Friday, May 17, 2013

Book Review: A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #2)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Rich characters and interesting plot...
Cons: ...once it got started; weak writing
The Bottom Line:
Slow start; weak writing
Balanced by strong characters
And strong second half

Murder on Boxing Day

The Three Pines series by Louise Penny has won many awards.  I've got several friends who are reading it and loving it.  I enjoyed the first book earlier this year, so I was looking forward to the holiday visit offered by A Fatal Grace (also published as Dead Cold).  Unfortunately, it wasn't as good as the first in the series.

 It's been a year since our last visit to Three Pines.  The big news in town are the new neighbors.  CC de Poitiers and her husband and daughter have moved to the small village.  Unfortunately, they aren't that popular, mostly because of CC's nasty attitude.

Someone has had enough.  On Boxing Day and community curling game is interrupted when CC is electrocuted in the middle of the lake.  So Chief Inspector Armand Gamache returns with his team to try to solve the crime.  Who would go with such a strange method to kill this despised lady?  Can Gamache overcome police politics to solve the crime?

One of the draws of the first book was the characters.  I'm glad to say they are all still here and all still very enjoyable.  In addition to the police, we get to spend some time getting to know the residence of Three Pines.  The police did play a bigger role this time around, but the scenes the residents had were enjoyable.  And I felt like I got to know the police better this time around, too.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't quite support them.  The beginning of the book is pretty slow.  The murder victim was very obvious, but I kept waiting for her to die.  Instead we got scenes that seemed to have little to do with anything.  Yes, they did play into things eventually, but the payoff wasn't enough to make up for the time it took to get through those pages.

Once the story truly got started, I was hooked.  The unique murder method still seems a little elaborate to me, although all the elements involved are logically explained by the end.  The identity of the killer was a complete surprise to me, although it did make sense.

The focus really does seem to be more on Gamache this time around.  He's dealing with problems at work, including some of the members of his old team.  It all stems from something that seems to have taken place between books.  I found this part quite interesting.  And things are set up nicely for this to be an on-going struggle for at least another book.  I do want to know how this gets resolved.

The writing is also a mixed bag.  On the one hand, it is atmospheric.  I could feel the cold of the winter storms that role through and the warmth of good friends and family at Christmas.

On the other hand, this author commits one of my biggest pet peeves, the random point of view switch.  Keep in mind that I enjoy a story where multiple points of view are used well to tell the story.  Here, the changes can happen multiple times in one scene so we know what a character is thinking.  That's just lazy writing.  Additionally, several chapters ended with a character, usually Gamache, putting something about the case together.  But instead of telling us what it was at the start of the next chapter, we are told several pages if not a chapter or two down the road.  That got annoying quickly as well, although it did get me to keep reading.

If I hadn't enjoyed the first book and if the series weren't so highly recommended, I would probably stop here.  But the praise for the books and the trouble Gamache is facing are enough to get me to read at least one more.  Hopefully, it is an improvement over A Fatal Grace.

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