.5☆ is well done by Aoife McMahon
Setting~ Ballinatoom, Ireland
Source~ Audiobook (Scribd)
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montréal and yet a world away. Jane Neal, a long-time resident of Three Pines, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it's a tragic hunting accident and nothing more but Gamache smells something foul this holiday season…and is soon certain that Jane died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.
Well, Chief Inspect Armand Gamache, I am pleased to make your acquaintance! For some reason, he reminded me somewhat of Brother Cadfael in Ellis Peters’ Chronicles. That same sensible, calm approach to the world. As I get older, I’m less drawn to the gruesome, gory mysteries and I’m starting to see the appeal of these gentler stories, containing characters that I’d actually enjoy spending time with. They have interests and relationships beyond the detective biz and are well-rounded people.
I also found it interesting to read a tale set in my own country. Although I have never visited Quebec, it’s definitely on my list, just a little later in life. Exotic international travel while I still can, then Europe & the US, finally ending with Canadian travel when health & health insurance are of greater importance!
I will be returning to Three Pines to see what occupies its denizens as soon as I can. (I’m currently no. 39 in line at the library, with 15 copies available—it will be a little while).