This is book 12 in the detective series with Chief Inspector Gamache. I love the quiet wisdom and strength with which the author has imbued Commander Armand Gamache. His authority and power come from his dignified bearing not an attitude of cruelty or bullying or of reminding everyone of his importance. He is always perfectly in control of himself in a way which leads one to respect him, and the author has painted him perfectly for the role. I love his sense of humor and the way he banters with his wife. I admire their relationship which seems to be one of pure love and respect, a state few achieve. Many of the characters are charming and also quirky. Although some have achieved some success in their lives, they desire to remain unseen in the world and have chosen a remote and serene way of life. One of my favorite characters is Ruth who carries her duck Rosa with her. Quite truthfully, she has a colorful, expressive tongue that is most often like that of an angry truck driver rather than a lady!
After a recuperative hiatus because of a grave injury, Commander Gamache has returned to work, but he is no longer the Chief Inspector, rather he now heads up the Sûreté Academy. He is cleaning house, cleaning up the atmosphere of corruption at the Academy and trying to soften the atmosphere of brutality some of the cadets seem to have adopted. In this regard, he has fired a good deal of the staff, and the replacements have been carefully chosen by him for the specific purpose of recreating a healthy, professional atmosphere. He has, also, thoughtfully chosen the new recruits based on what he hopes is their ability to succeed in their future careers, giving one particular student, Amelia Choquet, a lifeline, a lifeline for which no one understands his true motivation. Has he made the right choices to accomplish his goals or will he fail because his ultimate path and purpose is too dangerous?
When a seemingly innocent, but odd-looking map is discovered, Gamache assigns four of his cadets to discover its meaning. This simple assignment sets the wheels in motion and opens up a Pandora’s Box which eventually becomes the catalyst for a murder, and also for the beginning of the cure for what had ailed the Sûreté Academy. The mystery and the corruption had risen to the highest levels of the law enforcement organizations, in the Academy, the Sûreté du Quebec and in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
This is not a thriller holding you at the edge of your seat; this is a thoughtful police investigation, revealed layer by layer, step by step, by the incredible Commander Gamache with his patient thoughtfulness and careful reasoning. Once you begin, you will not want to stop reading until you find out all of the secrets and lies so you can solve the multiple mysteries revealed as the story plays out.
The interactions between all of the characters are at times serious and at times infused with a cheerful good humor. Most, in spite of all their shortcomings, and/or strengths, are highly likeable, although there are some who are far from admirable, as in the swindlers, the betrayers and the sadists. Each of the characters, warts and all, is developed so that he/she comes to life on the page. Each seems all too real, even in their oddness.
The reader is fantastic; he is a narrator extraordinaire. He has captured the personality of each and every character in their own distinctive way so that none bleed on to the other and each stands out as a separate and recognizable entity. Each of the Gamache novels can also stand alone, and each new one is as enjoyable as the last. The characters are developed and the inspector and his wife are warm and inviting. They bring you into the tale with their charm. The Inspector Gamache stories are exciting, entertaining and appealing.
The novel does not rush to its conclusion, in which every “t” is actually crossed and every “i” is dotted, but rather it gently meanders there, creating intrigue, misdirection and interest, drawing in the reader and holding him fast until the conclusion. The journey from beginning to end is a pleasure. What does the map represent? Who is the student to whom he throws a lifeline? Why does he do it? Your suspicions will constantly be aroused, but I doubt anyone will guess any of the answers to questions that arise, until the novel ends and reveals its secrets to you.