Jump right in to “Kingdom of the Blind” by Louise Penny even though it’s the eleventh in this series about Armand Gamache, a detective in Québec who has risen through the ranks although is he currently suspended. In this story, he is appointed as a liquidator, or executor, of the will of a woman he does not know. In fact, the two others appointed as liquidators, one of whom he does know, also do not know the deceased who chose them.
The will is extremely strange. A woman who worked as a cleaning lady states that she is leaving five million dollars to each of her three children and specifically directs them to sell the buildings in Vienna and Switzerland. Shortly after Gamache, Myrna, who owns the bookstore in Three Pines where Gamache lives, and a young man named Benedict, meet the notary at an old abandoned farmhouse to learn the terms of the will, one of the deceased’s sons, Anthony, is found dead.
There is mystery about the will and why this woman, who insisted on being known as the Baroness, left a will that seemed crazy. But there are many more mysteries in this carefully crafted, cunningly gripping story.
Although in some ways a new reader will feel like an intruder who doesn’t know what happened before the events in this story, Penny gives enough information so that it all still makes sense. The reader becomes connected to the characters and the plot and wants to find out how it all ends.
Gamache had led an investigation, and in the course of that investigation allowed drugs to be brought into Québec, most of which he was able to recover. However, there is still one huge shipment that is not accounted for, and Gamache will be responsible, at least in his own mind, for the deaths that occur once that terribly powerful drug hits the streets. It’s a lethal drug, and over the course of this story, the reader will accompany Gamache as he visits the underbelly of Québec to talk to drug dealers and prostitutes.
The quest for the retrieval of the drugs, the investigation into the death of Anthony, and the crazy will, which turns out to be not-so-crazy, and the relationships in the small, cozy town of Three Pines all serve to make this a lovely read. Especially during the winter months, the description of Québec will make even the chilliest Chicago (or New York or even Minneapolis) day feel not-so-bad. But the descriptions of the lovely small town outside Québec will certainly make readers want to journey there in summer to experience the charm and atmosphere in person.
The characters are powerful because they are not infallible. In fact, they make mistakes, they falter, they sacrifice, and they use others when needed. And for Gamache, at least, he bears the heavy weight of guilt for doing what he must while knowing that others will suffer. He is a good man caught in an impossible situation.
If you are new to Louise Penny books, by all means start with this one. The beautiful, almost poetic writing will entrance you, the action will keep you turning the pages, and the characters will steal your heart. But beware, you might just feel compelled to go back to the beginning and read them all.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Minotaur Books, for review purposes.