Armand of Avonlea…
🙂 🙂 🙂
When a much-loved resident of the small town of Three Pines is murdered, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team are sent from the Sûreté du Quebec to investigate. Gamache is much taken by the apparently idyllic life here, so much slower than city life and with a real sense of community, but he will slowly begin to uncover the hidden secrets of some of the residents.
This is the first in what may be the one series of which I’ve read most glowing reviews in my time on the blogosphere. Several long-term fans warned me that it’s not the best of the series, which is often true of the first book in many series. A lot of time is naturally spent introducing the people who will become recurring characters, and in a book with such a strong setting, a good deal of space has to be devoted to creating that too.
I had rather mixed feelings about it, to be honest. As with so much modern crime it is far too long for its content, with so much waffling and painting of word pictures that sometimes the plot seems to have been entirely forgotten, not just by the reader but by many of the characters too. Gamache spends inordinate amounts of time sitting on benches or in cafes, eating freshly-baked muffins and mulling about life in general. The Three Pines setting reminded me of Avonlea – lots of quirky but fundamentally good-hearted people all supporting each other and being generally lovely. I’ve never actually come across a place like that and am not convinced they exist outside children’s fiction, but I see the attraction of spending some time there.
Not that everything is idyllic, of course – we get a little mild homophobia, although of course the main characters are all totally non-homophobic, non-racist, non-greedy, non-selfish and non-everything else that makes fictional people generally repugnant but (*whispers*) interesting. And there’s a murder, so obviously there’s at least one bad apple in the wholesome barrel of the town.
But the murder is really just an unfortunate blip in a world where everyone loves each other devotedly, spending their time being understanding and caring, gathering together to carry out soul-cleansing rituals in the woods, and eating lavish amounts of home-made soup and fresh bread – always fresh. (I found myself wondering if there is somewhere in the wealthy Western world where people serve their guests mouldy bread? I’d have felt the freshness of the bread could be a given, just once.) Joking aside, I did find Penny’s habit of using at least one adjective per noun got a little wearing, especially when some nouns always attracted the same adjective each time, and it added to the feeling that I had at times that I was wading through a word-bog.
However, it was interesting enough as a first book for me to stick with the series for one or two more, to see if the slightly saccharin taste wears off and if the characters become less idealised. I was hoping that perhaps the later books would be shorter given that the setting has already been described in this one with as much detail as an Ordnance Survey map, but sadly I see they actually tend to get longer over time. I’m hoping that’s because the characters and stories become more complex…