Review: Dead Cold by Louise Penny

DeadCold‘Dead… what?’ you may well ask, because outside the UK this book was published as ‘A Fatal Grace’.  Somehow, this title was not deemed suitable for the British, but the original title was nowhere to be seen, so I spent quite a bit of time on Goodreads and other sites to find out which book I had just finished reading.  Don’t you love it when that happens?

This is my incursion into Canada for the Global Reading Challenge, that wonderful meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.  And a very frosty, atmospheric journey it was too, set around Christmas in the sleepy village of Three Pines in Quebec.  This is the second book in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series and I picked it at random, simply because it was the only one available at my local library. It is perhaps not the strongest in the series, but I enjoyed the atmosphere and the characters so much that I have already ordered a couple more from abroad.

Every now and then you come across a crime series that has a fully developed world of its own, its own language and in-jokes, the interplay of characters, which you only gradually penetrate, book by book.  It is a pleasure to sink into such a complete and satisfying landscape, and I feel about this series much the same as I felt about Lindsey Davis’s ‘Falco’ series set in Ancient Rome. It’s like meeting an old friend.

Yet, at the same time, this is cosy fiction with an unsettling undercurrent, not just an escapist read. Gamache is a complex, thoughtful, sensitive detective, who never once falls into cliché.  The village seems idyllic, but is of course filled with quirky characters, many of them artists and writers who have dropped out of the big city rat-race.  I especially enjoyed big-hearted and insecure Clara, straight-talking poet Ruth and gay couple Olivier and Gabri.  Yet one member of this peaceful community is responsible for the death of CC de Poitiers, a pretentious, unlikeable woman with a murky past, a ruthless streak and an obsession to become the next big lifestyle guru.  Death by electrocution, no less, while watching a curling game.  And what is the connection with the death of a homeless person back in Montreal?

The plot is not the main thing here, however. It’s all about the wintry atmosphere, the humorous descriptions of curling and the bulky attire inevitably linked to the Canadian climate. I also enjoyed the sly observations about the ‘others’, in this case the Anglos with their contained emotions, never quite saying what they mean. (The author herself is just such an Anglo, it should be noted, but she steps seamlessly into the shoes of the French-speaking community in Quebec.)

18 thoughts on “Review: Dead Cold by Louise Penny”

  1. Marina Sofia – This is a series I like an awful, awful lot, and I’m so glad you discovered it! I agree completely that a big part of its appeal is the character development and the setting. I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the novels in the series.

    1. You’re the one who got me into it, Margot! ‘The Cruellest Month’ has just arrived today, so I have more Canadian atmosphere to look forward to.

  2. Marina, you may lure me yet into reading detective novels! A crime book where the ‘wintry atmosphere’ rather than the plot has the priority may just work for me!

    1. Oh, I hope I do! There are some crime books out there that really are about so much else other than the crime – it’s a very diverse and enjoyable genre.

  3. I am irritated beyond belief by publishers who give different titles to the same book … aaarrrgggh! Having vented, must say I’ve not discovered this writer and will check it out 🙂

  4. Hi there thanks for this review. I love to read Donna Leon’s Brunetti, Mankells Wallander and Cornwell’s Scarpetta but I am pretty much through with all of them so I am looking for a new series to read. I had just read my first Ian Rankin which I enjoyed as well but this one sounds really interesting. Will see if I find it somewhere

    1. Oh, Rankin does such a sterling job with Edinburgh – you will love him! I like all of the ones you mentioned, and if you liked Donna Leon and have not had enough of Italy, I would also suggest Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen series or Inspector Montalbano by Andrea Camilleri. Barbara Nadel’s Ikmen novels set in Istanbul are also good and my most recent discovery (less well known than the others, but consistently interesting and atmospheric) is Adrian Magson’s Inspector Lucas Rocco series set in France.

      1. I have read one or two of the Montalbanos I liked those as well and I will have a look into your suggestions. Thanks very much for that. Right now I am reading for the Independent foreign Fiction prize newly translated books which are really interesting. right now it is The Detour by a Dutch author called Gerbrand Bakker. Just started though so I can not say anything yet.

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