A Better Man by Louise Penny

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Okay, so this may not be the most inspiring cover I’ve seen, it certainly doesn’t draw the eye or give it much interest when walking by it, but the insides sure do take care of that absence. I’m sure the cover is some kind reference to the flooding waters that are part of the story, but it’s still not a very inspiring or eye-pleasing cover, in my opinion!

Now, after finishing the previous Gamache installment, The Kingdom of the Blind, I was left with the strong overall impression that we might have reached the end of this series. But, Surprise! Another one was on its way and A Better Man certainly delivered – it is the second Penny book I’ve given 5-stars too. (The first being her absolute wonderful masterpiece of a story – How the Light Gets In. “How the lights gets in” is also something said in A Better Man. Perhaps that is no coincidence that this also receives a 5-star?)

What you get in a Penny novel is the mystery, of course, and absolutely the wonderful continuation of the stories of Gamache, Beauvoir, and the quaint village and inhabitants of Three Pines, etc., but you are also treated to these seamlessly woven current social issues inside. Earlier this year I read a debut novel involving another homicide detective with the Sûreté, but I found the numerous inclusion of just about ever social issue thrown in was like having the kitchen sink thrown at you. Here is where you realize that Penny is deft and masterful when including a few, yet timely, issues in with the mystery and weaving them in so they are tight with the plot. This time it involves our current climate crisis and here, it’s the fear of flooding in Montreal and its potential to take out Three Pines. But Penny also weaves in here antipathy around social media and especially how it impacts Gamache and even the artist, Clara Morrow. It’s extremely effective, it’s seamlessly woven into the story and the punches of loathing for social media are clear and so very relatable.

What the old poet didn’t realize, or had forgotten, was that social media was less about truth than perception. People believed what they chose to believe.

She snapped her laptop shut. And for the first time felt real revulsion for social media. That would cut, twist, put a lie to truth. That would nail decent people to posts.

Dominica Oddly had made that clear. And had, with a few well-turned phrases on her site, destroyed Clara’s credibility as an artist. Her gallery had dropped her. Collectors were returning paintings. Social media was on a feeding frenzy.

The ending is gripping, with on-the-edge-of-your-seat intensity, but it was her Acknowledgements section at the end of the book that opened the floodgates of tears for me. Who she dedicated this book to, and why, hit me hard in the heart.

This one doesn’t leave questions behind about a continuation, because clearly there will be more to enjoy in this series and I’m looking forward to it! :-)

What a fantastic book to end my year in reading on, and the decade too! (wow)

Also, I didn’t even try to find the audiobook for this one, I just went and straight out bought the hardcover when it first came out. You’ve heard me prattle on and on about the late (and great) Ralph Cosham and how he IS Gamache for me. Robert Bathurst has been okay to listen to, but when I started reading A Better Man, my head was full with Cosham’s voice and I still cannot replace it with anyone else. No one can give me the warmth and wisdom of Gamache, or the distinct personalities of the residents of Three Pines – and for Ruth’s duck! – the way Cosham could.