"The Brutal Telling" by Louise Penny is as much literary saga as mystery. As with any good saga the residents of the Canadian village of Three Pines are both fascinating and alive as they go about their daily lives that flow among the shops and houses surrounding the village green. As with any good mystery, the reader quickly becomes a participant in solving the crime at hand. Featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his homicide team for the Sûreté du Québec, this fifth and latest entry in the Three Pines series meets and exceeds expectations set by previous books.
The first chapter of this tale opens deep in the forest where we overhear a conversation between a man identified only as "The Hermit" and a man called Olivier. The tone carries hints of fantasy and the forest primeval as The Hermit warns, "Chaos is here, old son." There is an immediate sense of isolation and fear. The story then quickly shifts to the village and the discovery of the body in the village Bistro, a body recognized only by the Bistro's owner Olivier, who chooses to keep his knowledge of The Hermit to himself. Enter Chief Inspector Gamache and the hunt is on. Who is the dead man? Where was he killed and why? Who is telling the truth and who is lying? Who amongst them is a murderer?
"The Brutal Telling" stands out from the standard issue police procedural because, intertwined with the familiar workings of the murder investigation, are bits of poetry, art, and culinary magic. There is also history, philosophy, psychology, and wisdom woven into a tapestry that feels both ancient and new. Readers new to the series will be as delighted as those returning. This is a place where you want to linger and wander about. With "The Brutal Telling" Penny has produced that rare find: a literary mystery. Like good coffee on a cold day, it should be sipped slowly and savored to the last drop.
This review is based on an Early Reviewer's copy supplied by Minotaur Books through [...]
on July 26, 2010
A synopsis of this novel's plot and action has been covered in many of the reviews to date, so I won't bore readers with a repeat of those details. Rather I would like to address the many fans of Louis Penny's Three Pines series. This is the fifth book in the series and I, like so many other readers, devoured the first four with gusto, falling in love with Three Pines and it's wonderful, albeit quirky, residents. Thus it was good news to have a fifth book in the continuing series (the sixth book is to be released this Fall), but, unfortunately, I found bad news in the actual reading. That's not to say that the writing wasn't great, as Penny's writing is always smooth and satisfying, but Penny seems to have turned upon her creations. After spending four books creating a village in which readers wanted to live and wonderful characters who readers wanted to spend time with, Penny, like Saturn devouring his children, ripped open the ugly side of some of her characters. I found myself aghast with horror and emotional distaste at the thoughts and actions of characters that I had come to love through her first four books. I won't spoil it for those of you who have not yet read this book by giving specific details, but, if you are like me, you'll find your emotions in a state of flux as you come to hate characters that you had previously really liked. Penny may have been trying to achieve a more realistic picture of what small villages and people are truly like, but, if I had wanted that kind of realism, I would have picked up a non-fiction book. Instead of eagerly awaiting the next book in the series (as I did with each of the first four), I now find myself wondering if I even want to bother reading about these nasty, jealous, greedy, criminal characters again. Additionally, the denouement of The Brutal Telling is less than satisfactory, leaving numerous loose ends untied or simply unaddressed at all. This is not Penny's best work, instead it goes a long way towards tearing down all that she had spent four books building up.
"The Brutal Telling" is Louise Penny's fifth book set in the village of Three Pines, near Montreal. To get things rolling, an unknown hermit is found dead in the local bistro owned by two gay partners, Olivier and Gabri. Chief Inspector Armande Gamache and his colleagues Isabelle Lacoste and Jean Guy Beauvoir of the Surete du Quebec return to Three Pines to track down the murderer.
The Gamache books do a very good job of mixing a cozy-style mystery plot with the sort of subjects you'd find on PBS during the weekend (e.g., cooking, antiques, lifestyle portraits, travel, the arts). The puzzle at the heart of the mystery is not exceptional; many mystery lovers will figure out the culprit's identity before the end. Luckily, Penny's books have more to offer than the crime plot alone; the beautiful backdrop, the perceptive characters and the various other smaller subplot mysteries grab the reader's interest. None of it is very new, mind you, but it all adds up to make a good if not great read.
If you like P.D. James' Inspector Dalgliesh, you'll probably like Gamache. They're similar in their sensitivities and sensibilities. Also, the overall tone of this crime series reminds me of the British TV program "Midsomer Murders" featuring Inspector Barnaby. In that series, the village environment is used well, the crimes are shocking but not overly violent, and the characters draw you in with their small-town likability and, at times, eccentricities. I'd say the same is true of Penny's works including this one, "The Brutal Telling."
I give this book three stars because I found it entertaining and enjoyable but not especially innovative or enlightening; filling a novel with references to poetry and art, for example, isn't a substitute for actual ideas. That being said, if you really, really like contemporary cozies and you're growing tired of the unimaginative settings used in most modern mysteries, you'll probably find this novel rates four stars, maybe even five. And I don't think you'd be wrong.
on July 2, 2011
Let me start by saying that I am a Louise Penny fan. Her mysteries are not tight and tidy, but that's ok -- they are like oversized, sloppy slabs of cake with messy icing dripping down the side -- sweet and delicious, if not neat. But The Brutal Teling is TOO messy -- too much going on, too many un-linked, irrelevant stories. And I don't mean that there are many red herrings, which is fine. I mean there are green herrings, blue herrings, mauve herrings. I don't want to include any spoilers, so will not beef about the unsatisfying ending. But let's just say that I didn't buy it. Hope she pulls back a bit in the future, so that I can once again enjoy her wonderful tales of Three Pines, and the lovely Gamache.
2.5 stars, really. Over the Labor Day holiday, the body of a man is found in Gabri and Olivier's Bistro. No one knows (or will admit to knowing) who he is, so Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team of homicide investigators once again descend on Three Pines to seek out a murderer.
As always, Penny's prose is lovely (and Ralph Cosham's narration is such a pleasure). But I've finally decided the plots have to be seen as symbolic, much like Ruth's poems or Clara's paintings, because they bear less and less resemblance to things people would actually do. This book was all over the place to very little end. I also found it interesting that Penny managed to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with complaints about the confusion of the transition.
This is not the place to start with Penny's Armand Gamache series, she relies a little too much on the reader having previous knowledge of the characters and the village. I don't think there's much tension in the narrative for anyone who isn't already familiar with Gabri and Olivier. Series fans should probably read it because there are some elements set for future books.
on October 30, 2009
I read and loved Louise Penny's previous novels and eagerly awaited this one. However, I was terribly disappointed. I found the premise preposterous, the development illogical and at times silly and the overall tale an ugly one. If I had read this novel first, I would not have become a Louise Penny fan.
on September 5, 2012
Louise Penny's novels are hugely entertaining and thought provoking but this one is not up to the level of the others in the series. The plot was contrived, even implausible. A character living alone in the woods, within walking distance of Three Pines and only two people knew about him? How did he build the cabin? How did he get all his treasures there? The clues were incredible as well. Spider webs....Charlotte's web? Native American carvings? The trip to British Columbia was really farfetched. Readers can willingly suspend belief but only to a certain degree. The presence of a new family, while welcome to the Village (Penny does need some new characters for later novels), also seemed contrived, especially the role played by the unbeloved father. All in all, it was a difficult novel to finish reading although revisiting some of the characters of the Village was enjoyable.
on December 4, 2012
Louise Penny can tell a story pretty well, but I just don't like the ones she writes. I will admit that she keeps me interested in each of her books despite the many things about her work that drive me nuts--the sign of a very competent writer.
One thing I dislike about her work is how she insists on creating a New Ageish, mystical side to her plots, making them silly instead of intriguing. In "The Brutal Telling" she again tries to create some big mystical aura, trying to dress up a reasonably good normal plot about a murder caused by human weakness. This book could have been so much better without the "fairy tale" story being told along with the plot. As it is, there were many implausible aspects to this plot--perhaps Penny was distracting the reader from them with her fairy tale.
I am particularly irritated by the overly dramatic nature of this book (and her others). The characters are on emotional overload all the time and are hypersensitive to their surroundings, to art, to poetry, etc. Also, Penny seems to feel she has to end each chapter with a foreboding sentence to keep the drama going. Her constant use of adjectives (overdone throughout the book) implying horror, terror, etc, add to the melodramatic feeling in the book.
There are other things that I found distracting as I read this book. Gabri's sexual innuendo is constant and tedious. The Ruth/duck aspect of the story is ridiculous, and having the duck wear clothes in this book is too much (if this is some kind of symbol it is a silly one). The "moral" at the end of the book seems tacked on. Penny's reverence for art and artists gets old. Her worship of tolerance is trying, especially as relates to Ruth.
Finally, this book is too long. There is so much description, so many adjectives, that could be cut, and this would definitely be a better book.
For more mystery series that may entertain you, check out my website describing and reviewing many series (see my Amazon profile for the URL).
on May 15, 2012
"A Brutal Telling" is the fifth installment in the Three Pines mystery series by Louise Penny. I was slow to discover these books and am working my way through them and enjoying each and every minute of it.
Set back in Three Pines, (after moving to another locale for the previous book) a body has been discovered on the floor of the bistro/antiques shop run by Gabri and Olivier. No one knows the identity of the elderly gentleman but since it's the closing days of summer and many visitors are winding up their holiday, it may be that this is unconnected to the village residents. The novel primarily covers following Chief Inspector Gamache as he tries to discover the identity of the gentleman and unravels both the motive and identity of the killer. The tone of this installment is darker than previous ones as deeply buried secrets of this idyllic village are exposed and the residents' backgrounds are explored. Not all motives are pure, regardless of how picture-perfect the village seems.
I enjoyed the first four books a great deal and loved this one as well. With an inspector that quotes poetry and has an introspective side, not only is there a good mystery but there is a deeper look at human beings and how they try to fill the empty places in their souls --- sometimes with dire consequences. A secluded cabin, hidden treasure, greed, and fear all come together to form a story that kept drawing me back. A bit mystery as well as literary fiction, this series is fantastic and each one a gem.
To truly appreciate this novel, I would recommend you go back to the first one ("Still Life") and work your way through in the order written.
Should appeal to fans of Julia Spencer-Fleming and G. M. Malliet's new series beginning with "Wicked Autumn". While the setting is cozy this is more traditional mystery than cozy mystery.
on January 10, 2015
Don't read this book alone. By that, I mean don't read it unless you have with you a copy of Louise Penny's next novel in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, Bury Your Dead.
I think Ms. Penny wrote herself into a corner in Brutal Telling. After rounding up numerous clues, suspects, motives and opportunities for the murder of the hermit, she ultimately could not decide who did it and chose a murderer at random. The book comes to a very unsatisfying conclusion and, in my view, does not stand well on its own. As usual, the prose is superb and her story telling creates pictures in your imagination in a way few writers can do. I enjoyed 90% of the book but the last 10% just irritated me as it became apparent that the story was not going to come together. The ending was neither believable nor satisfying.
Then again, perhaps Ms. Penny knew exactly what she was doing and was setting us up for her next book in the series. As good fortune had it, the next book in the series, Bury Your Dead, was at hand (both were library copies) and I started reading it immediately with no idea that the story of the murder of the hermit would continue in that book. But it does. And in the last chapters of Bury Your Dead, the Brutal Telling is brought to a surprising but believable and satisfying conclusion.
Bury Your Dead is so good that it will stand alone but you will understand it better if you read Brutal Telling first. The converse is not true - don't bother to read Brutal Telling unless you are prepared to read Bury Your Dead.