Book Review: A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

A Rule Against Murder
by
Louise Penny

Rating:

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is the head of homicide for the Sûreté du Quebec, but in the fourth book in this series, Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie are taking a mini-vacation at the beautiful Manoir Bellechasse to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Or so they think.

They’re sharing the remote lodge with the wealthy Finney family, there to honor the raising of a statue of the late Charles Morrow, Mrs. Finney’s first husband and the father of their four adult children. It isn’t long before someone is murdered, however, and Gamache must change gears to investigate. He summons his staff, Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir and Agent Isabelle Lacoste, they quickly set up an investigation room and begin interviewing suspects.

The Finney family is not a warm bunch and the adult children are laden with bitterness and hatred for each other. Although they are in their 50s and 60s, their petty rivalries shoot to the surface, all centered around who was favored and loved and who was shunned. It doesn’t help that their mother is cold and distant and her new husband, Bert Finney is a puzzle. An accountant, he’s frequently seen doing his “sums” and the reader can’t help but ask if he’s in the marriage for the money.

The siblings are busy asserting themselves, in terms of who’s the most successful, most charming (on the outside), best at the piano, and word games and they frequently jab at each other’s weaknesses. The youngest Morrow, Mariana, takes her fair share of criticism. Unattractive, sloppy and less refined, she also has a child whose sex she refuses to reveal to the family.

Busy serving this demanding family are Pierre Patenaude, the Manoir’s maître d’, his large staff of young waiters and attendants, the owner, Clementine Dubois and Chef Véronique Langlois. There are secrets, romance, drama and a little rebellion among the Manoir’s staff, adding to the story.

Everyone is a suspect and, while it’s easy to line them up, it’s not easy to explain how the impossible events of the murder occurred. For Gamache, when more people go missing, it’s a race against time to figure it out.

Penny includes strong themes of family, fatherhood, and parenthood in general, the conflict between French and English Canadians and also between the upper class and the working class. Many of her characters, Gamache included, struggle in this story to understand their pasts and possible misconceptions about their families. She also includes a bit of her Three Pines characters, the recurring setting in her other books.

I enjoyed reading A Rule Against Murder, which absolutely can be read as a standalone, or even out of order. I read my first and only other book in the series, A Great Reckoning (Book 12) about two years ago and had no issues adjusting to the story line or characters then or now. You can read my 4-star review here. Penny’s books are smart, literary, a little quirky (but not too much to keep me away) and both serious and warm. I recommend A Rule Against Murder to mystery readers who enjoy both standalones and series.

Have you read any books by Louise Penny?

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A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler


A Spool of Blue Thread
by
Anne Tyler

Rating:

Can a house be a character in a book? I’ve been thinking about this ever since I finished Anne Tyler’s twentieth novel, A Spool of Blue Thread. Tyler incorporates her favorite themes of family and relationships into the story and her characters are tightly connected to the Baltimore family’s house on Bouton Road, where three generations have lived. And in that house the big question remains. If the anchor is pulled, where will they go?

This is only one of the themes in the book, the question of what ties a family together and how this changes as its members move on, grow older or die. The Whitshank family is both typical and unique in this regard, with its own set of problems and complex dynamics. When Abby Whitshank becomes forgetful and Red’s hearing worsens, their adult children come together, messily, to help them. Contributing to this drama is Denny Whitshank, the third child, and the family’s rebel. He’s perpetually misunderstood, causing all the problems that come with being a wayward son. But his siblings privately wonder, has he been their mother’s favorite all this time?

Class distinction and getting ahead drove the family’s patriarch, Junior Whitshank, who came from nothing and built a construction business, including the house on Bouton. That drive only carries to some of the family and is often in conflict with his wife’s down-home ways and his daughter-in-law, Abby’s social consciousness. Here’s a good example of a common difference in thinking which can pit family members against each other.

The plot jumps back and forth between the lives of Red, Abby and their children and Junior and Linnie Mae’s marriage a generation before. Learning the backstory after knowing the characters is one of my favorite story structures because I think it resembles the way we get to know people and understand their actions.

I enjoyed this story very much, in which Tyler creates a complicated family, full of undercurrent secrets and an unacknowledged division between its members. And despite this division and simmering aggression, they manage to maintain their dedication to each other when they pull together, without question, for emergencies, holidays and group vacations. I felt invested in these characters, developed my own favorites and hoped for the best when relationships took their hits.

I read this book greedily, thinking I knew how it would end, but I was a little disappointed with its uneventful finish, which will no doubt lead to a lot of book club discussion. Perhaps such an ending is Tyler’s point, that sometimes the buildup to a big decision makes the day it happens kind of ordinary.

I recommend A Spool of Blue Thread to readers who like stories about families. If you’re an Anne Tyler fan, you will enjoy this one as much as the others and look forward to the next one!

Check out The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler here.

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Calmer Girls by Jennifer Kelland Perry

Calmer Girls

Calmer Girls 
by
Jennifer Kelland Perry

Rating:

Samantha Cross has always been in her older sister Veronica’s shadow, but this could be a summer of big changes.  When the Cross girls move with their mother from Calmer Cove to the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Samantha’s first friend is a handsome eighteen-year-old boy, Ben Swift.  Samantha watches the inevitable sparks fly between Ben and Veronica and she knows she can’t compete with her sister’s beauty and flirtatious charms.  Maybe, she dreams, Ben will tire of Ronnie and appreciate Sam’s love of books and artistic talents.  And maybe he will notice those pretty green eyes behind her glasses.

What sounds like a simple story of first love is much more complex, however, because the Cross family has been upended by crisis.  The girls’ parents have separated, money is tight and their mother Darlene is drinking too much.  Between Darlene working the night shift and her father far away in Alberta, Sam and Ronnie are on their own to navigate the new social terrain.  High school starts in a couple months but for now it’s new friends, parties and Ben.

Ben may seem like the perfect guy, but he is keeping his own family problems shut tight in his head.  As the weeks pass, sibling rivalry, jealousy, misunderstandings and fistfights add tension to romance and friendship and the Cross family spirals towards disaster.

Calmer Girls is a realistic and at times, edgy Young Adult coming of age novel, taking the typical problems of adolescence and placing it in a part of the world many people have not seen.  Perry also includes the important subjects of alcoholism, abuse and economic downturn to make her story both relevant and meaningful.  Set in the 1990s, readers will also enjoy many references to popular music, including Pearl Jam, Green Day, REM and Nirvana.

I very much enjoyed reading Calmer Girls and I chose this book for my summer reading challenge to read about a place I would like to visit.  Newfoundland, Canada sounds like a beautiful place and it’s easy to picture the scenes, thanks to Perry’s descriptive talent.  From a sizzling plate of “chips” and gravy, seasoned with packets of vinegar and salt, to city street scenes and the beauty of the sea, Calmer Girls is both a love story and a visit to a charming place.


Follow along as I work my way through my 16 in 16 Challenge!

Book 1 – A Book You Can Finish in a Day:  The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner
Book 2 – A Book in a Genre You Typically Don’t Read:  The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
Book 3 – A Book with a Blue Cover:  The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Book 4 – A Book Translated to English:  I Refuse by Per Petterson
Book 5 – A Second Book in a Series:  Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy
Book 6 -A Book To Learn Something New: The Beginner’s Photography Guide by Chris Gatcum
Book 7 – A Book That Was Banned:  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

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