Friday, January 9, 2015

" Readers will find it well worth taking a break to explore unfamiliar references as they may arise. I learned things to which I hadn't been exposed, and the story became richer for that knowledge." ~Hank
Happily retired in the village of Three Pines, Armand Gamache, former Chief Inspector of Homicide with the Sûreté du Québec, has found a peace he’d only imagined possible. On warm summer mornings he sits on a bench holding a small book, The Balm in Gilead, in his large hands. “There is a balm in Gilead,” his neighbor Clara Morrow reads from the dust jacket, “to make the wounded whole.”

While Gamache doesn’t talk about his wounds and his balm, Clara tells him about hers. Peter, her artist husband, has failed to come home. Failed to show up as promised on the first anniversary of their separation. She wants Gamache’s help to find him. Having finally found sanctuary, Gamache feels a near revulsion at the thought of leaving Three Pines. “There’s power enough in Heaven,” he finishes the quote as he contemplates the quiet village, “to cure a sin-sick soul.” And then he gets up. And joins her.

Together with his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and Myrna Landers, they journey deeper and deeper into Québec. And deeper and deeper into the soul of Peter Morrow. A man so desperate to recapture his fame as an artist, he would sell that soul. And may have. The journey takes them further and further from Three Pines, to the very mouth of the great St. Lawrence river. To an area so desolate, so damned, the first mariners called it the land God gave to Cain. And there they discover the terrible damage done by a sin-sick soul.

Hank says:
"Louise Penny has proven that she can write engrossing police procedurals in her first nine books. The previous installment, How the Light Gets In, brought to a conclusion the sophisticated plotting of a story arc of corruption dating back even to before the action of Still Life, the first novel featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. As a reader, I was left wondering what direction Gamache's life would next take, though it seemed fairly clear that Penny was not finished telling his story, or those of the inhabitants of the village of Three Pines.

What follows is a profoundly unconventional story--not at all a murder mystery, and I would hesitate even to call it a mystery, although it's certainly mysterious. The story line of artists Clara and Peter, their troubled marriage, and their trial separation returns to the forefront in the aftermath of Gamache's audacious and shattering stand against many years of persecution for trying to keep his honor intact. As he tries his hand at peaceful retirement in Three Pines, Clara finds herself struggling with the central question of "What became of Peter?" when he fails to check back in as agreed. No longer in authority, and perhaps against his better judgment but true to his nature, Gamache soon finds himself investigating on her behalf, assisted by his former subordinate Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Clara, and the other civilians of the village who feel the absence, and possible loss.

Penny cites both The Odyssey and Heart of Darkness as inspirations for the genesis of The Long Way Home, and, without saying too much, I can only recommend going along for the journey the characters take, veering close to the metaphysical, with a mythical, larger-than-life feeling in the story's treatment of the experience of the creative impulse, and the role of its destructive counterpart. Art has always played a major role in these books, and it's fascinating to "see" visual art only in terms of the written word. 

The Long Way Home has more real-life art world content than previous books, which concentrated on the differing approaches and styles Clara and Peter take to their painting. Readers will find it well worth taking a break to explore unfamiliar references as they may arise. I learned things to which I hadn't been exposed, and the story became richer for that knowledge."

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