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by Louise Penny
St Martin's Minotaur, May 2007
320 pages
ISBN: 0312352565

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

First of all, be warned – A FATAL GRACE was previously published under the title DEAD COLD by Hodder Headline Press in October, 2006. If you happened upon a copy of this UK title, don’t bother spending your money on A FATAL GRACE. Changing the title for the US edition was a supremely dumb move, and you’ll see why once you’ve read the book.

A FATAL GRACE is the second in the carefully-written Three Pines series, after Penny’s highly acclaimed debut, STILL LIFE. Here Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec returns to the tiny village to investigate the murder of a thoroughly unpleasant woman.

CC de Poitiers is a Martha Stewart sort of person with an even more messianic mission. She’s just published a book offering spiritual guidance to her nearly non-existent following, and as A FATAL GRACE opens, she’s busy with author appearances and rethinking her marking strategy. Things aren’t going as well as they might in CC’s empire, and she believes that Three Pines might be just the place to use for her next media blitz. She’s even purchased a home there, a house that figured prominently in the first book in the series, in the hope of softening her image.

No one likes CC – not even her husband and daughter seem to be able to stand her – so no one grieves too much when she’s electrocuted in what appears to be a freak accident at a curling match. Still, the death is unusual enough for the authorities to be summoned, and they arrive in the person of Armand Gamache and his conflicted team. Since everyone hated CC, it’s not easy for him to tease out who among this very large pool of suspects had the motive, opportunity and expertise to kill her. Gamache finally succeeds, but not before he’s fallen in love with the little town and its quirky inhabitants.

Armand Gamache is a warm and wise protagonist. The characters, mainly the villagers of Three Pines, are varied and well drawn, although somehow they are all very, very good people, even if they may harbor a few secrets. Only the town’s resident poet is salty enough to speak her mind plainly. The setting is painted in such glowing strokes that you might mistake Three Pines for a Thomas Kinkade painting, and this is where Penny disappointed me a little.

In her first effort, STILL LIFE, Penny’s writing was more nuanced. FATAL GRACE makes it clear that Penny’s snuggling into the cozy in a big way. There’s nothing wrong with that, and read as a cozy A FATAL GRACE is a very strong book. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that in losing all nuance and ambiguity, Penny has also lost some of the suspense that made STILL LIFE so wonderful. Just as the cold of Three Pines at Christmas is about to seep into the reader’s bones, the smell of hot chocolate brewing on Ellie’s stove takes the edge off even the icy winter. This reader would have preferred at least the possibility of frostbite.

Reviewed by Carroll Johnson, July 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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