The Long Way Home by Louise Penny is more than a crime novel

Armand Gamache is no longer Chief Inspector of the Homicide Department. He no longer lives a life that was ordered but never routine. He has physically recovered from the injuries he received on duty and is now he living to the cadence of Three Pines, a small village in rural Quebec. He walks regularly with his wife, Reine-Marie, exercises his eccentric German Shepherd, Henri, spas with the belligerent poet, Ruth, and has come to relish the regular get-togethers with a close knit group of locals for barbecues, or a glass of wine.

Then a close friend seeks him out: embarrassed that she is perhaps in danger of opening old wounds. Clara and her husband Peter are both artists. Since University he had been the successful one, hailed by the critics, while she was the supportive wife, a “dabbler” creating oddball work, humiliated by purists quirky installations, discounted by her professors. But over the years, while Peter stagnates in his technical excellence, Clara develops a unique, constantly evolving voice that captivates critics and art lovers. The strain on the couple’s relationship had grown untenable and she had insisted on a trial separation; a year apart after which they would meet up and see if they could revive their relationship. But he has failed to appear, even to get in touch. Clara enlists Gamache’s help in finding, one way or another, what has happened to her husband. The only drawback is that despite his expertise she must remain the one in charge.

The Long Way Home is an extremely satisfying crime novel. Gamache is an appealing hero, more subtle and human than the run-of-the-mill “wounded” officer. The relationship with his policeman son-in-law, battling his own demons, is suitably underdone and there are enough a plot twists and double backflips, including a strange cult and a particularly ingenious (possibly unique) way of administering retribution, to keep the whodunit readers satisfied.

But it offers more, and it is easy to see why Louise Penny is consistently on the top best-selling lists. She creates a powerful, occasionally almost surreal, sense of place with Canada’s startling scenery a central character rather than just a setting, from the rural coziness of the village to the famous menacing darkness of the St Lawrence river, the dangerous Lower North Shore and the startling Charlevoix area. She also takes us inside the complex world of high end art, the dollars and cents cutthroat economic reality running side by side with the psychological torment of artistic endeavour, the agony of mediocrity and the transcendent power of real genius.

The Long Way Home by Louse Perry has just been released by Sphere. It is also released in audio book form. Listen to extract:

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