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on March 10, 2008
This book is #3 in the Three Pines mysteries and I am guessing that the negative reviews of this book come from people who have not read the previous two books. This book relied on a continuation of storylines from the previous books much more than book #2. I really enjoyed Cruelest Month and a big part of the reason I liked it is because it resolved some of the issues left in suspense from book #2. This author is such an incredible writer and the mysteries are intricate and surprising, so that I think this book is still strong on its own, but I definitely think you should read the first two books to truly appreciate #3. I couldn't disagree more about another reviewer's assessment that the characters are boring. The diverse, complicated, and realistic characters are why I love these books so much. Every book gives the reader more insight on each of the main characters. I really have a soft spot for Clara and Peter. The only reason I gave this book four and a half stars instead of five is because the end felt slightly unabalanced, with more focus on the culmination of the political intrigue/conspiracy to bring Gamache down than the resolution of the murder. I thought the "outing" of the murderer suffered slightly at having so much going on for Gamache personally. But still a fantastic book and I am eagerly awaiting hte next installment.
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VINE VOICEon December 4, 2007
First Sentence: Kneeling in the fragrant moist grass of the village green Clara Morrow carefully hid the Easter egg and thought about raising the dead, which she planned to do right after supper.

It is Easter and Inspector Armand Gamache has been called back to the small town of Three Pines where a woman has been literally frightened to death during a séance in the old Handley mansion. Gamache has his own ghosts to uncover as someone is out to destroy his career, his life and that of his family. To save himself, he must uncover a murderer and a spy in his midst.

There are not a lot of authors whose words beg me to read them aloud, but I spent the weekend annoying a friend with my constant "Listen to this...". There is such humor and incite in Penny's writing. For me, she hits all the right notes; wonderful sense of place, fascinating well-rounded human characters, excellent dialogue, a bit of suspense, meticulous plotting and just a faint touch of spiritualism. I came away from this, and all her books, feeling I've been giving a bit of insight on human nature but never that I've been preached to.

For me, this book was so much more than a basic traditional mystery and quite possibly, the best of her books yet. The only problem I had with this book was that life kept getting in the way of my reading time. Highly recommended.
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on March 15, 2008
I just finished The Cruelest Month which I had pre-ordered after thoroughly enjoying the first two books in the Three Pines series. This author's character development is amazing. I want to know Clara, Peter, Myrna, Ruth, Gabri and Olivier in real life. They are such caring neighbors and genuinely love each other in spite of their flaws like true friends do. I grew up in such a town and miss it every day. If I could find Three Pines I would visit it soon. I just want to thank Louise Penny for taking me away from everyday life for a few hours again and making me smile, cry, shudder, cringe and laugh outloud. Can't wait for the next installment!
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VINE VOICEon February 14, 2011
This is the third book in Louise Penny's excellent series featuring Sûreté du Québec Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team. Gamache is called back to the small village of Three Pines when a woman dies of fright at a seance attended by several of the local villagers. The medical examiner rules the death a murder because ephedra, a banned diet drug known to cause heart attacks, is found in the dead woman's system. Gamache does not lack for suspects who had both the motive and means to slip the dead woman the drug.

Not only must Gamache deal with the murder, but a series of stories appear in the Montreal newspapers accusing him of being in cahoots with Superintendent Arnot, a Sûreté officer Gamache arrested for murder knowing that he would no longer be part of the inner circle of the Sûreté du Québec and his career would be stalled. His fellow officers either loved or hated his actions, but now someone has started a hate campaign in the newspapers against him. Gamache does not respond knowing that it will only add fuel to his detractors. However, when the instigator goes after Gamache's grown son and daughter, he goes toe to toe with the man he believes is behind the attacks only to find out that he was wrong, very wrong.

Once again, Penny has written a wonderfully rich and detailed procedural set in a village whose residents are quirkily unique, like the renowned poet Ruth Zardo who, in this outing, has bonded with a pair of ducklings. Each time Penny returns Gamache to Three Pines, readers learn a little more about the residents and by this outing, it is as if the reader is catching up with old friends.

Penny's writing is fluid and rich. In every book, the reader will find sentences that compel her/him to write them down. For instance, in this book, Penny says ". . . Three Pines smelled of fresh earth and promise. And maybe a worm or two." Added to the wonderful way with words that Penny possesses are the images she creates of her characters. Here, she has Gamache, who is a large man, tiptoeing down the village street after a rain storm trying to avoid stepping on the worms that litter the road.

This is a series that needs to be read in the order Penny wrote them starting with "A Still Life." Reading the series in order allows the reader to get to know Gamache and his team and the residents of Three Pines. Penny is not stingy with the details of her characters' lives, but in each book she manages to add another layer to each character so we understand them better, like them more, and even be surprised by some of them.
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on March 16, 2009
I've enjoyed this series, and I recommend it to those who like the genre. I do want to say, though, that I'm weary of the author not letting the readers in on the secrets. Over, over, and over, Penny has a detective discover something, or another character see something, and toys with the reader by not saying what it was. OK, once in while that's a device that will keep people reading. But not EVERY disovery, or EVERY insight, or EVERY time a character sees ANYTHING. Enough! Do it once per book, maybe twice at most, and then just write, and forget the devices. Louise Penny is a good enough writer that she doesn't need devices to keep people writing.

And one other thing -- sometimes the repartee among the characters drags. I sometimes skip through the chatter, because it's just a little *too* cozy. So here's my advice to the author: tighten up the dialogue, quit teasing the reader, and TRUST the reader to just enjoy a good yarn with well drawn characters. It'll work, trust me.
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on March 28, 2009
Book Club Review
The Cruelest Month
Louise Penny

Our book club's book for March was THE CRUELEST MONTH, by Louise Penny. We decided on this book because it intersected two themes we have been thinking about reading. The first one was wanting to read a "cozy." The second was wanting to reading something either written by a Canadian or set in Canada. (We were talking about how close Canada is, and yet how little we really know about it. We have also read other Canadian mysteries, and have enjoyed them.)

This is (it turns out) the third in a series set in the fictional Quebec town of Three Pines. A beloved local resident--a cancer survivor who fled life in the big city for something more simple--dies during a seance, which takes place in the town's "haunted house." The investigative team led by Armand Gamache is called in to figure out what has happened. Was it murder? Can you literally scare someone to death? In the meantime, Gamache--who has blown the whistle on some terrible goings-on in the department--is the target of a cruel vendetta that seeks to ruin him, his family, and his career.

In some ways Three Pines is a sort of Quebecois version of St. Mary Mead, complete with all the delightful businesses and local characters that one expects in a cozy. But Three Pines is an update of that typical village; the author works hard at making the cast overtly "diverse," including a much-beloved and accepted gay couple and a black woman who runs the local bookstore. The investigation does proceed very slowly, with a psychologically perceptive but somehow not very satisfying conclusion.
This was a book that, as a club, we felt we really wanted to like, but we were left feeling disappointed, underwhelmed even. On the positive side, the author is simply fantastic at evoking the sights and sounds of this quaint village, with its local bakery, and bed & breakfast, and bookstore. Penny's powers of description are really superb.

But a lot of the other elements didn't come together for us. So much of the book was simply saccharine (one member complained it almost give him a toothache). There is a lot of New Age mumbo-jumbo going on, as well as a haunted house that is taken much too seriously, and given way too much weight in the story in a way that pushed our suspension of disbelief too far. The plot meanders and takes a long while to get where it's going, and the "revenge against the whistle blower" subplot overwhelms the main story in a way we felt was melodramatic. The dialogue is quite uneven--sometimes syrupy sweet, sometimes filled with really bad jokes, and occasionally quite profane (which came as a shock, as it seemed to go against the "cozy" feeling the author was trying to create). We all have been known to curse a blue streak, and we're not necessarily opposed to it in a novel, but it seemed so out of place here, that we wondered if the author had purposely inserted it to defend herself against criticism that the novel was too "homey." And, finally, Gamache is just so perfect, so sensitive, so loving, so perceptive, that it's really hard to relate to him as a real human being.

All in all, I would say that as a group we came away disappointed. Eleven of us attended this meeting. None of us loved it. Two liked it, three said it was OK, six said it was a struggle to get to the end. None of us felt any desire to read any more in the series. This led to an interesting discussion of reading series books in order or not (a discussion we've had before). A couple of people said that they'd heard that Penny's earlier books were much better, and we should have started with those. We have a diverse club, and even though we all like different things, it's interesting to see how our opinions cluster on one side or the other; for this one we just felt like it was a misfire, but we respect the fact that Penny is well respected at what she does.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon December 22, 2012
Penny writes murder mysteries, and wins prizes doing it; this is the third in her series featuring Chief Inspector Gamache of the Sûreté de Quebec and it got her third Agatha Award. But her books are also a good deal more than that. She delves deeply into her characters' personalities and pasts, their confluences and conflicts, and lays them bare for the reader's instruction. Gamache, assisted as always by his right hand, Inspector Beauvoir, has two battles to win this time. The first is to work out who killed Madeleine Favreau, breast cancer survivor and bright light to all those around her. The second is to discover who in the upper ranks of the Sûreté is trying to ruin him and his family as revenge for Gamache having brought down a murderously corrupt Superintendent a few years before. As in the first two books, the action takes place in the tiny forest village of Three Pines, just a couple miles north of the U.S. border, and it focuses, moreover, on the old Hadley house, where much evil already has been done and which haunts the residents of the village. (In fact, the one thing that bothers many of Penny's fans is the concentration of so much violent crime in such a small community -- but at least it's all more or less connected.) In the background, there's also the story of Clara Morrow's latest painting. She's been well thought of as an artist for a long time, but only in a small way; this one is her break-through piece. And Peter, one of the great Canadian artists of his generation, is so jealous of his wife's talent, he almost can't stand it. And then there's old Ruth Zardo, the profane poet (also a great artist, naturally), and her goslings. In fact, many of the supporting players have their own lessons to learn. Penny shows a great understanding of how people work and an equally great talent for explaining them -- or allowing them to explain themselves. And Agent Nichol, who is easily one of the most loathsome characters ever delineated, turns out to have quite another side.

Some books you can pick up and put down as you find time from doing other things. But I try not to start one of Penny's books unless I'm sure I will have a couple days of uninterrupted reading space to devote to it. She always repays that concentration. And, please: Don't attempt to read this one without having read the first two. It's a continuing story and you'll have no idea who all these people are.
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on November 24, 2008
Chief Insp. Armand Gamache and his team investigate yet another death in the tiny Québec village of Three Pines in Penny's third well-plotted cozy, which follows Still Life and A Fatal Grace. The Hadley house has been a dark presence on the hill above the village for years, so when a psychic comes to the village for a visit, the townspeople decide, half seriously and half in fun, to hold a séance in the old place and rid the house of whatever evil is haunting it. Things go awry as the séance progresses and the eight participants become truly frightened, one of them, Madeleine Favreau collapses, apparently dead of fright. Madeleine is liked by all and loved by some, she seems to be the most popular woman in the village, but when the autopsy reveals her death is murder, Gamache and his team are called in. As usual, Gamache looks beyond the facts to survey the emotions of the villagers in assessing who may have committed the crime.
In this third book, the repercussions of Gamache's role in an earlier case in which he arrested a popular superior at the Sûreté du Québec for heinous crimes finally comes to a head. Gamache works not only to solve the murder but to clear his name.
The secondary plotlines in the first two books are wrapped up in this third installment in the series. Once again Penny has beautifully portrayed the village and it's inhabitants and surrounding countryside as Spring approaches and another murder occurs. This is the darkest of the books so far, both because of the supernatural aspect and the ominous approach of a conclusion to the secondary plotline, as the very likeable Armand Gamache faces his cruel enemy. As with the previous books, this one left me wanting more. The next installment of this series will be available in the U.S. in early 2009.
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on September 15, 2014
I have been reading the Inspector Gamache series in order and have enjoyed the continuation of the character development as the series progresses. I particularly enjoy the setting in Quebec and have utilized author Penny's on-line guide to the French pronunciation of words and phrases she has used. I'd have given this one four stars except I felt there was some repetition that weighed down parts of the book.
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VINE VOICEon March 2, 2009
I realize that all the Louise Penny fans will beat me up for not loving this book. They should go back and see the rating I gave for the first book in the series -- which I loved. The second book was more flawed. This book was just not very good. It took me forever to wade through it -- I read it over the course of a couple of weeks, which is not a good sign for a mystery. If I had to summarize the problem, it's that the good things about the first book are now totally exaggerated, to the point where it's simply over the top.

One of the themes that the author loves is good vs. evil. To that end, her characters seem to be cardboard stereotypes of good and evil. Gamache is clearly a saintly man persecuted by evil people (supposed to remind you of someone who was crucified?). And the philosophizing! Oy vey, the author is no philosopher. She ends up sounding like a college freshman sitting up all night talking with friends. Worst of all, the philosophizing took the place of actually spending time on the mystery. The book would have been 100 pages shorter and much better if the author had edited out the mediocre philosophizing and Arnot stuff.

Although I'm supposed to love Gamache, I just didn't, because he was no more real that these coworkers who are bent on destroying him. Office politics is never that bad, certainly not that conspiratorial. It's impossible for me to believe that all these high level police officials sit around trying to figure out how to bring this man down out of revenge for what he did to someone now in jail -- or for any other reason.

This whole business about an "evil" house is also too ridiculous. As is the man who hears trees talking to him.

Finally, the whole "detective gets all the characters in the room to confront the killer and explain it all" ending has been way overdone and is very uncreative.

Yes, the book was adequate for me to finish it, but I really doubt that I will buy the next book in this series. It's a shame, because the first book was so good.
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